Anime Reviews: Hajime no Ippo: Champion Road
While I, and possibly every other Ippo fan, would've preferred another season instead of a movie, Champion Road is still a treat to watch.
Title: Hajime no Ippo: Champion Road
Production: Studio Madhouse
Film Length: 92 minutes
Air Dates: 6/25/2003
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence)
Summary: After Ippo's bone-crushing match against Sendo Takeshi, he has finally become the Japanese Featherweight Champion, but he learns that champions have no time to breathe. His first championship defense match is announced, with his opponent being the former Junior Featherweight Champion, Kazuki Sanada. Sanada, aside from his boxing career, also works as a physician and thus knows the human body well enough to pinpoint his punches to cause major problems for his opponents. More than that, Sanada's trainer is an old adversary of Coach Kamogawa's, and he's taught his special "Hien" technique to Sanada to get revenge. But even that is no match for Ippo's greatest crisis as a national champion: building up the courage to confess his feelings to Kumi.
The Good: It's more delicious Ippo action
The Bad: The romance between Ippo and Kumi remains unresolved; movie format leaves you wanting more
The Ugly: This is the last great installment of the Ippo anime franchise
After the overwhelming success of the Hajime no Ippo anime series, Studio Madhouse did the most logical thing they could have possibly done, and...not immediately continue the series in its previous manner and instead release a few OVA episodes (Kimura vs. Mashiba + Boxer's Fist) and a movie. What? While I'm certainly grateful that Madhouse decided to continue the story at all, it certainly would've been more appropriate to pump out another 70 episodes. Oh, well. It's too late to convince them otherwise now. Of course, that doesn't mean this is a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination--au contraire mon frere, Champion Road is a damn good movie.
First of all, given that this is Studio Madhouse and this is a movie instead of a TV series, the visuals are nothing short of a marvel. The sketchiness and washed-out colors that plagued the non-boxing episodes of the TV series are long gone, and the match between Ippo and Sanada is just...just...beautiful. Bloody, crunchy, and beautiful. Everything is just so fluid and brutal that I couldn't take my eyes off the screen during that fight. And it's good to know the same love and attention was given, as mentioned, to the more peaceful scenes, whereas the TV series had to ration its budget. There's no need for a ration here; we're in a surplus!
As far as the music and voice acting go, the same exact crew from the TV series is back (there isn't an English dub yet, but if THAT crew comes back, then God help us). They do reuse a lot of the music, but is that really a problem? I could watch 300 episodes of this and never once care that the music is all the same, it's just that good. (It's certainly a hell of a lot better than hiring a new composer and making all-new music like the garbage New Challenger series did.) So, armed with greatly improved animation and comfortably familiar music and voice acting, we must now confront the plot.
This movie covers an entire arc, which would've taken maybe 10-ish episodes, as Ippo celebrates his victory, learns about the fight against Sanada, trains for the fight, goofs around with the guys for a while, tries to confess to Kumi, and then gets in the ring. The pace is much, much faster than it ever was in the TV series, but you know what? It works. I never once felt like I was being rushed through. Hell, we've even got time to make sure Sanada's given the proper development he needs! As with many of Ippo's other opponents, Sanada's not a bad guy. He's not a villain. Actually, he's a pretty cool dude who's just after the belt, like any other boxer. Our hero just so happens to be his opponent, that's all. In the ring, Sanada also brings a new threat to the table: because he also works as a doctor, he can strike at Ippo with (literal) surgical precision to end the fight ASAP, and he can also keep himself under control to rest up if he gets a down. This kind of opponent is new to Ippo, and it adds an extra bit of tension to an already intense fight.
Sadly, now we have to talk about where the movie falls short, and it's pretty interesting, because the flaws basically revolve around the very fact that it's a movie. The first thing that sucks is that the romance between Ippo and Kumi is left hanging at the end, with the two of them stuck in the same awkward rut that they started out in. Of course, this is all in keeping with the original manga, but if you're going to introduce a subplot into a movie, then you'd better be freakin' prepared to follow up on it and resolve it. Come on, guys. I didn't attend any Film 101 classes, and even I know that.
And finally, as I've been beating into your brains this whole review, Champion Road is a movie instead of a new season. The TV series left us craving more (in a good way), and they were only about halfway through the material, so another season was not only possible, it was logical. And by the time they finished with that, there'd be even more manga to adapt! So, why did they go with 2 OVAs and a movie? I haven't a clue, but all it ended up doing was leave us hungry all over again with no sign of another TV series in sight.
...Until six years later, in 2009, when we were treated with the abysmal Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger series, and every Ippo fan in existence simultaneously projectile vomited when that atrocity's first episode came to an end.
But that's not important (yet). What is important is that Champion Road is still a very good movie, and you have no reason not to check it out if you've already finished the TV series. Even if you've never seen Hajime no Ippo, this movie is quite newbie-friendly, giving you a recap of the last episode and filling you in on the characters in the first few minutes. And hey, if it gets you interested in the franchise, then that's the best thing you could ask for.
Final Score: 8 out of 10. Though you'll leave the film hungry for more, Champion Road contains a good amount of the action, comedy, and characters that made Hajime no Ippo a favorite among anime fans.