Okay, so after 20 years of serialization we’ve come to a point where… our main character is broken. This doesn’t really come as a complete shock, a) because the possibility of getting hit by too many punches has been in the room for a very long while and b) Hajime no Ippo is obviously inspired by Ashita no Joe, who also suffered brain damage (and eventually died).
Still, I always expected this manga to end on a more positive note, maybe because it has been very happy-go-lucky in it’s early stages with many dirty jokes and the classic hard working shounen type of sportsmanga. You don’t see it very often in sportsmanga that human limitations and illnesses are addressed, especially in shounen manga where the sport is usually glorified and all’s good, if it’s a semi realistic manga. Then there’s manga like Kuroko no Basket that we don’t even need to start talking about, because it’s so far away from anything realistic.
Ippo has always been on the more realistic side and the possibility of brain damage is nothing new, like I said. I actually really like how this topic has been slowly made more and more prominent. Ippo noticed himself he has problems, but he brushed it off and therefore the reader also brushed it off. Now that the cast is openly talking about Ippo being broken and Punch Drunk, it still fells like this manga has suddenly turned into a very dark direction. It’s not like this hasn’t been foreshadowed, it’s more like until now it hasn’t been a real threat to Ippos career and at least I didn’t expect it to affect him this badly before his shot at a world title match.
Takamura is fully aware of Ippos state. He straight up told both Ippo and the coach. What else is he supposed to do? Beat Ippo to a crap so he can’t lift a finger anymore? I think this situation is very complicated for Ippo, Takamura and the coaches. Ippo may have managed to draw a straight line in front of them, but he’s well aware that he was damn lucky, because the last time he tried at home, he horribly failed. And I’m pretty sure Kamogawa doesn’t trust the line Ippo drew, he has a bad feeling himself and he also trusts Takamura. The odds are simply against Ippo.
It looks to me as if Ippo is crumbling under the high expectations he set upon himself and is loosing his grab on reality. On the one hand he’s telling himself he’ll stop before it gets bad, so he can still take over his family business, on the other hand he’s straight up lying to Kamogawa so he can step into the ring again. As things are right now, I think if he wants to avoid being unable to take over his family business, he needs to retire RIGHT NOW.
We are heading into the direction that Ippo will step into the ring again and he will take punches again. His condition will gradually worsen, the only question is how long can Ippo fool his coaches and go on. The happy-go-lucky manga from 20 years ago is long gone, this is about Ippos health and his brain is already damaged, maybe even permanent. To continue with boxing equals self destuction at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ippo ending up in a vegetative state, instead of taking over a fishing boat.
Do I think Ippo might die, like Joe? No. I don’t think this will happen, but I really welcome this turn of events in this manga. It’s finally interesting again and actually ending with your main character broken and severely ill after 20 years of serialization is a brave move – inspired by Ashita no Joe or not.