Makunouchi Ippo is a timid high school boy who gets bullied in school and one day, he is saved from being beaten up by a boxer named Takamura. Impressed by his fighting abilities, the boy begins training in boxing. With his newfound love for the sport, Ippo sets out to challenge the boxing world and become a champion.
With a lot of shonen anime that are focused mostly on fighting, very few of them reach past the point of being pure indulgences of testosterone laden brawls, and overdrawn battles which can last multiple episodes. Series like Dragon Ball Z and YuYu Hakusho have made such manly aspects of anime an entertaining staple, but—for the most part—there is not a lot of depth there.
Then a series like Fighting Spirit comes along and flips the entire fighting anime genre on its head. Here is a series which capitalizes on intense combat, satiating fans of such fare while not forgetting to delve into the finer points of the art of storytelling; such as character development, humor, and lots of heart.
Visually, Fighting Spirit is all about detail when it comes to fighting, but crude and kind of weak when character design comes into play. Battles are brutally intense and drawn with painstaking meticulousness; bones crack, punches are bombastically beautiful, sweat feels as if it will leap off of the screen, and blood becomes commonplace in certain scenes. Yet, despite such harsh visualization, this anime never feels exploitative or gratuitous in its violence. Contrarily, the series shows the harsh world of boxing with brutal honesty and the sheer dedication that every boxer must have to make it in such a rough sport. On the flip side, character design is a hit-or-miss kind of deal, but everything else is so well put together that a minor quibble such as that will be left in the proverbial dust.
Half of the series showcases Ippo going through some tough training regiment which takes a toll on his body, but his love for the sport shines through. That same love also presents itself when he is fighting in the ring, and very rarely have I seen an anime—or anything else for that matter—where I have been on the edge of my seat—both figuratively and literally—with every scrap that is about to take place. As was stated before, this anime has a lot of heart, and every character is boxing for a different reason. The series explores these reasons well and gives every boxer time to develop as a character as well as carry us through Ippo's long and winding road to victory.
Fighting Spirit also delves deeply into the world of boxing itself, giving plenty of the history, terminology, and actual boxing techniques of the sport. Such a thing should come as no surprise since the original manga was penned by George Morikawa who was not only a boxing aficionado, but also a trainer and a boxing journalist. The man knew what he was talking about, and that knowledge transitioned perfectly into the anime. Although the series does give a hefty amount of information about the world of boxing and the athletes that inhabit that world, this anime does not alienate viewers that know little to nothing of the sport.
For those readers out there who are fans of Trigun, the music within Fighting Spirit is familiar territory because both the music from Trigun and this anime are composed by Tsuneo Imahori. The style is distinctly comparable between the two of them, and as much as I did enjoy the music to Trigun—considering how fitting it was—the music in Fighting Spirit is more along the lines of so-so. Music is not the strongest point in this series but when it comes to sound effects, this anime is a knockout (excuse the lame pun). When fists hurtle against flesh and bone, it sounds real and exudes the energy of pain in a way which the viewer feels the recipient's affliction. The voice acting is also top-notch especially when two characters come to mind; Ippo, played by Kohei Kiyasu exudes the timid nature of Ippo which then explodes into confidence when it comes to boxing rather perfectly. As for the second voice actor which caught my attention the most—Rikiya Koyama—his work as the brash, bold, machismo-ridden Mamoru Takamura is noteworthy as well as hilarious.
Speaking of hilariousness, Fighting Spirit has humor in spades and most of it is slapstick in nature. That is the kind of comedy which works the best for the subject matter of this series—it is a physical series, so it makes sense that the humor of the series is physical as well. But unlike some other anime which uses physical comedy that quickly becomes stale, this anime utilizes the kind of humor that was seen in classic slapstick such as The Three Stooges. When the three main characters Kimura, Aoki, and Takamura are on screen, it is some of the funniest animated comedy, since the trio bounces off of each other well. Aside from physical antics, this series utilizes a lot of raunchy humor but never overdoes it to the point where it devolves into becoming an ecchi anime.
With all of the praise that has been heaped upon it, it must be hard to believe that this series would have any flaws to being with. The only one that comes to mind—aside from the minor quibbles of character design and weak music mentioned before—is that of one or two filler episodes. To be fair, such filler is to be expected from a series of such length as this one, it merely comes with the territory. But for filler, this series had some decent episodes and most of the filler does not go past two-to-three episodes. So—this is—yet another minor cavil that can easily be overlooked for it's obvious strengths as a whole.
Fighting Spirit is a worthy series and can be enjoyed by just about anyone, boxing and non-boxing fans alike. What could have easily slid into a lowest common denominator series about muscle bound freaks fighting, merely for the sake of fighting, is instead a heartfelt show full of athletes duking it out for their dreams—and one young man whom the viewer cannot help but cheer for him the entire journey.
An intense, brutal, yet heartwarming and enthralling series about the tough world of boxing and a young underdog's path to glory. For those viewers in the crowd who dislike fighting and boxing, take away a star or two. I still suggest seeing it anyway. — Dallas Marshall
Recommended Audience: Not for young children. Full of intense fighting, some blood, slapstick humor, and even some sexual jokes; Hajime No Ippo is more suited for those of us who are thirteen years of age or older.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (76/76)
Fighting Spirit © 2000 George Morikawa / Kodansha / Bop / NTV
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