Of all genres in anime the sports genre is probably the weakest of the bunch. So many sports anime go so far with its over the top stylized action that the very essence of the sport its trying to capture becomes lost amidst the hyper-realistic techniques, awful storyline, and poorly developed one-dimensional characters. Hajime no Ippo is the one exception to this rule and is quite possibly the greatest sports anime to date. This show based on the manga of the same name follows the story of Makunochi Ippo, a shy high school kid who helps his mom at their fishing store but gets picked on by his classmates as a smelly, antisocial weakling. He meets Takamura Mamoru who introduces him to the world of boxing. He then begins his journey to become the world champion.
The key to creating a compelling sports anime depends on 2 major factors: stylized realism vs hyper-realism & character development. The first is the most common mistake most sports anime make. The ability needed for anybody to play these sports requires a great deal of dedication and talent. They don't need dragon's in the background or 2 minutes of characters powering up as they go for the shot in order to be impressive. Hajime no Ippo understands this in spades and creates fights that are as beautiful to watch as they are tense. There are no power ups, no monsters, no demons, and no energy forces; there is just two people facing off in a ring. As a result you feel every punch, every hit, and every broken bone. While some moves may be stylized and exaggerated they all have a basis in real boxing techniques and are handled extremely well. This is directly a result of some gorgeous animation and camera techniques that capture those moments extremely well.
The other shining aspect of this show is its characters. If you read my Dragon Ball Kai review I mention that the biggest flaw in shonen anime today is its simplistic storyline fueled by very simplistic characters who provide nothing more than story fodder for the viewer to wallow through as they wait for their main character to return. This is not the case with Hajime no Ippo. While its storyline is incredibly simplistic it rises above the rank by filling its show with extremely well-developed lovable characters. This includes Ippo's boxing friends and the opponents that he faces. Each fight is built up over a few episodes not only to provide Ippo with a new fighting technique but also to let the viewer understand what his opponent's motivations and reasons are for boxing. It is done extremely well and by the time you get to the fight you end up cheering for both sides. Ippo's friends are also an absolute joy to watch as they provide Ippo not only with new skills and lessons but serve as the comedic backbone for the entire show. This show is the poster child for how to do shonen anime.
The only major flaw I have against this show is that it does repeat its formula one too many times. Each fight lasts about 10-15 episodes which includes the training, the backstory, and the fight itself. It doesn't change it up a great deal and I would have liked to have seen more fights from the supporting cast. However, this is a very minor gripe in an otherwise stellar show.
Hajime no Ippo is a great blend of action and story and is the one sports anime that represents the best of what the genre can offer. While it is only 76 episodes long there is a sequel already out with more on the way and no one is more excited to continue this journey than myself.