This post is going to be a bit different. Unlike the rest of you silent ‘friends’, The Otaku Judge has reigned as Murf Versus’s most prolific commentator for a long time. Up until now, I haven’t really had a chance to mention his blog. Today, that changes because I’m going to take inspiration from his excellent reviews.
BEFORE WE CONTINUE, if you didn’t click either of those two links, here’s your last chance. I really do recommend his blog. More than just anime, he often reviews older games as well. Plus, the writing is solid, to the point, and the blog as a whole is easy on the eyes. No reason not to read it!
Hajime no Ippo: Rising aired during the Fall 2013 anime season. It is the third set (or whatever you call them) in a lengthy series that follows Makunouchi Ippo, a rising star in Japanese boxing, as well as other members of his gym. Originally, I had intended to do an episode-by-episode recap but I quickly lost interest (recaps aren’t really my thing). Nevertheless, I watched every episode of the series, loving every minute. Ippo has long been one of my favorite series to watch and Rising did not disappoint.
For the purposes of the review, I am going to focus on the Rising‘s final four episode arc. As a prequel set long before Ippo was even born, it won’t be a spoiler that ruins your interest in the show. Yet, as one of my favorite singular arcs in any anime ever, I think it is necessary to spread its singular greatness to fans and non-fans of Ippo alike.
At the conclusion of Rising’s season, Ippo’s coach, Genji Kamogawa, reflects on the recent successes of his coaching career and, along with boxing rival and best friend, Nekota Ginpachi, tells the story of how the two fought an American boxer in post-World War II Japan, at the height of their fighting careers. While there are parallels to Ippo and his own rival, it is the setting that differentiates Genji and Nekota from modern-day boxing, as well as setting the stakes.
Early on, Genji reflects at how amazing mankind is for being able to recover so quickly from something as traumatic as nuclear war. Poverty and hunger run rampant in the makeshift cities that have sprung up in the wake of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To make a living, Genji and Nekota work as prize fighters competing in amateur boxing matches. Despite being rivals themselves, their mutual competitive spirit spurs them both on to not only be better fighters but incredibly strong friends.
When a mutual friend and fellow fighter is defeated easily by an American soldier in an amateur boxing match, Nekota and Genji are both horrified by the American’s attitude. Not only is he larger and stronger than any of the Japanese fighters, but he takes great glee in destroying the ‘inferior’ Japanese. Later that night, Nekota and Genji are both alarmed by a woman named Yuki screaming. The same American soldier from earlier has chosen her to be his, believing that he can freely do what he wants with whomever he pleases. Despite their strengths and talent, Nekota and Genji are both beaten by the American who clearly is more than just an amateur boxer to Genji’s more experienced eyes.
Thankfully, Yuki manages to escape unharmed and the three quickly strike up a friendship. Nekota quickly takes a liking to the young lady, and when he realizes she is homeless, invites her to stay at Genji’s place since he has an extra room. Nekota also invites himself to move in.
This naturally leads to a bit of a love triangle, but the story never gets sidetracked in doing so. Instead, the focus is on the relationship between the three, as well as the continued friendly rivalry between the two boxers. Not wanting to overstep his friend’s obvious feelings, Genji doesn’t try to fight for Yuki’s affections though she is naturally attracted to his quiet, reserved, and more mature nature.
While the setting is bleak, Nekota, Genji, and Yuki are all perfect examples of Hajime No Ippo‘s ability to portray powerful characters full of heart. The series time and time again balances perfectly the right levels of humor and seriousness needed to make you fall in love with each character. Nekota is often funny, though utterly sincere. Genji is far more serious, though never by sacrificing likeability. As the only character without prior backstory, Yuki manages to be completely charming. As a victim in many ways of a country shattered by war, she’s a reminder that Nekota and Genji aren’t just fighting for money to survive, they are fighting to inspire an entire people to overcome great tragedy.
The American, of course, provides a perfect person to blame. He’s egotistical, incredibly strong, and uncaring. He’s a powerful weapon dropped into a culture with no ways to counteract its presence. He is the reminder of American dominance and an American victory that killed over a quarter-million of their fellow countrymen. To balance out the sheer cruelty of his character, his boxing trainer and fellow soldier is a man who learns to respect the will of Japanese fighters to not give up, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Of the few American characters present, he’s the only one that shows the possibility of a mutual respect between the two cultures in the future.
No arc in Hajime No Ippo is complete without a real fight. Rising’s final bouts do not disappoint. As common theme throughout the series is the idea of a person’s ‘fighting spirit’ – it is the will that forces a fighter to continue fighting no matter the odds, the damage they’ve taken, or the despair they have begun to feel. After Nekota realizes a previous boxing-related injury sustained while fighting Genji will soon force him to retire, he decides to take on the American as one last show of strength and to prove to Yuki how much he cares for her.
There is very little about Hajime No Ippo’s fighting that can be described as over-the-top. The entire series is very well-grounded in actual boxing terminology, training, and techniques, and its special attacks are taken directly from real boxing moves from throughout the sport’s history. It is in the series’s realism that it best manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. This isn’t a show where the hero pulls a random trick out of a hat. Instead, this is a series that shows real talent, real hard work, and a real fighting spirit doing its best to grasp victory.
In other words, the fights with the American are incredibly tense. Though the show is well-grounded, it is nearly impossible to predict how a victory will come about or if it will come about at all. Given the sheer hatred you feel for the American as well as the love you feel for Genji, Nekota, and Yuki, these final fights leave you completely invested in their outcome.
They certainly left me yelling at the screen.
Though I love the entire series, it can be difficult to convince anyone to watch the entire run of Hajime No Ippo since it is nearly one hundred episodes long. This arc, however, stands perfectly alone and does an amazing job both summing up the anime’s strengths as well as sells you on wanting more.
I also happen to think that the setting is a perfect place to tell some really amazing stories about the human spirit. There are few modern examples of tragic events such as American bombing of Japan. Even in its utter horror, the Japanese people’s ability to persevere and rebuild is nothing short of amazing. Rising’s final arc is a microcosm of this larger story.
It stands as a perfect example of mankind’s fighting spirit, one that best exhibits itself outside the boxing ring where civilization is rebuilt anew time and time again, never surrendering to the odds and never giving up.