About the blood-pumpingness:
Grit and hard work. With the spartan training and constant passion, it's easy to get sucked in and invested in the fights. The best moments of this manga are when they show how much effort the opponent is putting in as well, how much fe also wants to win. Then it becomes an intense clash between two people both trying their best and it's the height of entertainment. That plus the constant heavy hits and near-KO's which Ippo takes. Grit and hard work. The match against Hayami might be the first match that had me truly on the edge of my seat for almost the entirety of it. And then once Date Eiji was introduced as an eventual goal is when the story becomes truly riveting. The manga does a good job of integrating short-term and long-term goals--immediate storylines and sweeping arcs. It also does a good job of integrating training segments and non-Ippo fights to keep things more fresh. That said, I don't really care for the story arcs of most of the side characters. Like, Miyata's whole arc just kinda sucks. And Mashiba's fights are generally pretty uninteresting (I was very much bored during the whole Mashiba-Sawamura match). Even Sendou and Itagaki have been getting a bit more dull over time. And even with Ippo's fights, I think there's a lull for a bit, though things get riveting once again once fe starts fighting the champions from the nearby countries. It should also be mentioned that Ippo's goal for fighting--"what does it mean to be strong?"--honestly just comes across as corny, but I suppose the author needed an unaggressive way for Ippo to have a competitive side, which itself is necessary in order to create the intensity of the manga. Over time, some of the long-term goals end up not coming to fruition, but that just adds a sense of realism to the story which honestly isn't a bad thing at all. The idea of guts and spirit are prevalent. People come back from the brink.
Takamura's journey to multiple world championships across multiple weight classes ends up becoming even more blood-pumping than what Ippo's doing. Or at least comparably blood-pumping. And honestly, Takamura might be my favorite character. Fe has an endearing motive for wanting to win--to make Coach Kamogawa happy--and feir personality is also quite interesting. Fe loves pulling pranks, making crude puns/jokes, and generally being vulgar. Because of this personality, Takamura ends up being the heel at feir own matches, leading to the home crowd jeering and throwing stuff at fem. But fe is almost superhumanly strong and agile and generally talented, and as of now, has lost none of feir fights (though still in an engaging way). All that said, I didn't care for how the author had two of Takamura's fights (in a row, no less) consist of fem stupidly trying to end the match in a single big punch. If this had happened once, I'd probably be fine with it. But the fact that it happened twice just comes across as lazy writing and a disrespect for Takamura's awesomeness. Takamura also has some of the most interesting dynamics with other side characters. Like, feir interactions with Itagaki's father was super enjoyable and feir interactions with The Regular is also kinda cute.
About the recklessness:
You could say that the overall theme of this manga is perseverance in the face of injuries, and in fact disregarding bodily maintenance for the sake of short-term goals. The more injured and exhausted Ippo is, the more intense it is when fe keeps fighting. Almost every one of Ippo's fights has both Ippo and the opponent go through a down and then standing back up at the last second, sometimes multiple times. Several matches end with Ippo semi-conscious and just relying on feir body's instincts and the lessons the coach has beat into fem. After fighting Date Eiji, the importance of having absolute determination to win is reinforced within Ippo's mind. Referee and doctor stops are seen as impediments to the continuance of the fights, which is seen as the most important thing. Many of the referees are quite irresponsible and incompetent at their jobs, questioning whether they should allow the fights to continue but then inevitably deciding that it should (despite clear evidence that a continuance of the fight would be unsafe for either or both of the fighters). Fighters should be disqualified for the level of disregard they show to the rules. Fighters should be disqualified for running forward to begin fighting despite the referee not yet giving the go-ahead. We are supposed to interpret the referees as being brave for stepping in between two clashing wills (when the gong sounds at the end of the rounds), but mainly I just think that the referees aren't being serious in contemplating the longevity of the fighters' health. The seconds also don't throw in the towel nearly as much as they should. Coach Kamogawa specifically is a reckless fool who is more concerned with letting feir fighters push themselves past their limits for pride's sake than in protecting them from long-term damage. In many ways, this series is far too flippant about accumulated damage. And even when the damage is emphasized, the emphasis is often used moreso as a way to further glorify the self-destructive behavior--by putting it in terms of bravery.
About the romance and humor:
The romance is excruciatingly slow. For a while, there are some love rivals thrown in (Nanako and Mari), but there's never any real drama or tension with the love triangles. It's always obvious that Kumi will be the one to end up with Ippo, though it's super dumb that they haven't already ended up together by this point. A lot of the comic relief takes the form of toilet humor. Dick jokes and shit jokes. There's also some embarrassment humor. I think the humor is the glue that keeps the manga compelling over the long run.
About the stereotyping:
The author will frequently frame things in terms of stereotypes. Like, people from such-and-such country tend to have such-and-such qualities. These types of "observations" feel unnecessary, storywise, and can at times just make things awkward. For example, each fighter has a singular shtick. Sometimes, it's a technique or fighting style. Sometimes, it's a physical characteristic or personality trait. Unfortunately, the shtick they used for Ippo's third pro match (against Jason Osma) was "the opponent is black." Well, that and the usage of hooks. But the blackness was heavily emphasized, to the point that it felt like it was coming from a place of racial prejudice (and perhaps subconscious distaste). It was just awkward. There is also some inklings of misogyny, like with how Mari is referred to as "cheeky" multiple times seemingly just for having some opinions or something. It def feels sexist.
About the artwork:
The artwork in the beginning is absolutely horrid. It does get better over time, but it never really reaches a level that I'm truly impressed with. The artist does do an impressive job drawing faces at the moment of impact, with a bunch of action lines and distortions. There are some visual exaggerations and gags which can help keep things fun. There are a few flashbacks and images where child versions of the characters are drawn and they look absolutely horrible (see ch. 812 for an example). I don't like the technique the artist uses when drawing peoples' faces looking forward in the foreground, where the singular eye will look like it's popping out.
About what I think is coming next:
It's difficult to review a series this long without spoiling some story details. If you don't want too much spoiled, I'd suggest not reading this section, I guess. Chapter 1069 is a great turning point in the story. And from that point onward, the next several hundred chapters start the slow transition towards Ippo's retirement as an active boxer. I really like that the seriousness of having multiple concussions and the danger of getting punch drunk is emphasized. That said, even in these moments, the author couldn't help but undercut the message by having Nekota idealize letting an injured boxer continue to fight and even frame it as being considerate to do so (ch. 1155). I actually like Ippo's time as a cornerman and trainer, to the point that I was a bit disappointed once the trajectory of the story started veering toward Ippo eventually returning to the ring. In chapter 1291, Takamura says "unless something suddenly forces [Ippo] to face the obligations [fe] has to bear," foreshadowing that some sort of big dramatic event will propel Ippo back out of retirement. That combined with the match foreshadowed in chapter 1275 gives me an idea of what I think that catalyst event will be. Je pense que le combattant de chapitre 1275 mourra pendant le combat contre le champion.
[Reviewed at chapter 1376]