One of the things that I really like about anime is that it encompasses many genres, not just a couple like American animation. Here in the States, animation is pretty much limited to comedies aimed at young children: Rugrats, Dexter's Lab, and the like. There are a couple of exceptions (Justice League and Teen Titans for example) but by and large cartoons produced in the US are comedies. This is not so in Japan. Their animation industry produces science fiction shows, romances, adventures, detective dramas and even mysteries. Another genre that is popular in Japan is sports shows, something that is rare even in live action television in the states. After the sleeper hit that ADV had a couple of years ago with Princess Nine, Geneon has licensed another sports related anime series, this time based on boxing: Fighting Spirit.
Ippo is a 16-year-old student who gets pushed around a lot. He doesn't have many friends because he spends all his time helping his single mother out with the family business, a fishing boat rental company. Ippo carries the iced down coolers with bait and drinks to the boats, loads gear and helps the customers get on their way. Spending all of his time working has made him socially awkward and that, in turn, leads to him being bullied frequently. One day when three thugs are pummeling him, Takamura, a local boxer, sees what is going on and stops the beating. Poor Ippo loses consciousness after being rescued, and Takamura carries him to the nearby gym to let him recover.
When he comes to, Ippo thanks his rescuer, who shows him around the gym. Ippo notices a punching bag and takes a swing at it. His punch is clumsy, so Takamura gives him some pointers. Ippo lets fly with a devastating punch that impresses everyone in the gym, and bloodies his hand. All the time Ippo has been lugging around bait, he's also been building his muscles, and he has a lot of power. Takamura lends him some tapes of boxing matches and send him home.
Ippo devours the tapes. He watches them again and again. After careful consideration Ippo tracks Takamura down and tells him that he wants to become a professional boxer. Surprisingly, Takamura is outraged! He says that boxing is serious and not a fad to be followed for a short time and then dropped. Ippo says that he has given the matter a lot of thought and is really serious. Swayed by the boy's determination and enthusiasm, Takamura agrees to put Ippo to a test. If Ippo passes, he'll train him. But Takamura comes up with a difficult task, one that he is sure Ippo will never pass.
So ends the first episode of Fighting Spirit. This is a very exciting show. For anyone who thinks the subject matter may be a little boring, just remember back to the first time you saw Rocky. That movie and Fighting Spirit have a lot in common. Ippo, like Rocky Balboa, is an underdog who has a lot of power, but not the training he needs. And like Rocky, Ippo has a strong will to succeed. Both shows get their appeal from being able to cheer for the underdog, someone who you sympathize with and can relate to.
The show is also reminiscent of Princess Nine, another series that I enjoyed. They have a similar pace, where every victory is met with another challenge. Every time Ippo succeeds passing one test, there is another that seems almost as insurmountable facing him. The more he learns, the more he realizes that he has a long way to go.
The character designs are very good too. The people who populate this show are not the unrealistically thin and beautiful characters that are found in most anime. The individuals in this show are more solid and look more like real people than caricatures. I liked how Ippo is well built, but not a gorgeous hunk that no one seems to notice. He isn't particularly handsome, like most leading men have to be.
I viewed this DVD while listening to both the English stereo dub and the original stereo Japanese soundtrack. I preferred the original track, but only slightly. The dub was very good, with the voice actors not overplaying their rolls as they often do when dubbing anime. Both audio tracks sounded a little thin, but otherwise very nice. There was limited use made of the soundstage, but when there were directional effects they were very effective. Hiss and distortion were nonexistent, making this a pleasure to listen to.
The full frame image was very clean and clear. The colors were bright and varied. The picture has a good amount of detail with the lines being tight and clean. A very good-looking DVD.
Included on this disc was a very funny blooper reel where the English voice actors messed up their lines, sometimes on purpose. It was only three minutes long, but well worth watching.
This is a great show. Though I'm not a sports fan myself, and
I don't think I've ever even watched an entire boxing match on TV, I really
liked this program. It is fun cheering for the underdog and seeing
him progress as he trains. The obstacles in his way seem overwhelming,
but they are dealt with in a realistic fashion. I am looking forward
to seeing how this series works itself out. For those of you getting
tired of endless mecha battles or magical girls, this is a series that
you should try out. A very strong Recommended rating.