There’s no doubt Hajime no Ippo, between its length, consistent sales figures, and zesty-rich iconic cast that delivered an amazing quality of story. But that story’s quality level is averaged over a long run, and recently the manga’s been hampered by some baggage; blatantly unrealistic fights, predictable endings to said fights, and some questionable arc decisions.It got so bad that I didn’t trust George Morikawa to fix it, which is why I dropped the series for over a year, but fix it he did. Chapter 1029, making a centerpiece of the defeat of the previously stupidly invincible Itagaki Manabu, is just the latest in a long line of franchise-correcting tight corners.
The requisite background to understand the punch this chapter packed traces back to the origins of Itagaki Manabu as a character. He started out as a talented rookie with an admiration for Ippo and a pair of chips on his shoulder; one from 3 consecutive amateur interhigh losses to the same guy, Imai Kyousuke, and another from his first professional loss, where a desperate boxer landed some hard fouls to start him off at 0-1. His growth skill-wise as a boxer and character-wise as an athlete as he prepared for rematches with both of those guys, tough rematches he won with strategy and grit, was a solid fixture of the series, in many ways mirroring the origins of title character Ippo.
However, Itagaki’s past several fights have been somewhat less compelling. While he had previously been matched up against serious opponents and fought using high-level tactics, his most recent fights were ones he basically won by being a superdupergenius who was just too fast for his opponents to handle. If that sounds like it has to have been more complicated, believe me, it really wasn’t. If that sounds dumb, well, it was. Itagaki’s matches were absolute torture to read, boring curbstomps that dragged on long enough for the audience to grow Gandalf beards. When he entered his first title match, his second pro faceoff with Imai Kyousuke, it’s an understatement to say my expectations were nonexistent.
So what happened? The match was hopelessly one-sided. Thing is, though, this match was a curbstomp with Itagaki on the curb. Imai pinned him against the corner from second 0 and never let him out, whacking him with powerballs and dropping him to the mat in less than a minute. So now Imai’s the champion, and all of a sudden Itagaki’s not so invincible and has that chip on his shoulder again. Both factors combine to make his future development miles more intriguing than a win ever could have.
Sometimes a loss is the best choice to pull out character growth. And this was some kind of time to write one. But really, when an iconic manga series pulled out of a surprisingly brief pitstop with all cylinders firing, everybody wins.