Fighting Spirit TV Special: Champion Road (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, January 09, 2007



What They Say
Ippo Makunouchi's first title defense match is against a relentless challenger named Kazuki Sanada, but this isn't just any formidable pugulist. Sanada also happens to be a medical school student, and using his thorough knowledge of human biology, he knows which parts of the body to hit in order to defeat an opponent and the skills to accurately deliver the most damaging blows, while draining away an opponent's stamina. Not only does Ippo face a tremendous boxer who possesses the most intellectual fighting skills in Japan, but Sanada's trainer, Dankichi Hama, was also Chief Kamogawa's rival during his prime, and is now sharing his legendary fighting technique, the "Flying Swallow" with Sanada. It's Ippo vs. Sanada and the explosive collision of the coaches, Chief Kamogawa vs. Dankichi Hama - each of these individuals' thoughts entangle as the day of the battle finally arrives! Will Ippo be able toovercome the deadly "Flying Swallow" and claim victory?

The Review!
Picking up where the TV series left off, Champion Road puts Ippo on a new course as he now must both defend the title and grow into future challenges.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series has a very solid stereo mix here that lets you feel a good portion of the oomph from the hits and just the sound of the speed of the boxers. Dialogue is fairly center channel based for most of the show but there are some key areas where dialogue is shifted to one of the side speakers. Throughout regular playback, everything sounded solid and free of distortions and dropouts. Unlike the TV series release, there is no included Spanish language track here.

Video:
Originally starting its airing back in 2003, Fighting Spirit is presented on this disc in its original full frame format and has a pretty solid looking transfer. The shows animation style is a mix that plays up some of the feel of older shows with some of its color palette as well as using thick lines around the characters at times, such as when they act goofy, but it also has some very slick fast motion sequences that are very well animated and have much more vibrant colors to them. Cross coloration is pretty minimal overall here even with as much tight line work as there is in some scenes and aliasing is very light. Some of the backgrounds come across a bit softer and more motion oriented than others, but it's barely noticeable for the most part.

Packaging:
One of the best looking covers of the series, the Champion Road special has a great sense of color and motion to it as well as vibrancy. Add in that it is designed well by having Ippo in a great defensive stance so you see it from Sanada's perspective but you also have the prize of the belt behind him. The back cover has a few shots from the show in a strip along the center and provides a simple if decent summary of the basic premise. The discs episode numbers and titles are clearly listed as well as the discs features. The insert has a shot of a boxing ring with the chapter listings for all five episodes and that opens up to a two panel shot of the front cover but expanded nicely. The back of the insert uses the existing cover artwork but with a few less logo's on it.

Menu:
The menu gets a big thumbs down right from the start with the load up of a critical fight sequence with English dialogue before it actually loads the final menu itself, which is fairly decent but like some other SpeeDVD menus looks somewhat soft in some areas and blocky in the selection text. Once loaded, the menu has some clips of Ippo doing his movements that's layered on top of a motion background that has various scenes from the show playing as well while some of the harder music plays along. The menu just feels a bit too filled up with animation and a near strange blending of two different clips the way they're layered. Access times and navigation itself is pretty simple and easy to use though. This disc did not read our players' language presets unfortunately and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fighting Spirit goes beyond the TV series, presumably covering more of the manga material which runs quite a bit further than what we saw, with a new TV special that's essentially getting another four episodes of the show. With only one opening and closing, a new arc is covered pretty well within this volume.

With it now having been three years since Ippo was first bullied outside of school and decided to learn boxing, he's reflecting a bit on some of the challenges he's faced while recovering. His title match that capped the TV series certainly took a lot out of him so the down time is rather welcome and he's putting it to good use. Beyond keeping up a bit on some of his training and keeping focused in general, he's been working at the family business and spending a bit more time with Kumi. Similar to the TV series, these are some of the more enjoyable moments as the interaction between the guys as they party or train is just priceless.

One area where the show has been overly cautious on, not that I mind, is with the relationship Ippo has with Kumi. They've taken it glacially slow which is very understandable considering who Kumi is related to. Mashiba's practically ghost-chaperoning the two of them and it's really inhibiting an already very cautious Ippo. Everyone around them has decided that things have been going way too slowly though. With his having won the title, now is the time for him to do it since he'd be devastated if he actually loses the title. The awkward relationship between the two plays out beautifully if frustrating, particularly the scenes in the park with the falling snow. The show almost manages to rise above itself there.

Naturally, there's some fighting to be had in this show as well. Ippo's win of the title has him in the position of being a defending champion now which is vastly different than being the challenger. Takamura and the other long time boxers understand this but Ippo is still fairly naïve about a lot of things. His next fight is lined up and there are some interesting personal ties brought into it as we learn that the trainer of the next boxer is one that used to go against the Chief back in the day. Just as old as the Chief, Dankichi has his own agenda for Sanada and it goes beyond what his past rivalry with the Chief is all about.

Where this fight feels different from past ones is in how it plays out. The dynamic of the pacing is very different from how the TV episodes handled it since they had to deal with the shorter episodes and keeping it so you'd be on the edge of your seat. Here, with only commercial breaks to worry about, it almost feels like this fight is dragged out for much longer than it should. The actual fight itself doesn't kick in until about fifty minutes in the show so it's not one that would cover three to four episodes like some past ones. But the way it flows just feels like a very different show because of it. The fight is however quite enjoyable as Sanada brings an interesting mentality to it but coming off of such huge fights as the ones versus Date or Sendo it simply cannot reach those levels. .

In Summary:
Getting more Fighting Spirit is a good thing as this show is close to an addiction. Though the pacing of the show feels different than the seventy-five episodes we'd grown accustomed to, it provides the right kind of framing for how Ippo now has to face his life after the title match and all it entails. Combine in pieces of his personal life which have always been there but kept to the side and you get a great special that really just reminds you of how great the whole thing has been. Avoiding too much in the way of recap but still making sure it's fairly accessible, it's a solid piece but not one that will convert someone easily. This is more of a gift to the fans than anything else but it's a wonderful gift.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via HDMI-DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: C+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 96
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fighting Spirit