Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger has the fighting spirit; he stood his ground against all odds when the grumpy lady tried to cut in line at Shoe Carnival.
Against all odds…
It is nice to see a change of pace once in awhile. Fighting Spirit is definitely anime, but it takes a different tack from its contemporaries by sticking to boxing. There are no weird death rays, aliens, gangs of women in maid costumes, or cybernetic organisms. The Earth is not under siege. There is just Ippo, a down-and-out loner who wants to change his personality. He wants to become a champion. Against all odds, this blue-collar youth will make it in the boxing ring. He doesn't have to win; he just has to show the world that he can hold his own!
If that sounds like Rocky to you, then you already know most of the plot. In fact, plots don't get much more generic than this one: Ippo gets picked on, meets a boxer, and trains a lot for a big match. There are no love interests and few tertiary characters to distract us from this focus. In a weird sort of way, that helps. Fighting Spirit becomes not about plot but about the mental and physical workout our hero undertakes. He thinks to himself about the logistics of fighting, and we root for him to accomplish each small step. One episode is dedicated almost entirely to shadowboxing: how Ippo visualizes his opponent, the mental challenges he undergoes to plan his moves and defense. This streamlined focus gives Fighting Spirit a sense of purity and innocence.
If that does not sound interesting to you, I understand. I personally don't go for boxing. It is brutal and exploitative, and watching pugilists rattle each other's internal organs simply doesn't appeal to me. For that reason, stories about boxing have always felt tainted. I wish I could say that Fighting Spirit is different, but it is not: Ippo gets his brain sloshed around and his eyes pounded shut. His knuckles bleed to the bone. This is a pure boxing story, and the storytellers relish each detail.
There is one place, however, where detail was purposefully obscured. One of the joys of anime is its adult humor, a refreshing change from America's staid conservatism. Fighting Spirit thrives on several moments of such adult humor. In one instance, the guys are in the locker room after a heavy workout, but Ippo shyly keeps a towel around his waist. Then the towel comes off and we hear an elephant's trumpet. I can only assume that Ippo is well endowed, because all we see is a fuzzy patch of pixels. Aside from completely ruining the scene, this says to me "you are not mature enough to decide for yourself what to watch." Censorship burns me up, and I wish that anime distributors were required to state up front that the content has been censored. If I had bought this DVD and discovered the sham, I'd have been outraged.
Aside from the pixelation, Fighting Spirit looks fine. The animation has an old-school vibe, reminding me of Speed Racer and Street Fighter, although neither of those comparisons is completely accurate because Fighting Spirit is rendered with more care. There are many instances of static scenery, where characters hold extended conversation without moving. On the other hand, there are some fluid scenes where Ippo learns new skills. On the whole, the animation is average, neither detracting from nor enhancing the show. Colors are stable, though the show uses a realistically muted palette.
The soundtrack is subdued, in keeping with Fighting Spirit's realistic focus. Dramatic moments are not pumped up by loud music; rather, the character's inner thoughts and the natural sounds of the ring come through. In this sense, the soundtrack is doing its job because we feel like we are in the ring. But the sound isn't exactly gripping; it merely does what it needs to do to keep us in the story. The Japanese voice acting is good, while the English voice acting borders on hokey. Fighting Spirit is one of the few animes that contain una banda sonora española! Perhaps the best track is this Spanish track, which is energetic and perfectly timed. It also has extra jokes thrown in.
The only real extra is one of the best anime extras I've seen in awhile. The voice actors had fun with many of the scenes by dubbing alternate phrases. It is truly funny and worth checking out. This extra in combination with the five-episode run time makes Fighting Spirit a good value.
Fighting Spirit is a pure, even sweet, story about finding your passion and letting it invigorate your life. In this case the passion is boxing, which gives me pause. However, if you enjoy sports stories, Fighting Spirit is one anime you should check out.
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