Review: Fighting Spirit (Hajime no Ippo): The First Step
Screener Courtesy of: Geneon Entertainment (USA)
Age Rating: 13+ for blood and some nude scenes (with bodily humour) in the showers
Review By: Jonathon Collis
Ippo Makunochi’s gentle spirit and lack of confidence make him an easy target for the bullies at his high school who regularly beat him up. Then, he’s rescued from a beating by Takamura, a larger-than-life professional boxer who inspires Ippo to learn the art of boxing. After passing one of Takamura’s outrageous tests, Ippo attempts to join the Kamogawa Boxing Club, but Chief Kamogawa refuses to believe Ippo has a fighter’s spirit and requires Ippo to spar with Miyata, an extraordinarily talented and skilled boxer. Can Ippo even survive the first round?
Sports anime have always proven popular in Japan. Be it Tennis (Aim for the Ace!), Judo (Yawara!), Car Racing (Initial D), Soccer (Captain Tsubasa) or any other sport, the story of the reluctant hero rising to the top has entertained and fascinated Japanese audiences for as long as anime has been around. However, the sports genre is greatly under-represented in North America, and it was a pleasure to see that Geneon Entertainment chose to release 2001’s tribute to boxing, Hajime no Ippo (retitled “Fighting Spirit”) in North America.
The first DVD contains episodes One through Five, the last two of which go past the cover blurb, with audio in English, Japanese, and Spanish, but only English subtitles. Also present is a credit roll for the Spanish dub, three minutes of English dub jokes/out-takes, and trailers for Captain Herlock, Gad Guard, and Master Keaton.
As to be expected by Geneon, video quality is top notch. The colours are all bright and vibrant, blacks are properly black, and the sharp lines in the character designs are sharp with no rainbowing or other artefacts. As for the animation itself, it is typical of a 70+ episode TV series, with lots of cash-saving tricks used in the animation. It doesn’t look cheap, but don’t go in expecting something on par with Memories. As for the art, it is very much a throwback to the thick-lined, rough designs common in the late 80’s, and it works well with the series content. Speed lines, blood, and lots of injury marks are also in abundance.
The audio is a standard Stereo 2.0 mix, unsurprising for TV anime, and there were no distortions, drop-outs, or glitches in the Japanese track. Music is used frequently throughout the show, and the soundtrack is a high-energy mix of guitar and synth tracks. As the screener arrived just before our printing deadline, deadline, I did not have a chance to rewatch the show in English, and as I can not understand Spanish, didn’t put on that track either. The subtitles are big and yellow for dialogue (with fast lines coming up in addition, rather than popping off quickly), green for lyrics, and white for on-screen text, with nice thick black borders.
The show itself can only be described as a hoot. I found the first DVD to be highly enjoyable, and I say this as someone without any interest in Boxing. Ippo is a refreshing change from the standard “my-<insert relative>-is-forcing-me-into-this” protagonist of most sports anime, and his determination is admirable. Unfortunately, it comes with the price of being a total klutz, and when paired with the other members of his boxing gym, leads to a number of comedic scenes to break the high levels of “sports guts” tension. Other than the three bullies from Ippo’s school, all the characters are likeable, and the story is on pace with standard sports anime fare (the first big match will begin with the first episode on the second DVD). While it’s pretty obvious to see where things are going to go, sports anime is all about the journey taken to get there, and Fighting Spirit is no exception. Ippo has the same feelings we all do – drive, failure, doubt, and hope – and he grapples with all of them regularly, giving us a sympathetic protagonist, rather than a whiny or stuck-up one. There are a few parts which drag in the first three episodes, but once the series gets going, it goes well.
Overall, Fighting Spirit is a fun look at one man’s dream to change himself and rise above his world. Fans of other sports anime will find this a must-see title, and Ippo’s optimism is a big plus to those who find most sports anime too angsty for their tastes. The biggest drawback to Fighting Spirit, though, is its release schedule – volume one came out in July, and volume two is not scheduled to come out until October, with volume three not yet slated for release. As sports titles tend to contain nasty cliffhangers, it may be in viewers’ interests to hold off on buying this series until a large chunk of it is available.