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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One-Pound Gospel: The Underdog of Boxing Anime

Rumiko Takahashi is one of the largest names in the manga industry. In Japan she has consistently had hit manga after hit manga after hit manga with Weekly Shonen Sunday by creating Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2, and InuYasha, the latter two being international hits. Not only that, but she also knows how to do great seinen manga, as indicated by the well-loved title Maison Ikkoku. But there is another manga that she has created that, much like its main character, is kind of the underdog of her titles: One-Pound Gospel.

One-Pound Gospel was a manga that Takahashi made for Weekly Young Sunday. The first chapter was published back in 1987 and new chapters came out irregularly until mid-1992. After that, due to her other manga being very popular, Gospel went on multiple hiatuses with chapters coming out in 1996, 1998, and 2001. The manga wouldn't be truly completed, though, until after InuYasha ended, with Takahashi working on Gospel straight from the end of 2006 until early 2007. Among all of her manga, One-Pound Gospel seems to truly be the underdog since most people might be unfamiliar with it but at the same time it's a very good title in the end, much like its main character.

Kosaku Hatanaka is a 19-year-old professional boxer, the only one to come out of the Mukoda Gym. Coach Mukoda saw great potential in Kosaku and his beginnings looked great, but there's one problem: Weight control. Although Kosaku is an excellent boxer, he also has a love for food that results in him almost failing his weigh-ins, and even when he passes them, a good series of punches to the gut can result in him throwing up in the middle of the ring. One day during some roadwork he passes out in front of a church, where a 21-year-old woman named Sister Angela, a nun who hasn't taken her vows yet, brings him in and feeds him, not knowing about Kosaku previously. Kosaku falls in love with Angela, but at the same time has to try to get over his love of food so that he can continue his love of boxing, especially after getting challenged by Jiro Amakusa, an Olympic gold medalist turned pro boxer.

As you can tell, One-Pound Gospel is a mix between a boxing title and a romantic comedy. One of the best parts about this title, though, is that Takahashi mixes the two together very nicely. The boxing portion is actually the main focus while the romantic comedy portion is mixed in very naturally, letting you laugh at moments when they naturally come rather than have them be forced in. Kosaku himself is fun to watch, since you can tell that he loves boxing as much as he loves food, and he does realize that the two can't mix but unfortunately can't quite help himself when it comes to food; adding in his growing feelings toward Sister Angela only makes things even more complicated. Angela is also a very interesting character, as she has her loyalty towards God but at the same time starts having feelings for Kosaku that she doesn't want to admit herself. Takahashi's fellow seinen manga Maison Ikkoku was, and still is, loved for having very natural relationships and One-Pound Gospel seems to follow in that title's lead, making it very easy to like and feel for these characters during this OVA's 55-minute run-time.

Another reason this OVA works so well is easily due to it's director: The late, great Osamu Dezaki... Oh, I'm sorry: Makura Saki. Don't be confused, Makura Saki is simply a pen-name Dezaki used when he started getting involved more in the animation industry, though he generally only used it for non-directorial roles, primarily storyboarding. There are two title that he did direct under that pen-name, though: Hazedon (a mid-70s children's anime) and this very OVA. But make no mistake, this OVA has all of Dezaki's signatures, especially his "postcard moments", where he uses excellently-drawn still frames to help accentuate a moment in a story. One-Pound Gospel has a few of these moments, including some for the ending, and it makes for an interesting combination, as Takahashi's character designs aren't exactly the first things you'd think of when you think of Dezaki's style. Dezaki just knew how to tell a story, especially a boxing story, so this OVA just works great from a storyline perspective.

Another part that I personally liked, though it certainly dates the OVA, is the music done by Kenji Kawai. All of the music just sounds so "80s" and it easily reminds you of movies of this style from that decade; the OVA was released in 1988 so it's not exactly out-of-place, either. Personally I love this kind of music and though I'll admit that it makes the OVA sound dated it also fits in perfectly. The ending theme, which is also used during the intro, is "Cry No More" by Mari Hamada and just like Kawai's soundtrack it has that 80s feel to it. It does a great job sucking you into the decade, as does the insert song "Call My Luck" (also performed by Hamada), which is simply a fun training montage theme... Yes, this OVA also has the training montage that movies of this decade loved. The voice work is also well done, featuring the voices of Tohru Furuya (Kosaku), Hiromi Tsuru (Angela), and the late Kaneto Shiozawa (Amakusa), among others. Everybody does a great job here.

In 1998 Viz released the three volumes of the manga that were out at that point along with the OVA on VHS. Ten years later, after Takahashi finished the manga and the fourth and final volume was published, Viz re-released the manga, along with releasing that last volume for the first time, but never re-released the OVA on DVD. After watching this OVA it does make me wish that it could get a new release over here, maybe alongside the Rumic World series of OVAs (Fire Tripper, The Laughing Target, Maris the Chojo, and Mermaid Forest) CPM released on VHS and LD back in the 90s. Though Gospel isn't technically part of that series it was produced by Shogakukan and Victor Entertainment, like the Rumic World OVAs, making it possible to license all of them together.

One-Pound Gospel can certainly surprise people who thought that Takahashi couldn't make a good title involving sports. Though she more than likely didn't create this title with this intent, One-Pound Gospel is truly like it's main character Kosaku Hatanaka: You don't want to expect much from it but you end up surprised & cheer for it, hoping that it would become more successful than it is at the moment. Well done, Rumiko Takahashi.

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