Finally recovered from his thrilling fight with Sendo, Ippo finds that his next opponent is the former Junior Featherweight Champion Sanada Kazuki. Already a strong opponent due to his secondary career as a doctor and the intricate knowledge of the body that he gained from it, Ippo’s worries are compounded by the fact that Sanada has been trained by an old opponent of Kamogawa looking for vengeance. To that end, he taught Sanada his ultimate punch, the hien, as well as a second secret attack in the same swallow style. But perhaps Ippo’s greatest challenge yet comes in the form of grappling with his feelings for Kumi and if he will ever be able to spit out how he feels for her.
summary by Mugs
Highs: It’s more Ippo
Lows: I want another season, not an hour and a half movie
To be fair to everyone, this review will probably hit on some Hajime no Ippo spoilers; it’s basically unavoidable to talk about this movie without talking about the end of the series. Before you quit reading, this anime can be enjoyed by someone who hasn’t seen the series. That being said, there won’t be any spoilers for Champion Road contained here.
This movie hits upon a number of things that made the series so great. First and foremost, the antagonist, Sanada, was perfect for the Ippo series. Not a villain in the least, he’s simply at the opposite corner of the ring of our hero. With his own reasons for fighting and much riding on this match, you get another meaningful, action-packed battle. Ippo also has quite a bit riding on this fight, and the pressure of his first championship defense plays into the in-ring action quite a bit. The power of trust between Ippo and Kamogawa in the series gets a little more development time here. Other good things that point to more Ippo down the line are a scene that foreshadows more of Ippo’s feud with Miyata; hopefully, it’ll find its way to animated form. Ippo and Kumi get a good amount of screen time and some more clarity in their relationship. The rest of the gang is back to further their individual plots some, and everyone gets their screen time, although in a reduced capacity. I was also a little disappointed that there wasn’t much setup with Kimura, whom will be heavily featured in the next OVA.
This movie functions as a self-contained arc. So we end up with buildup, training, tons of fun with the gang and an amazing fight for the finale. Champion Road takes the manga up to volume #35 out of a current sixty-five volumes, so there’s plenty of room left for more Ippo anime. One thing’s for sure if they can maintain this level of fun and entertainment, I’ll be there until the end.
Highs: Everything that made the series so enjoyable is present
Lows: Clips from the original series are superfluous
A lot of series-based movies suffer from the same problems as manga-based anime. A condensed and rewritten storyline and attempts at developing all characters from scratch in a small amount of time usually results in a big disappointment for followers of the original work. Much like Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Champion Road feels just like a longer episode of the series, and fans couldn’t have asked for more. Training, fighting and loads of fun along the way: that is what made Hajime no Ippo one of the best series out there, and this television special simply prolongs the pleasure.
Being made solely for fans has its disadvantages, of course. Do not expect to enjoy this movie if this is your first Hajime no Ippo encounter. The few series flashbacks do not provide nearly enough background to make up for seventy-five episodes of character development. In fact, I feel those recapitulating scenes should have simply been left out. As few and infrequent as they are, they still take a bit too much space, especially to someone who craves continuation.
The art is noticeably cleaner and the animation smoother, as it was also the case in the “seventy-sixth episode” OVA, Hajime no Ippo: Boxer’s Fist. Music, however, remains virtually the same. Even the new songs stay similar to what we’ve heard time and time again during the series and are complemented by a few of the classics. This just adds to the familiarity.
A round-by-round manga adaptation is probably harder to manage, especially when full-length movies are involved, but it is working fabulously for this franchise. Hajime no Ippo is a paradigm of excellence every manga-based series should follow, and Champion Road is no exception.
Highs: More Hajime no Ippo fun; art and animation noticeably kicked up a few notches
Lows: Feels like an extended episode, albeit a good one; Kumi/Ippo romance unresolved
Champion Road is another step in this franchise, and unlike Boxer’s Fist, the momentum takes this movie forward rather than to the side. The movie kicks off with a beautifully-animated recap of the Sendo/Ippo match from the end of the series. Soon afterwards, we are introduced to a new opponent, Sanada; where opponents like Vorg and Sendo brought strength and ferocity to the boxing ring, Sanada brings his medical knowledge. This adds a much different perspective than the norm. Everything that made Hajime no Ippo special is still present beyond the action-packed boxing match; comedy and drama are used wisely to change the pace slightly, but it never manages to get dry or overused. From the very beginning, you will see that the quality of the art and animation is much better than that of the television series.
Falling along similar lines of Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Champion Road merely feels like an extended episode. That is not necessarily bad, but nothing really separates this from the television series at all. The same successful formula of choreography, music and pacing that was used in the show is back, but I expected the quality of the substance to be kicked up, as well. As a group of episodes, this would still blend in smoothly.
One thing that pleased me about the series was how Ippo was made even more real by his affection for Kumi. The series pointed Ippo towards her direction, and while the movie directly addresses this issue early on, it was still left unresolved in the end. Madhouse has created this franchise to be very faithful to the manga, and while Ippo has not made any moves on Kumi at the point that this movie takes place in the manga, it seems unfitting to bring it up and leave this subplot unresolved at this point.
Fans of Hajime no Ippo should definitely watch this one. While I do not believe that it is as good as some of the episodes in the series, it is still as funny and blood-rushing as ever.
Highs: Perfect blend of action, comedy, and romance; upgraded art and animation
Lows: Antagonist is somewhat bland
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. After Hajime no Ippo: Champion Road, this phrase had never been so true. This movie takes the successful Hajime no Ippo formula and puts it on the big screen as a feature film that absolutely no fan of the series can miss!
Like the television series, this show does everything and does everything right, without any down time. From romance to comedy to one exceptional boxing match, there is nothing that this movie is missing. Best of all, it takes full advantage of a larger budget with action scenes that look and sound better than ever. Any criticisms I had with the somewhat substandard art and background music of Hajime no Ippo are now mute. Even the sound effects are noticeably better than before.
I only have two gripes with Champion Road, and unfortunately one of them is fairly glaring. The greatest thing about Hajime no Ippo is the characters, and Ippo’s opponent in this chapter of the story is one of the worst in the series. A doctor who can diagnose his injuries in the middle of a fight is not a very entertaining rival, especially when compared to Sendo Takeshi and the other great characters Ippo had faced in the past. Although it is not as prominent of a complaint, I was a bit annoyed by the recap of the series that the movie kicked off with. There is nothing wrong with a little recap, but this one went on for about ten minutes too long.
All Hajime no Ippo fans can be assured that this movie is in no way a disappointment and is a welcome addition to the series. However, those who are not familiar should keep in mind that this takes place directly after the last episode ends and can therefore potentially spoil one of the greatest fights in the show.
Hajime no Ippo: Champion Road can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.
SEE ALSO: Hajime no Ippo: Mashiba vs. Kimura.