With the summer season on a roll and a bunch of games I need to play soon, i’ve had a bit of free time on my hands, I’ve also been watching a lot of sport throughout the summer including Wimbledon, The Golf Open and to a certain degree, the Evo gaming tournament.
So I just randomly wanted to watch a good sports anime and I would of watched anything, like Cross Game or even re-watch Giant Killing, however the reason why I picked Hajime No Ippo is that a third season has been announced for the Fall season, this gave me a good chance to check out this supposed highly rated show.
Much like I say for majority of anime/manga I watch/read (this is still my 4th year of properly watching/reading anime and manga, which I still feel like a bit of a newbie) i knew nothing about Hajime No Ippo going into it, I knew it was a boxing show and it’s still an on-going manga with around 1,000 chapters or something like that, apart from that, that’s it.
It seems that this is a collaboration with Studio VAP and Madhouse, considering the amount of great stuff Madhouse was pumping out in the early noughties, I was excited, it was directed also by Shigeru Kitayama who directed Trigun, i’ve not watched that personally but it gets a lot of praise from western anime fans, so you have strong studio’s and staff. on this project
So right off the bat – high school setting, timid main character Ippo Makunouchi who is totally ordinary and bulling. Stuff that I should of expected but was a bit disappointed by, since again i’ve seen this plenty of times in anime. During him getting beat up by some of the regular bullies, a man who is doing some training running decides to help him out, fights the bullies and sees Ippo fall unconscious.
Ippo then wakes up at the local Kamogawa boxing gym and learns that the guy who saved him is a powerful boxer named Takamura, this is where Ippo learns about boxing and his interest is raised a little, plus he also wants to become strong, also add to the idea that he doesn’t know what to do when he leaves school, except continuing to help with his mothers fishing boat business.
After looking into boxing and starting to get excited by it, Ippo bumps into Takamura yet again to say that he wants to take boxing seriously, obviously due to his timid personality, Takamura declines but during the early episodes, Takamura sees talent in Ippo and recommends him to the main trainer to Kamogawa gym – Genji Kamogawa. Kamogawa also starts to see talent in him during a sparing match with ‘soon to be’ rival Miyata Ichiro and Ippo’s tough journey to becoming a professional boxer begins.
I don’t really know where to start with this review because Hajime No Ippo almost gets everything right, so I think I should start off with the characters, this first season is 75 episode anime, so the show can afford to develop almost all the characters very well, rather than fully focus on the boxing itself, obviously Ippo is at the centre and his development is very natural, you start to see changes in him, especially when he leaves school around half way through the series, you start to see him mature but keeps his very polite personality throughout, not my favorite character in the show but I like him.
The Kamogawa gym boxer trio Takamura, Masaru and Tatsuya, I feel are comic relief for the 1st half of the series but support Ippo very well and while that remains in the 2nd half, we see all three of them get there own matches and character motivations, they always remain Ippo’s best friends.
The trainers are likeable, Genji gets mostly the focus due to him being Ippo’s trainer, an old, experienced teacher of boxing, has a tough personality but is proud when his students win there matches, Haruhiko his assistant is with him most of the time but his more of support, I think my first nickpick comes from the other Kamogawa gym trainer – Shinoda, I had no idea who the hell he was, there was no introduction to him but he comes to most of Ippo’s fights, the only time I see him properly train with boxers is during a flashback later in the series, nothing major but something I noticed.
One of the major strengths of Hajime No Ippo is the majority of opponent boxers that Ippo has to fight, almost all of the rival boxers are different and given various motivations on why they have become a boxer and why they want to win. Characters like Sendo or Date are given backstories and different boxing tactics which makes all the matches feel fresh, one of my favorite rivals to Ippo is Alexander Volg Zangief, a Russian boxer who has a friendly appearance in a social environment but is a rabid, threatening Wolf when his in the Ring, I also love the fact that Volg is very likeable Russian character, whereas the majority of media deem Russians as stubborn, unlikeable characters (Durarara had Semyon Brezhnev who as cool as well). Not all of them are like that but the majority of rival fights in Ippo are fantastic.
Finally, the last character that I would like to mention is Ippo’s love interest – Kumi Mashiba, she starts to get properly introduced around mid-series, I’m all up for a romance in these kind of sport shows but if there was a small gripe I have with Hajime No Ippo and if it continues as I progress with this franchise, the romance never actually blooms in this first season and I’m afraid a lack of some kind of confession might hurt the series on that angle.
Right, enough about characters and plot, how is the animation, well considering this started back in 2000, Hajime No Ippo looks really good in the boxing matches, that doesn’t mean that outside of it, it’s bad. The animation outside the boxing ring is acceptable, the show always has this positive energy, it always seems to be entertaining but it also knows when to do the more drama moments, character designs are good as well and you can see that the animation improves when you get to the last episodes, so a great Madhouse/VAP effort. I also watched Hajime No Ippo dubbed which was good actually, all of the characters sounded like boxers (bar the small supporting cast), I liked it, also add to the fact that I laughed a lot thanks to the voice actors executing those jokes, it’s a dub worth checking out, if you can.
To finish, all the Openings from the show are great in there own way but the best is clearly Inner Light, which is so good it is used as BGM for later in the show.
Even if Hajime No Ippo is still on-going, the 1st season actually ended well, even if there somehow wasn’t some kind of sequel (I know about New Challenger, I’ll get on that soon), this was a satisfying ending to a brilliant sports anime and one of my favorites alongside Giant Killing, I will continue to watch stuff after this.
The show has heart, a lot of heart.