Monday, June 17, 2024

Hajime no Ippo – The Black Boxer Battle.

August 16, 2018 by  
Filed under Anime, Manga, News

( George Morikawa’s Hajime no Ippo  is one of the OGs of boxing manga. I don’t want to go full in and say “It was the original boxing manga.” It certainly came after Rumiko Takahashi’s One Pound Gospel by ten months but it’s the more well known of the two. It’s one of those pillars of sports manga with Slam Dunk and Captain Tsubasa. Complete with mandatory tournament arcs.

Speaking of tournament arcs, Hajime no Ippo features one early into the series. Our protagonist, middle schooler Makanuchi Ippo has just started his boxing career and fights out of Kamogawa Gym. He has naturally destructive punching power despite his small frame.

Fighting as a featherweight, he has encountered several skilled and strong fighters already and looks forwards to facing two rivals in Miyata Ichiro and the hyper violent Mashiba Ryo in the East Japan Rookie Tournament.

Before he can even think of doing that, his must train for stiff competition in his block including Jason Ozuma.

Do We Read This As “Osuma? Ozuma?”

While waiting for his next bout, Ippo and company are surprised by the opponent’s name. Apparently, in 1991, boxing commissioners were really bad at getting information to training camps. Like, they were in wrestling general manager mode and just saved important information until the night of the fight. Which you can’t do in boxing. There are several months between fights and you need to train accordingly.

That brings me to an interesting point about Ippo’s fight against Ozuma. They’re confused by the name because they’re reading it as a Japanese name. In reality, Jason Ozuma is an Black U.S Army serviceman. He is stationed in Japan and decides to pursue boxing.

Mind you I didn’t realize this part of his backstory because in the manga, Ozuma just seems like he was stranded in Japan somehow and taken in by the Hachinohe Gym. Reading it, I was wondering why he even went to Japan without some sort of return plan or way to make money.

It turns out that Ozuma, while extremely powerful and a pure slugger, is actually very friendly and caring. He’s appreciative of the small Hachinohe Gym taking him in and wants to win the Rookie King Tournament to help finance the gym.

Unfortunately, he is unable to stay at Hachinohe because it can’t provide him with the training necessary. After getting to a sister gym in Tokyo, a senior trainee tries to take advantage of Ozuma’s kindness and ends up getting rocked. This guy totally hits the mat side of the face first and the rest of his body just…follows.

News of this incident reaches Kamogawa Gym during Ippo’s training.

These Are Sports Saiyans!

The gang at the Kamogawa Gym doesn’t know that Ozuma is a kindhearted fighter. Instead, they approach Ippo’s training as if he is going to fight the fusion of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. There’s this whole thing in the training for this fight about how Black boxers are overpowered since they were dominating 1980s and 1990s boxing.

It gets really…weird when there are moments where they are discussing the body type of Black boxers as having an affect on boxing ability and skill. “Training and exercise?! No you idiots, these are Sports Saiyans! How can we hope to win if the Black boxer’s hook is so…strong?!”

Ippo’s training is to be even more specific than when he is fighting native Japanese fighters. It gets to the point of one of his gym mates dresses in blackface to help Ippo. The belief is that Ippo is scared of fighting Ozuma because Japanese people tend not to see Black people in the country. Never mind Black tourists or more frequently Black servicemen. No, these Sports Saiyans show up every now and then and we need to find their weakness.

Kamogawa’s head trainers isn’t too confident about Ippo’s chances of victory since they never found a way to defeat Ozuma’s perceived blow-withstanding body and mean hook. I mean, it’s shown that Ozuma can withstand a lot of punishment like Ippo and has a devastating hook. He is also an in-fighter like Ippo meaning he likes to get close and go blow-for-blow when things get desperate.

Once at the weigh in, Ippo doesn’t want to do the stare down with Ozuma because he is so imposing. Ozuma ends up introducing himself and is extremely friendly. He wants a good fight against Ippo who agrees.

The Weakness Revealed!

Ippo faces off against Ozuma at the Rookie King Tournament and it proves to be a difficult fight for the youngster. It’s also a hard fight for Ozuma who is surprised not by Ippo’s ability–which is still very raw–but the power of his punches. There are several close calls on both sides and the desperation to end the fight quickly mounts.

Both Ippo and Ozuma absorb tons of punishment and there are a few knockdowns. Ippo is starting to doubt he can defeat Ozuma when his corner tells him to just shrug off Ozuma’s offense and power through the fight.

The strategy carries Ippo through the second round where Ozuma starts to believe that Ippo can’t be defeated. He’s really throwing some heavy leather at the young rookie but Ippo’s facial expression isn’t showing signs of pain or injury. Ozuma is shaken by such fighting spirit and his final hook fails to put Ippo away and he is sunk by a powerful uppercut.

Ippo would thank Ozuma for the fight and Hachinohe Gym thanks Ozuma for fighting his hardest.

Post Fight Analysis

The fight itself was like many other bouts in the series: well written and incredibly drawn. The “racial tank” element and comedy relief was unsettling, so thank goodness the fight came together perfectly.

Also, for the late 1980s, Ozuma was drawn well. In anime and manga around this time, we were still in Black-characters-with-cartoonishly-thick-lips territory. Mind you ambiguously brown characters avoided this for the most part.

I do hate that Ozuma doesn’t return later in the series and is one of those throw away opponents meant to feed to Ippo. In a future story, it’s revealed that Jason Ozuma retired from boxing because of a spine injury following this specific fight.

Word? Word?

Staff Writer; M. Swift

This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.

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