Way back when I did my last review, I mentioned my personal challenge to find anime with good unarmed combat. What I found was Air Master and Hajime no Ippo ,and I swore to myself they would be the next two series I reviewed. If only I’d known how long of a road I’d laid out for myself with that second one. With as long as Hajime no Ippo has been airing, I had more than my fair share of episodes to get caught up on, and it’s consumed almost all of my anime-watching time from that review to now. Now that I’ve finally reached the end of the road, was it worth it?
- Title: Hajime no Ippo (Season 1, called Fighting Spirit in the English release), Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger (Season 2), Hajime no Ippo: Rising (Season 3)
- Main Production Company: Madhouse Studios
- Originally Aired: 2000-2014
- Series Length: 127 Episodes, 2 OVA Specials
- Genres: Shounen, Sports, Action
Ippo Makunouchi is the kindhearted son of a fisherman. Ever since his father passed, he’s spent his life helping his mother to continue the family fishing business. Rather timid by nature and always busy keeping his family business afloat, he’s relatively estranged from his peers at school and becomes an easy target for some local bullies. One day, said bullies make it their business to catch Ippo on his way home and beat him up. What they didn’t count on was one Mamoru Takamura doing some jogging excercises nearby.
A former gang member turned professional boxer, Takamura finds the time to go down and put the bullies in their place, which he accomplishes handily without hitting them once by literally using quick jabs to remove the buttons off their jackets before they can even react. As he witnesses this, Ippo simultaneously is fascinated by Takamura’s display of strength and disappointed in his own lack of strength. Ippo begins to wonder the question of “what does it mean to be strong,” and through various events gets Takamura to take him along to the boxing gym Takamura trains at. It turns out Ippo is somewhat adept at boxing and he decides he’ll try to find the answer to the question of “what does it mean to be strong” by continuing down the road the sport has laid out in front of him. How far can he go in the world in boxing, and will he ever truly find what it takes to be strong?
As far as Shounen series go, this is a rather standard setup. Set the main character down a path, with the only remaining question being “how far will/can they go?” It’s not original or surprising, but it’s also very much a tried-and-true formula. What the series has that most other similar shows don’t is a very strong sense of focus. Through to the core, this is a show about boxing, and it always keeps itself on that. While the story lacks a sense of progression besides “how much stronger will he get,” it takes just as much time establishing the motivations, training, particular techniques, strengths, weaknesses, and mindsets of each character as it does actually showing the fights. You really get a sense for why things are happening as well as a rather deep insight into the sport itself that you don’t find in other typical “formula shows.”
It actually made me want to look into what real boxing was like for a bit, and from what little I learned the show only seemed to exaggerate movements for theatrical effect and otherwise seemed to be rather realistic. I know you all don’t know me, but trust me when I say it’s an enormous deal when something makes me even mildly curious about real-world sports.
Mamoru Takamura is the most effective representation of the “big bro” mentor style character I’ve seen since Kamina.
He may come across as an egotistical jackass, but underneath he’s always there to protect and look out for his juniors.
Let’s start with a brief summary of the main cast. Ippo Makunouchi is easily the nicest person in the series. He’s the kind of person who, despite being hounded by bullies who beat him around regularly, never channels that into anger or resentment and rather a drive for self-improvement. Once he comes into his own, he’s no pushover though. He always treats people with the respect they deserve, even if that means they deserve his fist in their face. Mamoru Takamura is the most effective representation of the “big bro” mentor style character I’ve seen since Kamina.
He may come across as an egotistical jackass, but underneath he’s always there to protect and look out for his juniors. Coach Kamogawa runs the boxing gym where everyone trains, and becomes a surrogate father figure to Takamura and even somewhat one to Ippo. Ichiro Miyata serves as Ippo’s main long-running rival, serving as a counterpart to Ippo in boxing styles and the main mile-marker to show how much stronger the cast grows over time.
The way characters are handled is…difficult to properly analyze. Each person who shows up receives very strong motivations and depth, regardless of if they’re a main character or if they only appear for one fight. The problem I had was in the pacing, as each character receives a full “arc” within their screentime throughout the series.
Why is this a problem? Because the characters have different amounts of screentime, and the ones who only appear for one fight are characterized much more quickly than the main characters. For the first 30-odd episodes I actually found myself rooting for the “opponent of the week” rather than Ippo because Ippo’s characterization still hadn’t really kicked off yet and it was much easier to relate to the more quickly fleshed out opponents.
It takes even longer for the recurring supporting cast to come into their own, with the exception of Takamura. That said, when everything does start to come together, you really do connect with everyone, friend or foe alike. This is used later on to great effect since it makes the personal battles of ideologies or motivations between characters just as exciting as the actual matches that takes place.
I should also mention that something seems to be…off with the second season in terms of the characters. It promptly fixes itself come the third season, but for a good 26 episodes it seems like characters spontaneously become cardboard cutouts of themselves. Some have minor quirks that added a bit of flavor to their personality tuned up to become their major defining feature, some spontaneously forget any characterization they may have had before that point for a few episodes, and one character comes back who is the same character as before in name only. It’s a rather jarring experience and, though it does fix itself can make those episodes feel kind of awkward.
Again, this a tough segment to try and judge. The series started 14 years ago, and rather than just saying “it’s older animation so compare it to things around it’s timeframe,” this series has continually updated its animation quality over the years. Overall, the quality has always been above-average, even in the older episodes. Though I will say the older episodes looked better “for their time” than the newer ones. Comparing older episodes of this show to older shows, this one stands out quite a bit.
Comparing older episodes of this show to newer episodes, the newer episodes definitely beat it out. Comparing newer episodes of this show to newer shows, this one still looks really good, but now there are other shows that do beat it out visually.
Past raw quality, in terms of application this shows uses its visuals very effectively. The team had a great sense of timing and “camerawork” to really add an extra layer of power to the various moves and punches thrown out. It makes the fights that much more visceral to watch, and actually makes following the flow and thought processes of the boxers much easier to understand. As previously stated, the show is – at its core – about boxing, and the ability to slow down a punch that would normally take a fraction of a second allows the show time to explain exactly what’s happening, and allows the audience a window into the instinctual mindsets and reactions the characters have to these split-second decisions an athlete would face that would normally be too fast to notice until after the fact. Then the normally-impossible camera angles they can achieve show in great detail exactly how certain blows connect and whatimpact they have on the victim, adding another layer of detail.
The music I found is much like the characters: kind of difficult to analyze and based entirely situational on how the show uses it. It keeps true to patterns found in older shows by really only using the opening and ending themes, or various segments of them as background music without really developing a large array of original scores. That said, I found the songs didn’t really work too well for me as opening or ending themes, but they blew it out of water as background themes.
I’d skip past the opening scenes usually, but find myself jamming out to that same song when it started playing as someone pulled back for a huge knockout blow. I’d much rather have it this way than the other way around thankfully as if they didn’t work as background themes it’d make watching the show tougher while I can just skip them as opening/endings.
I’m no stranger to long-running shounen series. I’ve seen the tropes used and abused any countless number of ways. This series is the definition of Tropes are Not Bad, and just shows why those tropes were strong enough to be used regularly in the first place.
As is the nature of the beast, it’s length and open-ended story can turn away some audiences who are looking for a more compact and resolute experience, but as far as shounen series go this is the most engaged I’ve ever been. Though slow to pick up and has a hiccup halfway through, it’s arguably the most consistent and enjoyable shounen series I’ve ever seen.
And lastly, before I head out for the conclusion, I leave you all with this sample from the show as an example of what it can offer:
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