“You should check out this boxing manga,” he said. “You’ll love the action and story,” he said. Seven years later, chapter 1202 of Hajime No Ippo has me staring up into at the rain like Vegeta. Remember when Diddy shouted, “What I’m supposed to do now? Huh? What I’m supposed to do now? It’s all fucked up now.” That’s how much of a wreck this chapter and series has left me. And I hate that I love that.
This is all Ayinde Russell’s fault. In 2010, he told me to check out Hajime No Ippo created by Morikawa Jouji in 1989. I’ve been hooked ever since. I started the series when it was about 800 chapters deep. I read it every day and everywhere I went for months. It’s safe to say, all my shares of emotion are invested into this series.
I’m nervous even writing this because I’m so passionate about the series and I want to do it justice. Hajime No Ippo is an incredibly beautiful story about a kid that falls in love with boxing… but it’s also the most devastating literature I’ve ever kept up with. If you know the series you know what I mean. If you don’t, then in order to understand the heartbreak you need to get familiar with where it all started for Makunouchi Ippo.
“Get used to me, far from what I used to be”
In Japan’s late 1980’s era, we meet Makunouchi Ippo. The most polite, modest, and good-natured kid. Period. It’s impossible for you not to love this kid. He doesn’t have time to make friends as he helps with his mother’s fishing business. His father died at sea saving a crew member’s life. Ippo gets picked on often due to his polite demeanor. By chance, Takamura Mamoru happens to be jogging by and comes to his aide. He fucks them bullies up with ease. Ippo wakes up in the Kamogawa boxing gym (thanks to Takamura) and this is where it all comes together.
Ippo learns the first steps to throwing a proper punch from Takamura. Ippo hits the heavy bag so hard that skin from his knuckles flies off. Takamura realizes he has power and that his work on the fishing boat gave him the muscular build to be a serious threat as a boxer. Takamura gives Ippo a tape of Mike Tyson, explaining that Tyson’s demeanor was the same as Ippo’s in his youth until he became reborn. After viewing the tape and seeing Tyson’s transformation, Ippo asks the question that’ll haunt him and us for years to come:
Right there, that’s the moment our boy Ippo gets with the shits. We then witness the trials Ippo endures to prove how serious he is about becoming a pro boxer. Now, there are so many key moments that I can’t cram into this paragraph from early on in the series. All you need to know is that Ippo earns not only the right to get trained at the gym under Takamura’s coach, Kamogawa Genji. He also earns respect and a rival in Miyata Ichirou.
“Life. I found life!”
Creator Morikawa Jouji is a master storyteller. I’m focusing on Ippo but there are so many other character’s stories that get told as they step into the limelight. The cast is so well rounded that you at times forget who’s the main character, as Ippo’s friends and opponents shine. There are few over the top opponents that are “evil” as opposed to being straight arrogant asses. Everyone fights for their own reasons and we see them all, getting glimpses into the path that’s brought them in front of the protagonist at the time. Morikawa is able to humanize each character and fight so they stand out.
Fun Fact: Morikawa use to be a 2nd (a corner-man in boxing) which explains the in-depth research and visuals he puts into the manga. Every punch and style on display by these characters is explained and a point is made to pay homage to the real-life boxers that made them famous.
I pointed this out to my father who grew up on boxing. I told him about a character named Mashiba Ryou that utilizes the Hitman fighting stance and flicker jab made famous by, “Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns!” my dad interjected excitedly. My father has always followed boxing. “We use to watch the Friday Night Fight of the Week on television and listen to it on the radio. It wasn’t closed circuit back then, ” he says. Morikawa is paying respect to eras even past my father’s time. He goes all the way back to the 1920s, when Ippo’s signature move “the Dempsey Roll” was created by Jack Dempsey .
“Yeah, I’m glad he’s deceased cause that sad weak being been replaced with a beast”
I love hand-to-hand combat in manga, comics, and animation. What I love even more is a character that isn’t saved by anything but their own strength. Morikawa emphasizes training in this series like no other I’ve ever seen. We spend months with Ippo during his training regimen, which always varies. Coach Kamogawa is old, experienced, and super innovative to put Ippo in the best condition for his fights. One fight may require leg strength, the next building a stronger, thicker neck to withstand punches from an opponent coming down from a higher weight class.
Lemme tell you like Coach Kamogawa told Ippo, “Not every one who works hard is rewarded. However, all those who have succeeded, have worked hard!” Not a damn thing comes easy in life. It’s all about that training training training boi. Much like in life, in a fight, there are no guarantee things will go your way. However, the more prepared you are for what’s to come, the better your odds.
Marikowa literally shows us this in each fighter’s training regimen. He stress the particular muscles that develop on page. The effect of their developing. It’s all cause and effect with intricate visual detail. There’s no senzu bean, hidden trap card, or forbidden jutsu that’ll make it a short or easy fight. Just a Gold’s Gym membership being put to use and that’s what the fuck I’m here for. Ippo follows Coach Kamogawa’s instructions as if they are commandments. That shit is law to him. Kamogawa made Ippo’s in-fighting approach and Peek-a-Boo style his best weapon.
“What I aspire to be never inspired me”
The trust that buds between Kamogowa and Ippo is one of the relationships in Hajime No Ippo that separates it from its contemporaries. The bond between the trainer and their pupil. Ippo will always do everything in his power in the ring to show his appreciation for the time and belief Kamogawa (and others) entrust to him.
What Ippo lacks is a killer’s instinct. He is the nicest kindest kid. He just wants to see how far he can go. How strong he can become. That mentality will only get you so far. After a devastating loss challenging the #2 world ranked boxer (I was sad for weeks), Ippo is at a crossroads. Takamura tells him how it is point-blank. He draws a line on the ground (ironically where they met and train) and tells him not to cross it unless he’s ready to become a whole nother monster. That’s the only way he’ll survive going for the world title.
Takamura is telling Ippo not to get their coach’s hopes up on him if he’s not willing to take that next step.
Ippo now wonders if he has what it takes to cross that line and become a monster. It’s not in his demeanor, he fights and moves forward on courage. What does it mean to become inhuman? Whenever Ippo comes back to that spot during training he runs around the line every time. He sees that inhuman quality in his fellow boxing rivals and friends and wonders about himself. This internalization and constant questioning of himself makes Ippo so human and relatable.
“Everyone’s storm is different so this forecast is only mine”
We’ve followed this modest kid for so long, that he’s become more of a friend we’re cheering on than just another fictional character. We were with Ippo when he went to war with monster level opponents. When his moms was sick and he thought he’d have to give up boxing. *Viola Davis voice* We were standing right there with you Ippo!
The fear of Ippo being punch drunk? My heart! The shaking hands, decreasing memory (dementia is a symptom as well). For our guy to have been hurt doing what he loves? It doesn’t get any more real.
That’s art imitating life and great writing. His peers thinking he’s broken, rivals (Ichiro, Sendou, Mashiba) hoping he isn’t. It was such a scare and still hangs in his comeback match again Antonio Guevara. His first match since his loss to Alfredo Gonzales.
I’m believing the God of Wind, Makunouchi Ippo is back in his zone. The crowd cheering behind him. I’m thinking it’s all Gucci… Until Ippo didn’t remember being knocked down. When that happened Kamogowa realized our boy was off. Then Ippo gave Kamogawa that look. I said “No. Not like dis. Not like dis!”
“You tried to warn me, this war that would kill me, I sacrificed”
Ippo delivers a crushing soliloquy about this being as far as he could go. His final goal is showing the new Dempsey they toiled over as a parting gift. Arghhhhhhhh, Ippo’s apology to the coach broke me, man. Especially since creator, Morikawa Jouji has been having health issues regularly. These health issues caused delays in the series. It is evident the creator is apologizing to his fans through Ippo’s words as he initiates the new Dempsey roll…
Listen, I wanted nothing more for my boy to come out on top. To at least have his moment. Ippo trained for 10 months relentlessly for this comeback. But, “not everyone that works hard is rewarded”, right? We’re not owed anything. A left counter punch from a faded and desperate Guevara showed that. I felt my heart drop as I watched Ippo go down. Watching his friends and coach call out to’em at that tragic moment solidified this story for me.
I love a journey where real shit befalls the hero. Where Life doesn’t always work out for them. It’d be easy to give Ippo his redemption. Send’em out with the last hurrah (he said next loss he’d quit) but look at the boxers that were good and didn’t make it. The sport is brutal, man. Ippo fought wars and came back from shit that woulda rocked any other boxer. It’s not his fault that damage started taxing his ass. I was down for weeks when Ippo lost to Gonzalez. It left me inconsolable. I’m still not okay! None of this is okay, but it is incredible storytelling.
“Last name Ever, first name Greatest”
Finally, I’ma just say Hajime No Ippo is my favorite story. Period. I love this series and the risks taken with Makunouchi Ippo and the entire cast. Morikawa said the series will continue, and I know a lot of fans may not feel okay with how events unfolded. We should remember that Ippo is still the most underrated fighter in manga and anime. Our boy’s win-loss record is still looking like an over-800 credit score.
There are still many loose ends to tie up like Ippo’s mans and dem Sendo passing up a shot at undefeated world champion Ricardo Martinez, instead wanting Gonzalez. You can’t tell me he isn’t going to avenge his mans. What becomes of Ichiro and Ippo’s rubber match now? How about Takamura’s path? Will the coach be blaming himself for this? There’s still a lot left for Ippo after boxing if we’re to believe this is actually it for’em. I don’t.
We’ve been following this kid for years. He’s always moving forward and stepping forward. He may not have a killer’s instinct in the ring but he got by in his own way. Ippo’s like Angelica Schuyler, the homie will never be satisfied. Even if he doesn’t return to the ring this isn’t the last we’ve seen of God of Wind. If it is, then I just wanna stand up and applaud the epic fights the homie gave us. There’s nothing but respect for the hands Ippo threw to get to where he is today. No matter what path he takes moving forward, I’m rollin’.