Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger goes another round with this surprisingly accessible anime series.
"If I stand up…if only I just can stand up…there might be…a chance for me."—Ippo
Many an anime fan has experienced "the rut." Our pure love for this creative genre dims somewhat as yet another alien race threatens the Earth, and we watch yet another untested hero save the day. As enjoyable and weird as it is, anime can still become routine if you aren't careful.
So why is it that when something truly different comes along, we are often quick to discard it? I can't speak for everyone, of course, but when I see an anime about talking fruit, magical shopping malls, or yes, even boxing, my first reaction is "gimme a break." If it doesn't fit my comfort zone, it doesn't spark the same level of interest or enthusiasm.
Fighting Spirit has overcome this initial reluctance and proven itself an engaging and invigorating tale. Even if the sport of boxing is not your usual thing, this series may have enough characterization, humor, and insight to appeal to you. Fighting Spirit has everything most people look for in anime, from strong individual characterizations to epic battles, sweetness to absurdity. Its fanatical focus on boxing somehow frees it. Boxing becomes a metaphor for whatever interest sparks your own fighting spirit.
This is how I came to watch Fighting Spirit: Test of Endurance (Volume 3). It was late in the evening and I felt like watching some anime, even though I had to go to work early the next day. Fighting Spirit: Debut Match (Volume 2) went into the player, and before I knew it, Rounds 6 through 10 were over. I'd already watched an hour longer than I'd planned to. My hands were clenched tightly, slightly damp with apprehension. I was leaning forward in an awkward pose, straining to catch every detail on the screen. My sleep time was dwindling, but I knew that if I went to bed, I'd stay up wondering how Ippo would fare in the next episode.
You guessed it, in went Volume Three. I could not get up until 115 minutes later. Sleep, work, and comfort be damned, I was going to see this kid through his travails in the ring! It has been a long time since a show has thoroughly circumvented reason and pulled me in so completely. I'm surprised that Fighting Spirit was the show to do it.
Even as I watch it, its flaws are obvious. Explaining it in words makes the show seem so plain, so tired, the precise opposite of creativity. Stories like Neon Genesis Evangelion push the creative envelope, and I appreciate them for their weirdness and divergent thought. But there is something to be said for a solid, straightforward story told without artifice or distraction. Fighting Spirit will never win awards for animation, sound editing, acting, or extras. The story is rarely surprising, and the manipulative aspects are front and center.
Despite everything that is wrong with Fighting Spirit, though, it does something that most anime fails to do: It creates distinct characters and gives them enough depth to make us care. The story draws you in through a careful blend of external action and internal monologue, which gives the events a multifaceted complexity. The fight is not just about Ippo's development as a boxer, it is about his aspirations for his life, the pride of his friends and coaches, the determination of his opponents, and other such angles that add nuance.
Volume Three takes us through the following rounds:
As usual, the episode titles give the basic plots away. Round 12, for example, dwells on Ippo's new relationship with the kids who used to bully him. When the rest of the school finds out that Ippo is a professional boxer, he is suddenly the focus of attention. Guess what happens in Round 13? I'd love to report that a giant time-space rift opens up and surprises everyone, but no. Ippo weighs in, meets his opponent, and does the other minutiae that boxers do when they enter tournaments. Round 14 is literally about the logistics of countering a hook with an uppercut.
The story is told with an urgent yet paradoxically deliberate pace. Volume Three improves the complexity of the tale by bringing in more perspectives from new characters, while retaining relationships and tensions from the previous two volumes. The writers are comfortable in the characters and play off of previous events. The story may not be objectively better, but subjectively it seems deeper.
Animation takes a step in the right direction as well. Boxing metaphors manifest in the animation. When Ippo goes down hard, we see watery visual distortions and hear echoes of dulled sound. I've been hit on the head before, and what Ippo sees reminds me of that experience. Fighting Spirit will often give us the fighter's perspective, and then switch to a bird's-eye view to show us what the camera would see in a "real" boxing match. The contrast is engrossing.
While the story and animation show incremental improvement, the package as a whole is leaner. There are no extras at all, and the music is getting repetitive. It may be time for Geneon to consider throwing in background information, character guides, or some other extra material to supplement the experience.
The lack of extras brings the judgment score down a bit, but Volume Three maintains the terse pace and attention to detail that made Volumes One and Two tick. If you're hooked by this unusual anime series, Fighting Spirit: Test of Endurance (Volume 3) packs the wallop that you've come to expect.
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