When I first saw the original Hajime no Ippo series it quickly became one of my favorites, so naturally I went into this new season with high hopes. Sadly those hopes were never fully realized.
The first thing that sticks out about New Challenger as opposed to the original series is the jump in the quality of the animation. Everything, from the characters to the fights, look sharp and fluid in a way not often seen in shounen series (i.e. Bleach and Naruto). While the animation is probably the biggest improvement New Challenger has over its predecessor it's not without its flaws. Some features of the character designs don't carry over well into the newer style of animation, most notably the gravel pit of plain lines that the animators seemed compelled to put beneath some characters' eyes. One thing that still hasn't changed is the women; the female character designs in Ippo are still the ugliest I've seen.
Once I advanced past the appeal of the new visuals I found there were several things that really hampered the series. The series would have been more appropriately named Hajime no Everyone Else. Over the course of the series the main character plays second fiddle to nearly everyone else, and the little time he does get in the ring is a far cry from his matches in the first season. In the original series Ippo was almost always the underdog going into a fight, New Challenger effectively brings that mentality to a complete end. The expectation that Ippo will win, not only from the audience but from the characters with in the show foils the enjoyment of Ippo's only bout and changes the entire mood of the series, for the worse.
I'm not sure exactly what it was about fights in the first series, but I always managed to get drawn into them. They were exciting, entertaining, and came with enthralling intensity. Unfortunately I can't say the same about New Challenger. If I were to say anything it would be that I found that they were hard to get into and failed to match the pace of those in the first series; being one of the larger sources of my disappointment with the series.
Furthermore, the series lacked a sense of progress. Regardless of what each individual did or didn't achieve, when I look back at the series I'm overwhelmed by the sense that nothing really progressed. Nobody really got stronger, no one learned any new moves, no new rivals were made, etc. It really feels like each character went into the ring and demonstrated all the abilities we knew they had. Instead of a sense of progress and achievement, New Challenger leaves me with the sense that some people just fought for the majority of the 26 episodes.
While my viewing of Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger was wrought with disappointment throughout the majority of the series, the end was enough to grant me some hope that the next season will bring the series back toward what made the first one so engaging.
While New Challenger ultimately fails to live up to the weight of its own name it should prove at the very least, an enjoyable respite from the tedium of Bleach and Naruto fillers.