Episode 72: Dempsey Rolling with the Punches

Today the URI Grad Conference people have done some amazing work when it comes to organizing craziness together for the sake of panel acceptance and grouping. Also, I almost killed a few PCs during an assault on their newly acquired island fort. So much shenanigans. Ok, enough personal stuff, time for serial boxing amazingness. I’ve been waiting a while to talk about what is one of my new favorite animes of all time: Hajime no Ippo aka Espiritu de Lucha. It was one of those cool animes in the early turn of the millennium that got a decent Spanish dub for Mexican and other latino audiences but never really made it to mainstream American viewership like a DBZ or Naruto. It also made a big impact in the Philippines and other South East Asia/Oceania parts of the world where it influenced a lot of boxers, including Donaire who actually did the title character’s signature super move.

I only recently got into Hajime no Ippo through the magic of Youtube where I saw several cool fights but was able to catch all of the episodes with the surprisingly good Spanish dub. Here’s an amazing scene of the protagonist just unleashing armageddon with his fists to see if I can encourage any of you into watching the show. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaG4hC_JBR8 (FYI, I’ve tried that move against imaginary opponents and you get tired and dizzy super fast so be careful) The premise is fairly simple, take a shy kid with tons of perseverance but no real drive a chance and something to be passionate about and he will be amazing. Along the line you have your grumpy old man coach, the broody rival who is a prodigy but you can stand toe to toe with, the arrogant super dude, and a couple of funny dudes for comedic relief. After that it’s just sprinkle in some rivals along the way which you ultimately befriend and a love interest and you’ve got yourself a cool show. What made it awesome is that you really witnessed a progression of skill and strength by the main characters. Ippo also has to go through a ton of training montages along the way which makes the whole that much more epic if you ever want to pick a few good punch techniques along the way. The whole anime really emphasizes the importance of cultivating your natural talent through a rigorous work ethic.

One of the cool things about having your protagonist being a wide-eyed optimist that suddenly stumbles into a particular sport is that you can have exposition about basic rules occur without hesitation, even if it is accompanied by a facepalm of disbelief. This allows for the average reader who is not familiar with al the intricacies of rules and traditions to learn alongside the hero in a fairly believable manner. The problem lies in that somewhere down the line (there have been around 4 years of actual story time elapsing between the first and last shown episode) it becomes far-fetched for these seasoned veterans to talk about the rules amongst themselves so new readers or ones that don’t remember something they saw a long time no longer have that issue. Ippo was able to belay that effect in its new season/incarnation through the introduction of Itegaki, a new character with tons of talent but no real world experience in the ring.

Plotwise, the show revolves around titular protagonist Ippo Makanouchi, a schoolboy who desperately wants to know what it’s like to be truly strong. He gets bullied constantly until he meets Mamoru Takamura, an almost inhuman beast of a man who is destined to become world champion. The future champ takes pity on him and ultimately gives Ippo a conduit for all his desires in the form of learning how to box. It takes him several months of training just to get in the door of the gym and get beaten up by his soon to be rival. He has to work hard for every match and takes every opponent seriously, eventually becoming their friends. His perseverance and fighting spirit have no equal and his up close and personal style ensures that any and all victories happen via KO rather than some decision. He is short and meek in everyday life but is menacing and downright scary once he enters the ring.

As he develops into a champ, the story shifts into showing parallel careers grow, including that of his many rivals, and his gym mates. What ends up happening is that there are too many characters to properly follow that inevitably syphon attention and narrative progression from our hero. The anime tries to control this to only some of the more important rivals but the original manga apparently just goes crazy with this kind of thing. It’s been consistently published 1989 and has over a thousand installments, which considering the medium is damn impressive. This means that the story is super extensive but a lot of it has been compacted into the anime, at least until the events of up until the epic match between Takamura and Bryan Hawk, though rumors of a new season coming this year are give me hope that the story will continue. For all intents and purposes, there is no way that the anime will ever catch up with the anime unless you pretty much ignore  bunch of characters and skip over some of “the less relevant/exciting” storylines.

As a serial, you can get to see some interesting moment of temporal perception. Training montages that span weeks or months are one or two episodes. Particularly gruesome fights that take less than an hour can span five or six episodes. Inevitably, you have to encounter a cliffhanger ending in between rounds, or maybe with the hero on the ground with only a few seconds before he gets counted out for a TKO. Maybe because I had pretty decent accessibility to all the episodes I didn’t mind these ending all too much, though I did fast forward through a few of the clip shows. Still, this is a show I greatly recommend to pretty much anyone willing to listen to me. So if you enjoy watching a kid overcome obstacles (and being made fun of for having a huge penis, damn it Japan) give it a shot.

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