Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hajime no Ippo

You'd honestly rather read 'Prince of Tennis' than this?

Two weeks ago I wrote about a character who had been around for 30 years and how his legend of suck has evolved into some strange sort of hero worship for nerds.

Today, I'll talk about something that as of this writing has reached it's 20th anniversary of publication and while it may be having it's own moments of suckage right now (Don't get too excited, Fett-boys, your hero will always be #1) it is still a great read and perhaps one of the most underrated mangas ever written.

Back in 2005, I was participating in an online discussion related to the (then) upcoming movie Rocky Balboa. At the time, I was shaking my head at the thought of Stallone getting back into the ring and slurring his way through another fight and was looking for another source of boxing related fiction. That was when someone asked me if I had ever read or watched Hajime no Ippo. Since I had not and was always eager to give something boxing related a look, I decided it was best to check it out.

First, let me just say that Hajime no Ippo (Fighting Spirit as it was called in the North American dub) is terribly cliched. You have your standard weakling main character who decides to become a professional boxer, the wise old sage/coach with a Gordon Ramsay like temper, the rival/friend who is perfect in every way yet a polar opposite to the main character (A common character in anime), and a strong, undefeated older champion boxer who is so macho and such a heterosexual that he's almost borderline gay. I'm not joking earlier, Takamura may be one of the most likable sexual predators since Roman Polanski.

However despite all the cliches, this is the only manga I'll read and it's one of the best things I've ever read.

To sum it up, Ippo is a timid high school student who helps run a fishing boat business with his mom and generally gets the crap beaten out of him by the bullies at school. During one of Ippo's many beatings, an up and coming middleweight boxer, Takamura, steps in and saves Ippo. After seeing how cool Takamura is at taking buttons from people (Yeah, apparently boxers can take all the buttons off your shirt while keeping their hands in their pockets) and watching a bunch of Mike Tyson videos Ippo decides that he wants to box professionally too.

Surprisingly, Takamura is a bit pissed off about this because he thinks Ippo is taking the sport very lightly. With tears in his eyes, Ippo asks, "Takamura, what does it mean to be strong?" From there Ippo meets his rival, Miyata and the series is ultimately building up to a super huge mega big time ultra super smash hit gigantic hella mega fight between the two.

Twenty years later, that answer still eludes our hero even though in the manga he's only aged maybe six or seven years.

This is an anime geared towards men and has testosterone dripping from almost every page. If the characters aren't fighting, they're preparing for a match and if they're not doing that then Takamura is making a joke about (and thereby grabbing) Ippo's penis.

Seriously, this series has more dick jokes than a Kevin Smith film festival. And you'd be surprised the number of time that someone makes reference to Ippo's massize Schweitzer-like dick. It almost becomes a plot point. What's even stranger is that sometimes Ippo acts like he wants to use his Schweitzer-schlong on Miyata than Kumi, the girl everybody keeps trying to get him to date.

Why are you picturing Miyata shirtless? GIRLS, Ippo! Boys kiss GIRLS!!!

I've watched the first anime series which ran from 2000 until 2002 which was a few years before I got interested in boxing. It took me a long time until I found the English dub for it since reading subtitles can be a bit annoying. However that quickly changed when I noticed how atrociously ass the dub is. The voice actors sound all wrong, and the dialogue is totally changed around to the point where it's almost geared to kids aged 10-12. If you're going to take an anime where at one point Takamura looks in awe at the size of the crap he takes and try to gear it towards pre-teens then you're heading toward Boba Fett levels of pathetic.

Takamura does not like any comparisons to Boba Fett

What also sucks about the anime series is that there is no mention at all of Mike Tyson. In the manga, Ippo watches a Tyson highlight video and that starts his boxing adventure. Here, he just watches some unknowns and it's lame. Granted, Tyson had just lost the title by the time this manga was published but still, there are lots of similarities between his and Ippo's style of fighting which would have been great for the anime.

However, when the show ended in 2002, the series had barely scratched the surface of Hajime no Ippo. Yes he had won the Japanese Featherweight Title but there were so many great fights and great storylines that had yet to be told on the small screen. However, I knew that the manga was far from over and I could continue to read a new chapter every week.

So you can imagine my shock when a new series, Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger premiered in January of last year. The original Japanese voice actors were all back (aside from a few minor characters) and it had the look and feel of the original series, picking up right where it left off in 2002. And it started out promptly with Takamura grabbing Ippo's massive dick while in the shower.

Uh...did someone put their hentai pics on my blog?

However, all good things don't last forever (I'm talking about New Challenger, not Ippo's free handjob) and the series ended after just 26 episodes. It's not cancelled because it has been revealed that there will be a third season. That's great and all but why do we have to wait so long?

Which brings me to the manga. It's great as I've said but at the same time, it's starting to get a little frustrating. Ippo is at this point, still Japanese champion and ranked by the WBC (World Boxing Commission) yet in almost every fight lately he seems to be getting the shit beat out of him when he shouldn't be. I mentioned earlier how his fighting style is similar to Mike Tyson's but at the moment he seems to be getting spanked just like Tyson did against Lennox Lewis. And the thing is, Tyson had incredible defense in his peak and would hit you twelve times for every shot you missed. However Ippo's defense seems to resemble the late Arturo Gatti, who would block every right hook with left side of his face.

And this is the second fight in a row that this has happened. The one before that was so bad that I think I've actually blocked it from my memory. It also doesn't help that the fights are longer than they were in the beginning of the series.

Mike Tyson gives foreshadowing to the next chapter of 'Hajime no Ippo'.

Hopefully the series does get better and I think the more we get away from Ippo's fights, the better it will get. But if you ever want a good read, Hajime no Ippo is something you should check out. Just don't expect to get it all done in one day. You're going to need a couple of really free weekends to get through this.

Behind the Scenes

It almost sounds a bit strange for me to actually say it out loud but for the past year, I've been making comics. Certainly not on a pro...