Japanese Title: Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting!
Related: Fighting Spirit: Champion Road (sequel)
Similar: KenIchi: The Mightiest Disciple
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 75 Episodes
- Easy hero to cheer for.
- Surprising victory conditions.
- A nice balance of drama, sport, and humour.
- Emotional highs.
- Romance element is wasted.
Even if you haven’t watched Fighting Spirit, you have seen it before. It’s the underdog story of a normal guy who enters boxing as a way to find himself, using drive and determination to close the gap between himself and his opponents. Rocky, Warrior – pick any fighting film and you will know 90% of Fighting Spirit. But there is a reason this story sees itself adapted every few years. Boxing gives the protagonist a direct target to overcome, a target that is near to his equal though just that little bit stronger. And it is in finding the strength to overcome that little bit where he sees what he’s made of and who he is as a person.
Our hero for this boxing journey is Ippo, a short friendless kid often bullied at school. During a routine bullying session, boxing pro Takamura happens to be passing by and helps Ippo out, later taking him to the gym for a patch up. He also suggests that Ippo release his frustration by punching a bag with the lead bully’s face on it. Much to everyone’s surprise, Ippo packs quite a punch, owed in no small part to doing the heavy lifting for his mother’s fishing business every morning and night. This awakens a drive inside him that never existed before. He finally has a goal. With the help of Takamura and others at the gym, he will take each step up the ladder to becoming boxing champion.
Ippo differs a little from other boxing protagonists by already starting strong. He isn’t Steve Rogers with no muscle before growing into Captain America. Ippo’s greatest challenge lies in mental frailty, which ties well with his theme of needing to find a path of his own. He says that he helps his mother because it’s his responsibility, but we see it’s also an excuse not to have to put himself out there and face rejection from peers.
He is an easy protagonist to cheer for. By golly, his innocent outlook and eagerness to improve just makes you want the best for the little guy. The gym owner believes he has no chance as a boxer because he’s too polite. Good humour like this keeps Fighting Spirit from growing too heavy. The best is the running joke of his big package – he packs more than a mighty punch, if ya know what I mean. He’s the Podrick of boxing.
Not forgetting the physical side, Fighting Spirit has Ippo progress through various training exercises to master new techniques, as you would expect. Thankfully, the training segments don’t drag on – this is no Naruto Shippuden – and they make sense, teaching a thing or two to the audience. He never improves just because the author said so. We see his systematic process in how he comes to grips with a new technique.
An advantage Fighting Spirit has over its inspirators like Rocky is in its ability to string a series of fights together over numerous episodes. A movie has to reach the peak quickly. It doesn’t have the luxury of twelve smaller fights before the finale. That’s not to suggest Fighting Spirit is slow or that it takes the extra space for granted. It develops just as fast as any boxing movie with the luxury of showing every stage of development. The training montage doesn’t need to cover months of training here and every important fight is shown in full. If you are a boxing fan, you will love this.
The fights are interesting too. Each opponent is a character full of complexity and with engaging backstory that they bring into the ring. I often find the inner thoughts of battle anime characters to be a waste of time, as they aren’t interesting characters, but Fighting Spirit justifies diving deep into a character’s mind.
While the victor of any given fight won’t come as much of a surprise, the manner in which they win is unpredictable. Will it be the knockout? How many rounds will it take? Will he overcome the Wall? It’s exciting!
All my praise above in mind, do note that this is an anime for boxing enthusiasts. If you dislike boxing or are indifferent to it, Fighting Spirit won’t change your mind.
Art – High
Fighting Spirit has a surprising amount of animation for a cel anime of this length. I expected the rigidity of Rose of Versailles and Legend of the Galactic Heroes. The more realistic art style suits the tone.
Sound – Medium
The dub is average – Ippo’s actor needs work – so go with the Japanese. It may sound old, but it has charm.
Story – High
This is a classic underdog story of fighting through the world of boxing. Though Fighting Spirit uses a formula you have seen elsewhere many times, it executes with such heart and passion that you will want to watch this formula again.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Highly recommended for sports fans – a must for boxing fans. Fighting Spirit won’t convince you if boxing isn’t your sport, but if you have any inclination, this anime won’t disappoint.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)