Anime studio powerhouse Madhouse is back with a boxing anime. Standing at 75 episodes plus a sequel movies and a few others that followed, the studio went with an extremely popular manga series by going with an unknown director, Satoshi Nishimura (Trigun). Being a sports anime with heavy influence from the 1970 hit Ashita no Joe, the wonder of if this anime would hold up visually and/or follow the shounen route of repeated fight sequences.
Hajime no Ippo or Fighting Spirit in its Western release, focuses around the timid and shy Makunouchi Ippo. He is bullied in High School and passes up spending time with his students outside of school to help his Mom (single parent) run their fishing business to make ends meet. Needless to say, one day Ippo is ganged up on by a group of bullies and takes a heavy beating. It just so happens a middleweight boxer saves him, and takes him back to the training gym. Ippo awakes and is asked to punch one of the bags to let loose his frustrations, thus showing his hidden punching talent from helping out in the fishing business. Wanting to change and become stronger he decides to take on boxing to better himself. The middleweight boxer, Takmura gives him a challenge to complete, and thus begins the story of Ippo’s rise in the boxing profession.
It is a powerful yet very simple story, and unlike in Ashita no Joe, all of the characters from Ippo to his rivals and romantic love interest all have an interesting back story. The anime gets the viewer to care about the events taking place and the people taking part in it. This anime focuses heavily on character development and does this extremely well to say the least. From what is learned in the boxing ring between opponents, and the fact Ippo develops a habit of running into his opponents pre-match gets Ippo himself to learn about their backstory, and even sympathize with them. Due to Ippo’s character, he is never over-confident, he stays humble and timid, and always strives to train and become the best. This is unlike most shounen series where the main characters gets beat down and then gets back up to channel some unknown “anime-magic” to win.
There is even some comedy elements thrown in to keep the series fresh. All be it, the same jokes are over used in the usual anime fashion such as Ippo being embarrassed around his crush or Takamura’s over-the-top vulgar behavior. Never the less, it really is an anime for just about everyone. The viewer goes with Ippo on his journey to change himself into a more confident person, and watch his struggle as he attempts to rise to the top of his boxing weight class. All the characters, not just Ippo, are very much there for a reason, and the audience can see where these deep emotional moments come from.
Another aspect that is done remarkably well is the explanation aspect. There are always moments such as from the start of Ippo’s training to become a boxer, the anime explains even the simplest of boxing tactics like uppercuts and basic in-ring rules. As the series progresses and the boxing becomes more in depth, the viewer never feels overwhelmed with boxing info-dump, which is over explanation of the situation. This ranges from getting a boxing licence, to the weight classes, and even the different leagues in the world. This was a major plus and a must for any sports anime.
Madhouse did something remarkable in creating a 75 episode series where the animation was consistent throughout the entire run. This ranged from the smoothness of character movement, the punches always felts they had weight behind them even during training, to the way the boxers moved while in the ring. An unreal amount of research had to have taken place to get that right. Even the music and sound effects hit all the right notes with the fights and the viewer always creating an “edge of your seat” environment to really get that blood pumping.
Ippo is a shounen anime, so the pacing can crawl at times. The same routine can be seen in the generic story formula, i.e. Ippo trains, backstory, Ippo fights, fallout, repeat. Ippo as a character isn’t overly appealing as much as his rivals are, and while the start is strong, the rest of the anime very much sticks to said formula. Not to say this isn’t exciting and captivating, but some might find it boring at times. Hajime no Ippo is miles above what other sports anime have brought such as Ashita no Joe. If sports anime is among a genre favourite, then there is no doubt Hajime no Ippo is a pure winner.
TL;DR: Hajime no Ippo does very well to grasp the viewer during the height of competition. The characters are developed so well that you might end up rooting for Ippo’s opponent to win instead. However, a repeated shounen formula could deter the viewer from watching past the first arc, and the way it progresses from there could stagnate the viewer from progressing.
Recommended Audience: Being a sports focused anime, Hajime no Ippo is for both a sports fan and a shounen fan. If something along the lines of Bleach, Naruto, or even Yowamushi Pedal interests you, then this will be perfect. It’s also done well enough to explain the sport, so you can go into this without any previous boxing knowledge at all.
Hajime no Ippo trains hard and over-comes the odds to a 4.5/5
Director: Satoshi Nishimura
Premiered: Fall 2000
Episode Count: 75
Rating: PG-13 Sports boxing, occasional sexual comedy
Genre(s): Sports, Shounen, Comedy, Drama
Streaming: Can be found on Youtube, sequels on Crunchyroll
Price: Currently out of Print +$300 USD
Sources: MAL Hajime no Ippo
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