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Anime Review: Hajime no Ippo August 21, 2013

Posted by navycherub in Anime, Review.
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There are plenty of stories about a young man finding some sort of passion and following it to some sort of logical conclusion, and Hajime no Ippo chooses not to stray from that basic idea very far. Luckily for original creator Morikawa George, not straying far from this premise seems to be the recipe for a successful comic that has lasted more than 1000 chapters week after week since its original Shounen Magazine publishing in 1989. This adaptation by Madhouse and director Nishimura Satoshi is longer than your usual TV anime run, at 75 episodes, but it doesn’t quite cover the incredible length of Morikawa’s original comic. Instead, it opts for a sort of complete story in itself, covering protagonist Makunouchi Ippo’s career from its inception until his eventual championship.

This works in the show’s favor since, despite its length, not much time is wasted. The story progresses in a rather linear fashion from one fight to another, introducing Ippo’s opponents one at a time and moving Ippo himself steadily up the ranks of a young boxer. However, since very little of the show is not about Ippo himself, the routine does become a bit stale quickly. By the second or third fight, it is already apparent what the formula Morikawa George is using consists of. Ippo’s next enemy is stronger than his last, and he must somehow adapt to this, typically by learning some new technique. And when the fight itself comes, it all boils down to Ippo winning through his sheer tenacity – no matter what his opponents throw at him, he just doesn’t give up, and you just know the spectators will feel the need to comment on his never ending stamina between every single round. In all truth, while simple, this is both tiring and unsatisfying, especially since Ippo’s opponents are almost always significantly more interesting and endearing than Ippo himself.

The narrative wants me to root for the hard working underdog Ippo, but it usually turns out that I want his opponent to win. This is because Ippo’s enemies are fleshed out enough for the viewer to understand how they’ve trained for this day and what is at stake for them. These are typically much more convincing arguments for their victory than Ippo’s, who is new to the boxing world and is on the losing side of the fight until it eventually comes down to, once again, Ippo simply lasting longer than his opponent despite an overwhelming disadvantage. In particular, I found myself rooting for the Russian boxer Alexander Volg Zangief. The emotional weight of his fights and career was more powerful than anything Ippo ever managed to achieve.

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Ippo’s romantic life is also given some focus, but it seems more like an afterthought. His romantic interest, Kumi Mashiba, is your typical ideal domestic housewife and devoted fan. Her relationship with Ippo begins with a quick meeting at a flower shop very early in the show and, despite their insistent tendency to meet frequently, it never really progresses very far.

Regardless of Ippo’s boring fights, there are moments of interesting boxing action. Specifically, the writing and choreography of the fights seem to become levels better when Ippo is not one of the participants. This shows in two places in the show – a short arc about Ichiro Miyata training in Thailand, and the subplot about Takamura Mamoru earning and defending his title. In both of these the viewer finds more complex characters and detailed, well-thought out fights that capitalize on everything their respective subplots have to offer. If only there was more of these sorts of fights and less of Ippo winning not because he deserves it but because he has to win somehow for the plot to progress.

The animation is a real highlight of the show, at least during the fights. The camera feels loose and free, not restrained by the cheap but easy to animate single angles that usually plague TV anime. The boxers’ movements are accentuated by wind effects like they are kicking up dust every time they move, but it is used tastefully so that it only adds to the experience, something that can only be done reasonably in animation. Successful hits look painful, damage to the boxers accumulates as the fights go on. However, outside of fights, the animation becomes par for the course, though still not bad for an early 2000s TV anime. Madhouse pulled off a show that looks ahead of its time. The sounds are of similar quality, always tasteful and adding nicely to the experience.

Hajime no Ippo has moments of brilliance, and it is rarely so extreme that it is unbelievable, but it is weighed down a great deal by a shallow and boring protagonist and a formulaic progression.

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