I’m a combat sports nut, no way around it. I watch every UFC and Bellator, I write weekly MMA articles and my birthday wish is for Gennady Golovkin to knock David Lemieux into the next century. Naturally, Hajime no Ippo was an anime tailor made for me.
The anime follows a shy little high school outcast named Makunouchi Ippo. Possessing extraordinary good nature and kindness, Ippo has no social life because he must help his mother with their fishing boat business after the death of his father. During one of many beatings at the hand of a group of bullies, he’s saved by an extraordinarily talented but brash boxer named Takamura Mamoru.
To improve Ippo’s self esteem as well as teach him self defense, Takamura teaches him to throw a right straight and is amazed at the amount of power he generates as a result of his incredible musculature from working on the fishing boat. Ippo eventually decides he wants to be a professional boxer and with the helps of friends and his coach, marches towards the top.
There’s so much to love about this anime.
First, it’s a definite feel good story. The fact that Ippo is so determined, almost free from animosity with his child like kindness makes him a really likable protagonist. I don’t want to say it’s anime Rocky because it oversimplifies what is really a great anime, but one could be forgiven for thinking that over the first few episodes.
Second, there’s actually a decent amount of boxing terminology and knowledge sprinkled in. It’s not the deepest stuff, but it’s enough to ensure that newbies to boxing will understand what’s going on. As bizarre as this may sound, Hajime no Ippo may be one of the best ways to make people interested in boxing in the first place.
Bonus points because they reference famous boxers when explaining techniques. Sure there are some super popular ones like Mike Tyson, but other lesser known stars like Thomas “Hitman” Hearns get a shout out too which is great.
The final, big point is that Hajime no Ippo has some really good slapstick comedy. In my humble opinion slapstick is one of the lowest forms of comedy, but Hajime no Ippo gets it right. It has great dialogue and timing to go along with the gags and they often have no build up for some real gut busters.
What really elevates the show, however, is how much time they devote to characterizing everyone on the show. Every single boxer on Hajime no Ippo gets a backstory that explains why they are the way they are and it is amazing. Even the first real “villain” of the series is revealed to be an orphan who cares deeply for his sister, and that his brutality and sometimes flagrant fouling in the ring is a result of his desperation to provide for her.
Sure the fighters sometimes disappear from the series after a single fight, but that doesn’t stop them from being characterized. Hats off to this show.
This show isn’t without some notable drawbacks though.
One is that if the viewer isn’t interested in boxing, there’s just no way they’ll endure. Even with humor and characterization, so much of the story revolves around boxing that they’ll rapidly grow bored.
The second flaw is that there aren’t really any female characters in the series. I despise the monster that social justice has become, but this isn’t the case of there being no “strong” women . . . there just aren’t really any women period! 40 episodes in and I count count the notable women in the series on one hand. Less if you eliminate the ones that function as sex objects.
I mean, give the show a try it is really good but if you’re turned off I get it.
So who’s this show for?
If you like boxing or want ed to learn more about it and like a humorous anime, give Hajime no Ippo a try. The two series that follow it, Hajime no Ippo: A New Challenger and Hajime no Ippo: Rising are vast improvements so its worth sticking through it if there’s stuff you don’t like in it.
NOTE: While I am firmly in the category of “dubbed over subbed” Hajime no Ippo is so hit-or-miss with its dubbing that you lose out on a lot of the humor. Stick to subtitles if you can.