Why You Should Watch/Read Hajime no Ippo
I have never been particularly interested in the sport of Boxing. It is not like, I am against the endeavor but I would straight up watch a Netflix show to 12 rounds of Boxing.
Given the case, you would be forgiven for thinking that maybe a 100-plus episode show entirely dedicated to Boxing might not necessarily be up my alley. And it is here my friends you are wrong.
Hajime no Ippo in a lot of ways is the most exemplary and pure example of Shonen anime within the entire genre. There are no superpowers, no laser blasts, and no screaming so loud that your hair changes color. Instead what we have is a story about an underdog boxer Makunouchi Ippo and his journey to the top of Japan’s Boxing League.
The Manga is the second most long-running series of all time clocking in at a staggering one thousand four hundred plus chapters and still ongoing. It is written and illustrated by George Morikawa who at a very early age was infamous for brawling with other High School students. Even somehow managing to get into a fistfight during his High School entrance exam.
He would eventually challenge this enthusiasm into Boxing and would later in Life be the Co-owner of the JB Sports Boxing Gym as well as acting as a coach to many young Boxers.
You just need to read only some chapters to understand how well an understanding of Boxing Morikawa has. Every page of Manga is infused with deep love and respect for the sport and it’s through this that we experience the journey.
In this blog post, I have talked about Why you should Read/Watch Hajime no Ippo.
To check the watch order: https://animeloved.com/blog/hajime-no-ippo-watch-order/
The face of Sports Anime
Though It may not seem like it due to the relative resurgence of sports-style anime. Sports anime back in the day were a fairly tough pitch for Western audiences right up until recently.
Companies are notoriously hesitant to localize sports anime in the West and the reason was right there in the name. Sports anime invariably focused on sports and if that was not enough to put off many cat-eared Western fans. It was most likely due to preconceptions about sports and the people who enjoyed them.
But, Hajime no Ippo is just as good an anime series as Haikyuu!, Slam Dunk, if not better. It is just as enjoyable and dramatic as other A-class series.
It is tough to get past the initial stage of I hate sports barrier. Yes, Hajime no Ippo is about Boxing, but that’s just a framework for a beautifully nuanced and exceptionally well-executed Hero’s journey to take place. On this journey, you will witness some of the most tremendously eruptive victories and losses.
You will also meet some of the most likable and endearing characters within the genre as a whole.
The character of the Protagonist
Makunouchi Ippo, the protagonist is the walking, punching embodiment of the traditional Japanese hero. He’s quiet, polite, and never challenges the status quo. Facing an opponent he has nothing negative to say about them, neither does he present himself so that he may be conceived as cool or aggressive.
At first glance, he does not seem ideal to be a hero in a story where major themes involve beating your opponent into unconsciousness. But as the story progresses we begin to connect and root for the good and decent guy he is. He doesn’t try to be nice, he just is, this is quite evident in the fact that he bows to the audience after winning fights. He works doubly hard to help out his mom with her fishing business, and instead of holding grudges or hating his opponents, he tries to see the best in them.
And it’s a lot of fun watching the good-spirited innocent hero go up against a cavalcade of boxers who most certainly are not.
Slow Progression of the Show
When we are first introduced to Makunouchi in episode one, he is as far from a professional fighter as you can imagine. He is bullied at school and his quiet nature means that he doesn’t have any friends.
Upon being saved by Takamura, he is brought to a boxing gym. There he starts from absolute zero, he doesn’t possess any kind of innate talents apart from above-average upper-body strength.
From here we slowly watch people build up his set of moves and techniques. He is so unskilled at the beginning that his first few wins genuinely come across as flukes. But slowly we watch him expand, outwards mastering the jab, uppercut, blocking, footwork, had movement, dodging, countering, and eventually incorporating it all into his signature style.
Allowing Ipoh to develop his abilities slowly like this, not only makes every victory seem all the more rewarding but also gives us a window into Ipoh as a character.
Build up to a Fight
Each Boxing match is in a sense its own narrative arc, taking anywhere from two to eight episodes to conclude. These arcs are divided into two distinct sections, The Build-up to a match and the match itself.
What you might be surprised about upon first viewing Hajime no Ippo is just how long we spend in the first of these two sections. The build-up takes place entirely outside the ring. It is here where we get to know the characters.
In fact, there is a slice-of-life element to these sections as we watch the characters go about their daily lives including training, jobs, and socializing. It can be a lot of fun, but it is also a show where the stakes are really set.
While Hajime no Ippo’s build-up sections involve a lot of dialogue between the characters. It is very little in the way of animation or visual design but within the matches themselves, the show switches gears and begins telling its story largely through the visuals as opposed to dialogue and some absolutely stunning effects.
The weighty brutal and visceral fight scenes of the manga have been translated perfectly. Each movement of the Boxers is communicated with real weight and purpose. Each potential attack carries with it a tangible feeling of force and when one lands, there is a real lasting sense of physical consequence.
One of the biggest ways, the show does this is by slowing down time to a brawl and letting attention build to a peak. And just when things become unbearable, the action explodes in a visceral burst of force.
This infinite helps out with the pacing and timing of each fight and these sections give time to focus on all these subtle little angles of the boxer’s body motion. It really emphasizes just how much force is behind each attack and its attention to detail like this lets the punches of Hajime no Ippo back a harder punch than these super-powered laser blasts of shows like Dragon Ball Z.
The show also uses these moments of slow time to convey to us exactly what a Boxer is thinking at that moment. Watching them figure out each other’s moves and act accordingly adds a crucial layer of strategy and mind games to the matches. Even minute changes in weight and timing can lead to a dramatic and often explosive change in the direction of the match.
Background Sounds are impactful
Backing these visuals is some absolutely stunning stellar sound design. Sound design is not often appreciated by the review circles. But, it is something handled right and can add an incredible amount to a scene.
All the moments of Ipoh are elevated with some really creative and impactful audio. Punches explode with the sound of jet engines and boxers shift their way to the sound of screeching tires. It is all scored with some of the most dramatic music anime has to offer.
The show also knows how to use near silence to build tension to an unbearable extent, only letting the action resume with intense, dramatic noise.
This is a bold and confident sound design and something that I would like to see more often in other shows
While they start off as merely background characters. Each one slowly starts to develop its own narrative arc. And for a long, each one is getting its own multi-episode matches and it’s here that the show is really able to have fun with our expectations.
Ippo’s teammates are above his weight class, so they do not cross the barrier into being actual rivals. Their characters and the fights are not affected by each other. This helps to find them as their own characters on their journey.
The threat of defeat to these side characters is always real compared to Ippo’s. Their fights add texture and pacing to the show as a whole.
Hajime no Ippo is a genre-defining anime, it has paved the way for other sports anime to become recognized on the world stage. I think if anime like Haikyuu and Slam Dunk have gained so much appreciation and viewership, the base was built by Hajime no Ippo.
Even if sports anime is not your thing, you should definitely check it out. The sports part is just an introduction to the lives of some very interesting people. The connection you will build with these characters will last forever.