Check-in Station: Hajime no Ippo ch398 – 900+ (Going the distance)
Hajime no Ippo isn’t what I’d call one of my core series. For me, a core series is one that got you started on anime or heavily influenced your tastes and expectations of what the medium had to offer. Dragonball Z for example is a core series because it is the genesis of my obsession with anime. Trigun is a core series because it raised my expectations early on as to what a good hearfelt, intense story could bring. The same applies to Cowboy Bebop. The difference now is that Hajime no Ippo has come along far too late in my anime viewing life for me to put it in that coveted spot. But I’m sure if I had gotten a chance to read the manga ten or twelve years ago, it would have been one of the most influential things I’ve ever watched.
For this post, I’ll be mostly referring to Hajime no Ippo in its original manga form. The series manga-ka, George Morikawa has done something outstanding by constructing a story that’s intense, entertaining, funny and rather endearing. All while keeping this just short of being too heavy handed. The story focuses almost exclusively on boxing, but manages to mix things in nicely with that main ingredient. It takes the many standard shounen tropes and seemlessly weaves them into the narrative. The boxers and trainers all have hopes and dreams. And while they mostly fight at different levels for these things you can feel their struggle in the narrative and the through the amazing artwork. All these boxers, all these dreams and there’s still some much needed ground to cover.
Makunochi Ippo – the somewhat titular character. He’s as basic and simple as they come. And his style reflects that. In the ring, he’s a borish infighter type that uses his ridiculous power (for his weight class) to win matches. Together with his trainer, Genji Kamogawa, they make the perfect team. Kamogawa has instilled his traits, his goals, his mentality into Ippo completely; and Ippo has accepted those things just as completely without a second thought. Ultimate trust and determination is what Ippo and his trainer share and represent.
Outside of boxing, Ippo is damn near hopeless. He’s not completely socially inept. On the docks and on his mother’s boat is where he’s most naturally at home outside of the boxing ring. He’s a tireless and hardworking momma’s boy and for that reason it makes it hard not to like him. And he’s every good kid’s dream. Going from being a complete pushover, constantly picked on by bullies, to being one of the strongest men in Japan. All while never laying a finger on those who tormented him in school. Then again, being the Japanese featherweight champion will win you your share of allies.
If anything annoys me about Ippo, it would be that when it comes to the person he most obviously loves, he neglects her. Kumi is the sister of one of his stronger rivals, but they came together beautifully… as friends. Over nine hundred chapters into the series they don’t seem to be any closer to becoming a couple. It’s rather ridiculous actually. Luffy may find One Piece in that amount of time. That being said I’ve never hated him for that even though I find it to me one of the more personally annoying and despicable traits I can find in a character. I just want to punch him in the head and tell him to keep going and don’t forget her along the way. I’ve almost never rooted against him in a match and I’m not gonna root against him being with the woman of dreams. Ippo’s slow, but he’s strong. He’ll get her eventually. Or maybe I should say she’ll get him eventually. Yeah. It’s that bad.
Ichiro Miyata – without a doubt Ippo’s rival. A skilled outboxer and counter puncher with incredible skills. He’s spent much of his life trying to be like his father. When Ippo was discovered by Takamura he was tested by the gyms protege. The similarly aged Miyata. Their spars ended with a record of one and one. Miyata decided to leave the gym and planned to settle their score in the ring as professionals. To much the chagrin of every reader who loves this series, the two have yet to meet in the ring since then. Another of Ippo’s rivals, the Naniwa Tiger, Takeshi Sendo has stated that the two may not be fated to meet in the ring. As they seem to getting farther and farther apart.
Miyata appears to be the classic stoic rival character in these shounen series. The Vegeta character who tries hard to fight fate and his rival’s natural strength with his own ridiculous, stubborn determination and skill. Though it appears that so far Miyata has succeeded at staying one step ahead of Ippo (just barely) in progress for much of the series. It’s an ongoing arms race from afar between Ippo and him to see who’s developed enough to fight the other and win.
I honestly don’t love Miyata, but Morikawa obviously puts great effort and skill into fleshing out his character. You could almost see how Miyata could’ve been the star of his own boxing manga with his exciting gutsy wins. Though nothing is as exciting as seeing an Ippo comeback. It’s sad that their match may never happen, though I think that it’s bullsh*t that they could NEVER meet. Featherweight appears to not be Miyata’s optimal weight, but Ippo could easily gain the weight to challenge him in another weight class, though that would just show how far away their confrontation truly is. Both have their own goals that they now have to chase. Though I will be waiting for that fight anxiously.
Takeshi Sendo – despite Miyata being Ippo’s “destined rival”, it appears that Sendo is Ippo’s true rival. Besides Shimabakuro, he’s the only man to rival Ippo’s strength and is a former featherweight champion himself. He’s an infighter-type who specializes in mid-range punches. And his “Smash” is a punch that perfectly personifies his wild and aggressive nature.
He has the nicknames of the “Naniwa Tiger” and “Rocky” (not the fictional boxer, Rocky Marciano) and was a character I found kind of annoying at first. He really wanted Ippo to fight him. It was that first match with Ippo at the end of the Rookie Kings tournament that won me over to him. He fought Ippo to a virtual standstill, but in the end he couldn’t finish it in I believe the most memorable ending to a match I’d seen in the series to date. It had a strange air of sadness to it.
Their second match was just as memorable, because now Sendo had overtaken him and become the Japanese champion first. He’d beaten one of Ippo’s fiercest opponents to become the champion and had beaten down several opponents in title defense with a burning desire to meet Ippo fueling his efforts. You could argue over whether it was Ippo’s fight with Date or this second match with Sendo that “completed” Ippo as a Japanese ranked featherweight boxer, but you can’t argue the fierceness of the match or it’s incredible ending. It may be one of the better fights I’ve ever witnessed in an anime or manga. And it is the only time I’ve ever cheered against Ippo. Sendo is currently making his rounds through Japan for training, preparing to take on the world ahead of Makunochi.
Date Eiji – he is the loan boxer to ever defeat Ippo in the professional ring. And may be the biggest, most positive influence on Ippo as a boxer. He is also the Japanese featherweight to make it the farthest so far in the story, twice clashing with the god-like Ricardo Martinez, the long time defending, undefeated WBA champion of the world. And in both of those matches he was utterly destroyed.
Though he’s now a trainer at one the gyms in Tokyo, he’s still a great character. He filled out that sempai role very well. It was a little disheartening to hear everyone call him old though and he was my age. Regardless, he served as a great influence to the boxers who were to follow him, including…
Mamoru Takamura – a middleweight and above boxer. He’s what you’d plainly call a freak of nature. He has unnatural stopping power, speed and instincts. Most talented boxers in these stories are called geniuses, but I think Takamura’s prowess as a boxer would be better described as a force of nature.
When it comes to Takamura’s actual personality, all I can say is, “What an ass!” I love his character in the story, but I know he would be impossible to be around in real life. He’s incredibly rude, selfish, loud and violent. But he’s also inspiring to those who follow him (in a very strange way). And it’s been made clear on several occasions that if he wasn’t there things wouldn’t be the same. He’s funny as hell too, though he does have a large repetoire of homophobic humor. He’s the man who has recruited Ippo, Aoki and Kimura and has given Coach Kamogawa his first world title. Despite what a horrible person he may come across as to most people, he’s invaluable to the gym and the story. His fight with Brian Hawk has been described as one of the best fights you’ll ever see in anime. Period.
Masaru Aoki & Tatsuya Kimura – an awkward, unorthodox infighter and plain, unremarkable outboxer are how you’d describe Aoki and Kimura’s fighting styles. A pair of thugs who followed Takamura into boxing after he soundly beat their asses. Aoki and Kimura have been toiling away in the middle of their respective ranks for awhile, though both have had a title shot. Aoki is very often the butt of jokes and Takamura’s abuse, but he does eventually find a girlfrind. An ugly one. Kimura briefly flirted with retirement after clashing with one of Ippo’s rivals for a title match. You cheer for these guys because they try hard and they realistically suck. But like Takamura, the series wouldn’t be the same without them.
Manabu Itagaki – a featherweight outboxer with a ton of potential, Itagaki is Ippo’s junior and looks up to him. Strangely his highschool rival is a an infighter who is very similar to Ippo, and Itagaki himself reminds many of Miyata. He is at the same time the heir and the gatekeeper to Ippo’s title as several attempts at Ippo have been thwarted by opponents who have been unable to get through him.
To me, Itagaki is the most intriguing character in the series. Morikawa has plenty of options with him, but what he appears to be hinting at is that Itagaki could be Ippo’s most dangerous opponent and rival. He has potential that exceeds Miyata’s and has an uncanny ability to pick up and use opponents’ moves that he finds interesting in his upcoming matches. In short, Ippo has everything Itagaki wants, the Japanese championship, his power, he even seems to have a crush on Ippo’s long, long, long time crush Kumi Mashiba. Whenever Morikawa decides to pull the trigger on Itagaki things will get very interesting.
While I didn’t cover every interesting character in the story, and definitely not even a majority of the boxers, I think you get the idea of the breadth and scale of the characters and their relationships. The fights themselves have to be seen to be believed.
Here’s a list of great fights that occur after the end of the end of the New Challenger anime series. It’s a good halfway point in the story. You can catch all the other great fights in the anime series or the manga, but this stuff has yet to be animated.
-Kamogawa flashback arc – chapter 400
-Shimabakuro vs Ippo – chapter 426
-Sawamura vs Ippo – ch481
-Itagaki vs Imai – chapter 597
-Randy Boy Jr. vs Miyata – chapter 819
If you haven’t been reading the manga, but want to pick up after the end of the anime series then I suggest volume 45 or more specifically chapter 398 is a good place to pick things back up at. It will be easy to get back up to speed after the Brian Hawk fight.
It’s been a fun 900 plus chapter ride and I’m anxious for more. Hopefully those of you reading this who haven’t picked up the series will give it a shot. I’ve yet to be disappointed and this has become one of my all-time favorite manga.
- The Nihon Review: excellent review of the first anime series, for those that are completely uninitiated.