"Fighting Spirit" Vol. 2: An Uppercut of Pure Boxing Action
Sports anime. Perhaps the only anime genre more neglected than shoujo in the U.S. I’ve always wondered why that was, and I think Fighting Spirit may have answered the question: though it may be beautifully done sometimes, it’s fairly targetted material. You’ve got to be into the sport in question for it to really hit home.
Anyway, Fighting Spirit is about this kid, Ippo, who has been training for months to become a boxer. However, he’s gotten so good it’s time for him to go pro, so he can both further his skill and meet his old rival and friend, Miyata, in the ring once again. However, it’ll be an uphill battle. Can he survive the rigorous training? Are some of the other newcomers in the pro circuit more dangerous than his rival? Whatever comes his way, Ippo is determined to face it head on with the help of his trainer, Kamogawa and his (drum roll please) fighting spirit.
Plot-wise, it is what is: a straight boxing anime that accurately and almost entrancingly depicts both training and fighting. Ippo’s personal life barely turns up; most of the time is either spent training in some fashion, whether it’s running, shadow-boxing, or wailing on the punching bag, or in the ring itself. The scriptwriters did a great job of using the characters’ inner voice during the fights not only to provide more information on the characters’ motivation but also on the technical aspect of the fight, which definitely helps non-boxing fans understand some of what’s going on in the ring. Given how fast some of the movement is, I’m sure that they’ve done their best to try to make what’s going on not only comprehensible but an interesting part of the story. The characters may be a bit plain at points (Ippo’s the runt with a lot of spirit and a heart of gold, Kamogawa is every grizzled boxing trainer ever, Miyata’s a pretty boy who’ll make mince-meat of you if you step in the ring, etc), but you know why they fight and it even draws you into rooting people on. Even in the midst of all this macho fury, there are some bits of humor too, which make the show a bit more inviting than it would have been otherwise. Anytime a story can start to suck me in despite a lack of familiarity with the subject manner that’s a well-told story, so kudos are definitely in order for Fighting Spirit in that aspect.
Visually, Fighting Spirit‘s a bit more of mixed bag. In the ring, the animation is glorious. It’s brutally realistic looking fighting. Every punch that connects looks painful and moves fluidly, and even the footwork is tightly animated. However, the rest of the show is a little visually weak. Outside of the ring, especially in the few scenes not related to training or boxing, the animation clearly takes a few steps down in quality. Alas, the budget went into the battles, which makes the show uneven. The actual design is very nice, delightfully capturing a manga-like complexity of line work. Basically, as long as all you want out of the animation is great-looking boxing, Fighting Spirit‘s got you covered.
Audio-wise, Geneon not only provides the usual fare, but even throws some surprising extras in as well. The Japanese and English-language tracks are both not only nicely mixed but have very enjoyable voice-acting as well. The soundtrack, outside of the opening song and the closing, fits very nicely with the show, and brings out additional emotional overtones during the fights. It gives various scenes that extra bit of passion or poignancy depending on what’s appropriate. Whilie it’s not the best background music, it is used very well. However, that’s kind of just the basics that any good show and DVD should have. Geneon goes above any beyond the call of duty, as they provide a Spanish-language track as well. The mixing and production is a little harsher compared to its Japanese and English counterparts, but the voice is just as solid.
DVD-wise, outside of the Spanish-language track, there aren’t a lot of bonuses. The most notable include (as every DVD these days seems to have trailers) an outtake/blooper reel of the dub session. Geneon’s been playing around with this concept on their more recent releases, and as long as the results are as amusing as what came out of Fighting Spirit, I hope everyone in the anime industry starts doing it more often. Some of the adlibs and flubs are just too funny.
All in all, it’s a great show, at least if you’re a boxing fan. I say that because even though it’s very solid on a technical level, it still has a very narrow audience. I’m not a boxing fan myself, and though I found it enjoyable, I couldn’t imagine collecting the whole series, which spans 75 episodes (which at 5 episodes a volume means 15 volumes). Though it was enjoyable from a technical aspect, and I was even able to get into the fighting a bit, it’s just not something I can envision following, and because of that, I can see why sports anime hasn’t taken off stateside: even when it’s done well, you still have to be into the sport for it to really work.