One of the things that I really learned after I started working full time, is how precious time can be. Because of this, I can understand what a daunting task it must be to check out Hajime no Ippo; the total franchise has a bit more than 100 episodes; that’s not something you just watch in a lazy afternoon. However, that’s the beauty of the second season, New Challenger: it’s a sequel, but perfectly allows newcomers to the franchise to pick it up, and it contains some of the most kickass fights imaginable. For those who do have the time and want the full experience, there is the first season.
The length of 76 episodes has both its advantages and disadvantages, but let me first rave about the technical part: Madhouse did the seemingly impossible by having consistently awesome animation during the entire run. The animation is often smooth, punches are animated with a huge weight behind them, a meticulous amount of research went into how boxers move, ranging from the simple jabs to the flash knock-out punches. Do not get mislead by the simple art style, because this allows the creators a great amount of freedom while animating.
Now, the New Challenger series didn’t really have a main character. The first season however does have a clear one: Ippo. The entire series shows about thirteen matches of his, and even the matches in which he doesn’t appear are either 1) cut short or 2) meant to show how awesome Ippo is. Because of this, this series is very, very shounen: wanting to become the best, lots and lots of training arcs and the underdog are very common themes that just keep returning in this series. However, the fact remains that this is no high school series: right from the start this is about professional boxing.
I don’t just say that because I personally tend to like sports series about professionals more than high school sports clubs (for me, this matters more than whether or not the characters are teenagers or adults), but because this also allows this series to really look into the other aspects of professional boxing other than training and fighting. There are some really good arcs throughout the series that look at the personal life and troubles, injuries, and how boxers sustain themselves to get enough money.
The huge benefit of the length is that this series has plenty of time to flesh everyone out, and it makes full use of it. Ippo perhaps isn’t the most interesting character, but this series just continues to develop and change him. Every single side character is given ample time to tell his story. Nearly every opponent that Ippo fights is given a good and non-cheesy backstory and characterization. The most amazing thing is… that there isn’t really a villain here. Al of the opponents that Ippo fights are just professional boxer themselves. At first sight there does seem to be a stereotypical rival, but even that guy steps out of this rival role as the show goes on.
As for the big downside of the length… well, this is a show with 76 episodes that consist out of nothing but boxing. In the end, I still have to say that Hajime no Ippo’s best matches are in the New Challenger series: that just had four fights, and it did everything it could to make those four stand alone and make them as epic as possible. With Hajime no Ippo, the fights fall into a formula. This series especially loves the pattern of pummeling someone to near-KO, only to have him make a miracle come-back, and it unfortunately pulls this twist a little too often, to the point where you can just predict when it’ll happen. The matches in this series are definitely exciting, but they miss the raw power that I experienced in the New Challenger series.
The new Challenger series was compact and perfect. The first season meanwhile was a lot harder to sit through because of its length and monotonous pacing, even though it never really drags on. If you’ve got the time though, by all means watch it, because it remains an incredibly solid sports series.
|Storytelling:||8/10 – This one is really dangling between an 8 and a 9. This series is really well paced, but in the end it does get a bit formulaic with its length and big focus over just Ippo.|
|Characters:||9/10 – Every single character is interesting to various degrees. No villain whatsoever.|
|Production-Values:||9/10 – Amazing production values for its length. Smooth and fluid animation and well detailed boxing sequences.|
|Setting:||8/10 – A bit shounen, yes, but still a very good portrayal of the boxing world.|