Joe Yabuki is a troubled young man who runs away from an orphanage. Wandering through the Tokyo slums, he meets former boxing trainer Danpei. Joe is later arrested and goes to a temporary jail where he fights Nishi, his future best friend and leader of a group of hooligans. He and Nishi then go to a juvenile prison miles away from Tokyo. There Joe meets Rikiishi, a former boxing prodigy, and a rivalry develops between them. They face each other in a match in which Rikiishi dominates Joe until the latter hits him with a cross-counter, resulting in both being knocked out. This inspires the other prison inmates to take up boxing. Joe and Rikiishi vow to fight again.
Simply put, Ashita no Joe is nothing short of a timeless masterpiece of a manga. This really is likely to be one of the greatest manga creations that has ever been created as well as one of the greatest that will ever be created. In every single medium, whether it be in literature, film or anything else for that matter, there are a select few creations that manage to transcend the media in and off itself and become something truly epic, truly beautiful and truly classic. Ashita no Joe manages to pull of this staggering feat. It manages to go far beyond being just another
inspirational story about one scrappy young lad's rise to the top of his particular sport. Ashita no Joe is a grand story about the entire life of it's main character, poignantly detailing all of the excruciating pain and suffering, expressing every thought and every action with moving and genuinely emotional realism. It is for this reason that anyone with even a modicum of admiration to the thing that we call manga owes it to themselves to check out this series at one point or another.
It wouldn't exactly be wrong to say that the story of Ashita no Joe starts out in a fairly cliche way. The protagonist of this sports manga starts life as some no name punk who wanders around the streets as he has no place to belong but then that all changes when he comes across Danpei Tange who is a failed boxing coach turned drunkard who spots Joe's innate boxing talent and proclaims that with his training Joe's fists will someday conquer the boxing world. While this may sound similar to things you may have seen in other series it must be remembered that Ashita no Joe is one of the pioneers for the genre and that most of those other series are actually just inspired in one way or another by this series.
This being a sporting based series the plot has that tendency to progress in a very predictable manner. There's a fight announced, a rivalry develops, the two rivals finally square of in the ring and after the fight ends the cycle begins once more, but I would just like to say that the plot in the series is really anything but conventional. There are many unexpected plot twists and I can guarantee that certain events in this story will simply leave your mouth agape and you'll find yourself nearly paralyzed by the shock of what you've just read, yes really, things really are that intense in this manga.
Unlike many other manga series that come under the category of sports, Ashita no Joe is not exactly a cheerful or uplifting series. At points it's very brooding, the atmosphere is dark and serious and often sombre and melancholic. This series takes itself seriously and the story of Ashita no Joe is a very serious one. The heavy tone of this series separates it from others and is very important in getting across the importance of the story and the severity of life as a boxer as well as life in general.
While structurally speaking the story of Ashita no Joe may be described as being simplistic the delivery of said story is terrific, the plot is rock solid, the interactions between characters is deep, insightful and meaningful and the progression of the story is without a single flaw. But what I really think sets Ashita no Joe apart from other similar series is how the writer's message transcends the sport of boxing entirely. This is a story about one man's life and his struggles and this is what makes the core of the story and it's the messages that can be found within that makes this story nothing short of masterful.
Moving on to the thing that connects everything and brings the story to life for the readers; the characters. The characters in Ashita no Joe are spectacular to say the least. Let's begin with the main character, the wild brawler Joe Yabuki. Joe starts life as little more than a piece of human garbage drifting through the slums of Tokyo. Nothing but a wretched orphan that cares for nothing but himself, a prankster that gets his kicks from making the lives of those around him a misery, a rebel that goes against everything that modern society stands for. A directionless punk with no prospects, Joe would have simply wasted away if it wasn't for the interference of the stubborn Tange who would do literally anything within his power to turn Joe into a boxer. Joe's life as a street punk eventually comes to an end when his actions finally catch up to him and he's thrown into juvie. Within the confined space Joe's only salvation was the boxing training he received from Tange that kept him going.
Joe's passion for boxing was then finally ignited once and for all once he met his greatest rival, Rikiishi. Riikishi, while also spending time in the correctional facility was the complete opposite of Joe. He was a fine upstanding man that was destined to become a great boxer. And well it's at this point that you could say the story really starts. From this point Joe Yabuki, the wild beast that defies the very logic of the world of boxing begins to charge forward recklessly, never letting anyone interfere, never letting anyone stand in his way, never once compromising, never going against his principles as a man, even if it would lead to his own destruction, Joe lashes out against his opponent who stands on the other side of the ring.
There are many characters in this series that I'd like to talk about in depth but I feel as though I shouldn't because I feel like I'd be spoiling things for those who've yet to read the series, so I'm just going to tell you flat, the cast of characters in this series are magnificent and are one of the many, many things that make the series so great.
Now, I suppose many people who are thinking about reading this are probably being put off because it's too old and the artwork may not be up to the standard of more modern series. But frankly speaking the artwork is great. Granted the designs of the characters are outdated but the actual level of expression in the faces surpasses many modern series and also the level of detail put into the background goes far beyond most anything you see these days. Also the fight scenes are all brilliant to read. While initially the artwork may be a tad polarizing, all you need to do is get accustomed to it, so just give it a chance.
The enjoyment factor in this series is a little difficult to sum up. This story is very heavy and it doesn't hold any punches. At times it is very emotive and at times you'll just feel bad and depressed once you finished a volume but that is really the strongest point of the series. It never set out to be a happy story in the first place. It's an emotive story that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster ride. And it's exactly because of the nature of this story that it is just so much more impactful than damn near anything I've ever read.
So if you are still wondering whether or not you should read Ashita no Joe then let me just say yes definitely. I mean don't even finish this review, just go read it right now. If you're worried about not having enough knowledge about boxing then that really isn't a problem. Personally I only watch boxing a couple of times a year. I'm definitely no expert and yet I had no difficulty with this series.
Ashita no Joe is a sports manga that ran in Shounen Magazine from 1967 to 1973, drawn by Kajiwara Ikki and written by Chiba Tetsuya. It tells the tale of 15-year-old orphan Yabuki Joe, as he rises up the ranks of boxing, coached by the alcoholic former boxer Danpei Tange; along the way, Joe meets many rivals, most notably, Tooru Rikishi, Joe’s one true equal. It was compiled into 20 tankobon volumes, and is impossible to find wallpapers and pictures for.
Early on, Ashita no Joe has a very cartoony artstyle, but, slowly, the art becomes more and more grounded to better reflect the darker arcs
and themes. Despite the cartoony nature early on however, it is still well drawn and designed, so I don’t have problems with it.
The first season of the anime is very hit or miss visually. It’s usually rather cinematic, with a lot of the shots being interesting, but the fact is: it’s just not appealing to the eyes. The shading is very harsh, with a lot of the movement being stilted. The fights have flair, and are very fluid and well choreographed, which definitely gives it points. The second season is a vast improvement, with much more clean designs and far less stills. The music is solid, with a few stand out tracks; most notably “Joe Forever”
The pacing, either way you go, is very steady. Joe never has a rapid speed up, or an abrupt slow down. However, the manga is much faster than the anime overall, and does a few of the major arcs much better.
The characters in Tomorrow’s Joe all get ample screentime and development, with most of the rivals having a few volumes dedicated to them, and the side characters being here and there throughout the series. First there is Joe; an impulsive young orphan with tough skin but a burning passion for competition and striving for the top. It’s by pure happenstance that he picks boxing, as his strong body, quick wit and endless drive are perfect for any sport. He constantly gets in trouble because of his impulsive nature, especially in the early volumes, but his demeanor subtly changes throughout the series, to becoming someone who’s nearly unrecognizable to his former self, yet it’s still perfectly understandable how he got to that point. Next is Joe’s main rival, Rikishi. Rikishi is the opposite of Joe, a prodigy boxer who was destined to be the world champion, and tries to avoid confrontation when he can, which leads to him becoming a favorite of the spectators and fans, both in the manga and in reality. Danpei Tange is Joe’s coach, a washed up old boxer who quit boxing because of his permanent injuries, but tries to manipulate young men into becoming his boxing puppets, to live out his dreams vicariously.
The rest of the cast is more simple. The Mammoth, Nishi, is a close friend of Joe who is also a boxer. He’s a heavyweight, and is often there to cheer on Joe, or work as his second. He acts as a parallel to Joe a few times, as well. Yoko is a rich promoter who owns a large boxing gym, and acts as simultaneously the villain of the series, and also a sympathetic hero. There are also a few more rivals, like the charismatic Carlos, the violent Wolf and the family man Jose. Finally, Joe has a group of young kids who follow him around, none of which get too much screentime, but they are all characterized rather well, as I can describe quite a few of their personalities in detail.
The most prevalent theme expressed in Champion Joe is the darkness of humanity and the boxing industry. More than 3 of Joe’s characters are brutally crippled, both mentally and physically, by the brutality of the sport they play. Every single one of Joe’s characters has a strong darkside, especially the adults or people in positions of power. Even some of our heroes, like Danpei, are only doing seemingly selfless things because of ulterior motives. Ashita no Joe takes place in a shitty world, and it’s the most realistic and grim one of all: Our world.
Yet, the true theme of Joe is nothing like that. Despite all the darkness and depression surrounding it, Tomorrow's Joe is about hope. Hope in bettering yourself and others. Hope that you can change things. Hope for tomorrow.
The fights in Joe are actually rather exciting. The strategies used have real life application, and aren’t exposition dumped on you, which keeps the flow of the fight up while still maintaining clever tactics. There is always, with no exceptions, at least a 2 volume build up to a fight, one of them having a 7 volume build up, which always makes start of the fight seem like a climax within itself.
My one problem with Joe is that some arcs start off pretty repetitive. With one exception, they all start with Joe finding out who is opponent is, usually someone we haven’t met yet, and then we get a comically over the top show of their power, followed by Joe coming up with a plan that we don’t see until he actually uses it, rinse and repeat. Despite the repetition, each arc is different enough in its themes, and the new rivals are interesting enough, that it isn’t too much of a bother.
Lastly, I think that the ending of Tomorrow’s Joe is absolutely fantastic. It sums up the entire thematic point of the series in only 3 pages, does it subtly, and also brings the thunder and epicness in spades. Because there is quite a bit to say, explaining myself involves spoiling the ending, among other things. Spoilers for the rest of the review. So skip to that if you haven’t read Joe yet. SPOILER TIME:
Joe handing his gloves to Yoko is the culmination of the ideas of “passing the torch” expressed in the series, particularly by Rikishi. Danpei trying to wake Joe is the end of his arc, as, despite his best efforts, he can’t relight his flame. But, by far the most poignant image is the final one. Joe, dead, sitting his chair, smiling. His limp dead body, after such a brutal slaughter, obviously represents the brutality and depressing nature I mentioned. But the smile represents the hope that can always be found in that darkness. The light at the end of the tunnel that will always shine through, for a new tomorrow, where everyone can better themselves, even if it takes sacrifices. And after all the hurt and pain, Joe finally got his rematch with Rikishi…
In a corner of Tokyo there is a place where the garbage flies with the wind, where the stink of the river is intolerable and the outcasts overwhelmed by alcohol go home destroyed by their working day, but not all are abandoned to themselves, not everyone is cut down despite adversity, among them there are those who aim high.
Story: The story follow the life of Joe Yabuki, a rude boy without parents that grows thanks to wins and losses.
However Ashita no Joe is not only the story of Joe, it represents the post-war Japan, its economic and social condition and the vision of a defeated
people in search of a better future, a people represented by a boxer who runs his way with his fists overcoming every obstacle to a brighter tomorrow.
Art: Is for sure a dated style that improves over the course of the volumes, in fact, taking the first and the twentieth volumes you may notice the difference, initially is very rounded style, then the faces become more realistic with excellent expressions.
Character: There are many characters and they are all different from each other and characterized very well, the relationship that develops between Joe and his rivals goes beyond mere friendship, the relationship between two people who fight with boxing gloves dirties with reciprocal blood and sweat is more than just a friendship based on one million of words.
Enjoyment: This manga is very realistic, people can attach themselves to the protagonist that continues to grow despite making mistakes after mistakes.
There are also the dramatic moments and breathtaking ones that are able to enter the heart of the reader.
This is Ashita no Joe, a manga full of emotion, a masterpiece entered in the collective imagination that has cleared through customs the idea of manga as something targeted only to a child audience.
The intense aura of a wild groan overwhelmed the whole hall, as the two gladiators standed between each other in unsteady gaze. The coach pushed your back, as the 10th round got started, by the decisive ring of the bell, crucial for recognizing the winner during the next 3 minutes. This local hall never felt such big applaud, yet couldn’t predict, that someday it would hold a world title match for their local hero. You can’t recognize anything from these mutters. As a matter of fact, you can not feel anything anyway. There is no fear, no strategy, no meaningless thoughts. Just pure descent into
madness, as the only feeling you can name for a while, the only thing that matters in this world is – your burning flame, once replenished never turned down, once your heart’s volcano errupted with it’s magma, it never stops exploding until it elevate your will, right with your flaming gloves into the Pompeii of your rival. And at the end the only thing that remains, is pure white ashes…
Ashita no Joe is a work such underrated and unpopular, despite of it’s uproar back in it’s days, when it was published in late 60’s - it’s utmost sad, no one recognizes it anymore. I could have never stumble onto this if not for mere coincidence of noticing it on this site. This work is like an old man, ready to tell a quaint story from his days, yet there is no one to listen to him, as everyone are concerned with things more important or more interesting to take care about. It’s a work that – for me, as a boxing fan – replenished my love for the sport once more. A slow descent into the most obscure corners of Tokyo’s slums, where people trying their best to survive with their family can not think of anything else, as utter desperation and injustice at the world surrounding them. We did not want the war, why do we have to endure it’s consequences? Yet among them are people, who did not lose their spirit, they are ready to defy their fate and challenge the world, giving everything they can, to put up a fight and strive for more than just surviving – for Tomorrow.
Joe is a short-tempered, rude and defiant teenager. Ready to solve every problem with fists, he does not feel any empathy nor humility to anyone. Full of egoism and spite, not think about anything nor anyone, than just his own survival in this messed up world, no matter if it’s by theft, crime or at cost of someone’s own safety. What remains true to Joe is – there is no one for him. Fleeing from orphan, in which he grew since he could remember, he never had a chance to feel love nor friendship. During his lone wandering through the slums of Tokyo, being a frivolous boy, he engaged into a fight again. What remained more shocking to people watching was, that Joe could handle everyone at himself, despite of being enormously outnumbered. Danpei used to be a boxer himself. However, after the loss of his left eye, he was forced to give up on his own boxing career, aiming to become a coach instead. But due to his violent, strict, passionate and even desperate approach in training, his proteges couldn't take it and abandoned him for better gyms. as he became jobless and eventually a homeless alcoholic. A cathartic moment, bombastic realization of Danpei Tange’s problem was finnaly understood by him, when he saw that boy fighting, as he could see with his very own eyes him standing on the top of the boxing world. In order to give Joe a training placement, Danpei tries to build up a low-standard boxing gym, for which he takes up a job in the mine, where he works horrendously long shifts – for Tomorrow. Despite of Danpei’s dedication to his plan, he could not hope for convincing Joe , he does not feel the need of listening to some crazy grump, nor some stupid-ass sport – as he does not listen to anyone in this world, which tries to preach him. Joe, due to his shameful conditions and constant crimes he commites, Joe goes to a juvenile prison miles away from Tokyo, where he meets Rikishi Toru – a boxer prodigy, who as the first one in Joe’s life could outclass him in his violent way of solving problems. Being at the verge of desperation, due to his lose, there is a tiny fire released in his heart, an uncontrolled passion of rivalry, which forces him to face Rikishi again, hence why he spents all nights in juvenile prison hitting his filthy mattress, according to Danpei’s training tips sent by letters to him. Where the boxing tournament is organised in the middle of juvenile prison, every uncontrolled delinquent faces a big change, a pure passion which can only be embraced by fists.
Ashita no Joe is not just a story another inspirational story, following the same trope from zero to hero, rising to the top of his particular sport. It’s a story about the whole lifetime of it’s character, an as introverted, lonely and unstable human garbage, who cares for nothing but himself, that makes the lives of others a misery, that goes against every modern civilization rule, yet we see how he changes to a person, who is not good at treating women, who does not try to understand him, yet how he grows to appreciate his new friends and rivals. gaining empathy, learning how to check his temper and how to morally define the world around him. We observe his every thought and move, every expression of his suffering and his solitude and as the story progresses his pride, determination and uncompromise. It’s at no means lightheartening nor cheerful in it’s delivery. It’s a heavy collapse into the harsh reality of a boxer, where nothing is predictable and no one is truly safe, between the four corners. Mililiters of sweat, fear, anger, pride and the blood on gloves. Ashita no Joe is never going to lie about the harsh reality, nor going flashy about the confrontations of them and does not hold punches for a reader naïve enough to think of it as a game. People in this world can lose their health or lives, as what they can receive is far more meaningful, as Joe’s only salvation in his life was passion he gained by training boxing. Later on, the story gets extremely grim and does not hold any shock factor nor depressing motives, as what only remains in the end is white ashes…
As how Ashita no Joe’s ending remains one of the most iconic moments in the anime history, I won’t hesitate of spoiling it. During the literature’s history, certain works or genres are often defined to their specific times, representing it’s values, motives and bright impact on the history of art, such as timeless Shakespearean tragedies, romantic poems or moving war diaries. Next to them, there are timeless pieces as Ashita no Joe to it’s nation’s history, while could be described as a sport series or a story about one man's life and his struggles, the writer’s message throughoutly transcendents the world of boxing and only the life of the protagonist - even the work itself, placing itself as one of the biggest cultural impacts manga has ever recorder, directly inspiring many boxing stories, as more famous Rocky Balboa and being the target of countless refferences in the anime medium. During the ending of the first season of anime adaptation airing in 1970, there was a special funeral for Joe’s rival – Rikishi, where about 700 people packed the streets dressed as Rikishi in his training suit. I could never feel so much emotions for a fictional character as much as I did for Joe. I loved Joe, i saw him grow from a snotty 15 year old to going toe to toe with the world's best boxer. When he finally finished the match and sat down on the chair and died, you could see he was happy... This scene is what made cry a lot of men throughout the 40 years from it’s publishing up to now and this work is what made me love this sport once again. “Ashita” in Japanese means “Tomorrow”, when bringing out the whole title could be free-translated to “Tomorrow’s Joe”, as Joe represents the struggle of the lower class of Japan, during it’s economic transformations, where in spite of hopelessness and vain ordinary people faced, there were people like Joe, who shined a light, giving hope and doing impossible, a story not only about boxing and Joe, but about people, who did not lose the sight of what remains true to them, aiming higher and putting up a fight with all their might… for Tomorrow!