When I volunteered to watch and review the climbing anime Iwa Kakeru! Sport Climbing Girls, I thought I’d landed a lucky gig. “Binge an anime? I do that all the time anyway,” I muttered to myself, chuckling, after getting the green light from my editor.
It couldn’t be that bad, could it?
Well… Yes, and no.
To be fair, Iwa Kakeru debuted last December, so I’m a bit behind the curve. With that in mind, let me start off by saying that I really put the hours in here. I take my job as a climbing journalist quite seriously, and knowing that it often requires watching several episodes of an anime get in the groove, I prepared for an odyssey.
After watching the first (and only) 12-episode season of Iwa Kakeru, I can confidently say I’d rather jug El Cap with ascenders on 6-inch slings than do it again. What a slog. My initial thoughts were: The Japanese may have a stranglehold on comp climbing, but Christ, that doesn’t mean they need to go making animes out of it.
That said, like most anime, Iwa Kakeru did get significantly better with time. It’s not a bad animated depiction of the sport, especially considering we don’t have many to begin with.
And hell, I really did log some hours here, so let’s dive into it.
Iwa Kakeru follows a high schooler, Konomi Kasahara, who is a former hardcore puzzle gamer looking for a new obsession. She lands on sport climbing, attracted by the similarities between puzzle games and sending climbing routes, and takes to it immediately, leading 5.11 on her first day.
The drama starts from the very beginning. A hardball member of the climbing team challenges the newbie Konomi to a head-to-head lead race and says if she loses, she’ll quit the team (spoiler alert: it’s a tie). The majority of episode plotlines follow Konomi and her team in various comps, dealing with drama and shade from other lady climbers.
All the usual anime trademarks are here in full force, as well, starting with the fact that almost every character has huge breasts, they’re always wearing bodysuits or booty shorts more akin to the uniform for a Tilted Kilt employee than that of a sport climber. The camera also tends to focus on their chest and posterior a bit too frequently and a bit too long, which is fairly par for the course in anime, unfortunately. An animated Akiyo Noguchi, who appears briefly in the show’s first episode, is just about the only non-sexualized character on screen.
In short, if someone was making a pornographic-themed climbing movie, they’d likely gain inspiration from Iwa Kakeru.
There are also the typical internal monologues, with each character giving a 10-minute speech in their head every time they hop on the wall, and the usual catchy upbeat anime intro, which I still find myself humming from time to time. Oh, and there’s a character who constantly pushes his glasses up his nose as they glint in the sunlight (there’s always one of those, right?).
There’s some downright weird shit at play too, like the one girl who calls Konomi, “Master.” This character also appears to want Konomi (a freshman in high school) to marry her father (?), a grey-haired old-school bouldering legend clearly modeled after Yuji Hirayama or Dai Koyamada.
Iwa Kakeru isn’t all bad, though. For starters, this isn’t a Cliffhanger or Mission Impossible II, in that the climbing depicted is pretty darn realistic in terms of technique and practice (aside from some clipping guaranteed to induce utterly insane rope drag).
Volumes and drop knees, cruxes and dynos… the lingo is correct and accurately used. Whoever wrote this anime obviously has climbed a fair bit and knows what they’re talking about, even if some sequences are exaggerated for the purposes of the show.
The Olympic commentators could definitely learn a thing or two from watching Iwa Kakeru.
Hypersexuality and other cringey anime stylistic elements aside, there are some worthy themes at play here. “In climbing, your mentality is far more important [than your strength or skill],” says one of the characters. “Whether you find pleasure in solving routes decides everything.”
Konomi faces a variety of typical climber problems as she progresses. It’s all stuff that’s familiar to us, from fitness woes to a fear of falling, to injuries and sprayers with bad beta. Konomi even finds herself faced with a classic modern dilemma: Does she stick with her competition team and focus on pulling plastic, or should she become an outdoor climber?
At times, Iwa Kakeru is almost too relatable. Konomi is solid in Lead and Bouldering but struggles with Speed. A teammate gets a serious pulley injury, but refuses to stop competing long enough to let it heal. Another girl takes the sport too seriously, and rags on climbers who climb “for fun” and treat it “like a game.” There’s also significant discussion regarding the nuances of winning comps in the Combined format, which felt quite timely given the recent Olympics.
All told, it’s enjoyable to watch Konomi experience the sport for the first time, and there’s a lot that any climber can relate to here. We’re following a bunch of people who are stoked on climbing, in a show written by someone who obviously loves it, too. That, in and of itself, gives Iwa Kakeru merit.
“You lacked the strength to send, huh?” a teammate says to Konomi after she bails off a hard route in a comp.
“Yeah… It didn’t go as easily as I’d imagined,” she responds. “But maybe that’s exactly what makes you want to go again.”
It may be more than a little cringe-inducing, but if and when another season of Iwa Kakeru comes out, I’ll probably sit down with a few beers and give it a watch.
Hell, the show was at least more enjoyable than Daniel Woods’ Return of the Sleepwalker video, although that probably isn’t saying much…
If you’re intrigued, you can stream all the episodes of Iwa Kakeru for free on WatchCartoonsForever. Please Note: I take no responsibility for the weird porno pop-up ads.
Owen Clarke is a freelance writer living on the road. In addition to spending time in the mountains, he enjoys motorcycles, heavy metal, video games, and key lime pie.