Anime Reviews: Hajime no Ippo
With the perfect blend of character development, raunchy humor, and exciting boxing action, Hajime no Ippo reigns as the gold standard for all sports anime.
Title: Hajime no Ippo a.k.a. Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting! a.k.a. Fighting Spirit
Production: Studio Madhouse
Series Length: 75 episodes
Air Dates: 10/3/2000 to 3/27/2002
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, some suggestive content)
Summary: Ippo is a kind-hearted young man who has spent his entire young life helping out his mom with their fishing business, ever since Ippo's father passed away. Unfortunately, he has also spent much of his youth being bullied and beaten by a group of delinquents at school. During once such beating, Ippo is saved by a man in a jogging suit, but Ippo passes out before he can say anything. Some time later, he awakes inside a boxing gym, and learns that his rescuer is, himself, a boxer named Takamura. Inspired by Takamura's strength, Ippo decides to take up boxing, and to endure the hardships that come with it, in order to figure out for himself exactly what it means to be strong.
The Good: Extremely likeable characters; intense boxing sequences; perfect pacing; hard rock-style soundtrack is very effective
The Bad: Art style may turn off some viewers; excessive monologues
The Ugly: The English dub is awful beyond all reason and that makes me sad
Just like Princess Nine, Hajime no Ippo was a series I put off to the side simply because I just wasn't interested in the sports aspect of both anime. But then I saw Princess Nine and fell in love with it, so I immediately sought out Hajime no Ippo and promptly fell in love with it as well. What makes this the sports anime of all sports anime? Let's find out~
Firstly, and most importantly, the characters are spectacular. Our main character, Ippo, is your typical meek Japanese teenager, but he's got his moments where his buttons are pushed and he gets mad. The one who does most of the button pushing is Takamura, the very same guy who helped Ippo out and got him into boxing, and let me tell you right now: Takamura is hilarious. He's so full of himself that it's pathetic, but being a genius boxer who is world champion material, no one can really tell him he's wrong without having their necks broken. Then we have Aoki and Kimura, two more seasoned boxers who also act like they're hot stuff, but Takamura repeatedly puts them in their place, and the three of them constantly conspire against Ippo in incredibly immature ways. I'd say they're probably the most hilarious trio anime has to offer. And then you have the very Rocky-style coach, Genji Kamogawa, who proves his boxing and coaching genius by having our heroes do seemingly-irrelevant tasks as part of their training, but it always turns out to be exactly what is needed. Also they both have extremely short tempers.
And I haven't even touched on Miyata, Fuji, Ippo's mom, Umezawa and his posse, or any of the multitude of boxers Ippo comes up against, all of whom get ample development and make it difficult to choose sides. Conveniently enough, that leads us right to the next point:
Watching a boxing anime wouldn't be very interesting if the boxing wasn't any good. Fortunately for everyone, such is not the case. Even if you're not a boxing fan (e.g. me), you'll still find yourself getting pumped for the next fight, cringing when the big swings land, cheering for the Kamogawa crew when they win, and feeling down when they lose. Oh, by the way, our main characters lose some of their fights, adding invaluable realism and credibility to the series. The animation is also turned all the way up to 11 during the matches, showcasing Studio Madhouse's incredible production values with each punch. We also get a lot of perspectives of each fight from each character (which all seem to occur simultaneously, but are sequenced for our convenience), so even if you're completely oblivious about everything boxing-related, you will be filled in. It also helps that the fights can be very brutal, just like in real life--characters' eyes swell shut, bones shatter, blood flies, and faces are bruised and broken. But the fights aren't all the series is about.
In between the fights, we have the training scenes and the everyday life scenes, all interlocked together to make the series more lifelike. The pacing of the series, from intense training to intense fight to cooldown period and aftermath, is just right. It never feels rushed, it never feels slow, and there's always something interesting going on, both in and out of the ring. It's one thing to have a satisfying and consistent pace, but to maintain that pace for 75 episodes? That is a feat.
While the series is intense enough already, any series can benefit from having a great, fitting tunes to play while the action happens. So, to spice up the series even more, we have a spectacular soundtrack full of hard rock tunes to get you pumped up. All three opening themes (1, 2, 3) perfectly prime you for the good times you're about to experience, and background tracks like "Naked Fang" and "Silent Eyes" are standout classics in an already great soundtrack provided by Tsuneo Imahori. If that name looks familiar, it's because he did guitar work as well as some writing for the Cowboy Bebop and Wolf's Rain soundtracks, and he also wrote all the music for Trigun and Gungrave. Pretty much everything he touches turns to gold, and Hajime no Ippo is certainly no exception.
But, of course, nothing is perfect, and now we have to nitpick and complain about the small things this series didn't do perfectly. One thing that comes to mind is the art style, which doesn't look quite up to snuff for either a Madhouse production or an anime made in 2000. At least not during the episodes in between the boxing matches. It didn't bother me at all, but I've seen many complaints about the series' art making it "unwatchable," so I suppose it's an issue.
Another thing that bothers many people (this time, me included) is the excessive amounts of monologue. I understand that there's a lot going on psychologically during a fight, but man, do we really need Ippo to give a speech to himself after every single punch he gives and receives?! While many of these monologues are necessary to add more drama to the fights, there is a line, and it has been crossed.
But those are merely nitpicks, and in the grand scheme of things, nitpicks should not keep you from watching Hajime no Ippo. If you're a fan of boxing--nay, a fan of action, as well as an anime fan, there is absolutely no reason to not give this series a shot. It may be fairly long, but I can guarantee you'll have fun the entire way through.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. Though you'll sometimes find yourself wishing Ippo would just shut up and punch, this occasional annoyance is vastly overshadowed by Hajime no Ippo's numerous achievements, as well as its status as the premier sports anime.