Also known as: Ashita no Joe
Joe Yabuki is a troubled youth who likes to do nothing better than fight. He's very good at it too. While wandering the streets he encounters a former boxing trainer named Danpei. Danpei wants to take Joe under his wing and train him to be a fighter, but before he gets too far Joe ends up in a juvenile prison. Life is tough there, even for a guy who can throw punches as well as Joe. It's also here where he meets his arch rival Tohru Rikishi. Rikishi is a former fighter and outclasses Joe by a large margin. The prison starts up a boxing league but before the two can have their final confrontation, Rikishi is released.
Joe swears that once he is released that he too will join the boxing league, and they'll have their final match.
When I think of anime, I think of modern titles, and not so much about titles such as Speed Racer. Ashita no Joe does offer one interesting opportunity: to see the title which would pave the way for all sports anime. The manga was first published in 1968, and a TV series aired in 1971. Champion Joe is a move made in 1980 which takes footage from the 70s TV series, and condenses the story to movie length. That might sound like a disaster, but it fared much better than I would have expected.
First and foremost, this title is VERY raw. Everything from the character designs, to the animation, to voice acting is from an era very different from today's anime. Some sequences do have a bit of artistic flare to them, but for the most part it was a matter of looking past the age of the animation to understand the intent.
The characters are certainly a throwback and not what I expected. I had a very hard time relating to Danpei, who is determined to train Joe for seemingly no reason. Everything about his character is rough around the edges. Joe himself is an odd one. While boxing plots are far too often dressed up Cinderella stories, Joe's tale doesn't follow this at all. He ends up in prison, but he also deserves to be there. While I wanted Joe to stand up to the thugs he often encounters, he's also a total ass and provokes nearly every fight he ends up in. Every time he gets his ass kicked, he deserves it. It's actually pretty cool that a guy "from the streets" doesn't have a heart of gold, and you never mistake Joe as a character who is only acting a part - he is indeed a part of the lower class. Conversely his rival Rikishi is a dedicated and seemingly noble fighter. In the final match I didn't find it a matter of rooting for one or the other. Both of them had developed into characters that I wanted to see win.
Watching this took some effort as it began. Because as it was assembled from a TV series, it was a incoherent mess at the start. As things progress through Joe's jail time the story starts to gain focus, and after his release the story flows well enough to overlook some of the more disjointed editing. Point being that you'll have to be forgiving in the way this is assembled for at least an hour (of 2.5 hours). Even at times when the story was fine, there would be some funky 70s music (hell yeah) in the background that would suddenly cut out.
To be honest I didn't like Ashita no Joe as it started and I was tempted to call it quits early on. I found the prison stuff just good enough to hold my interest until it progressed to the better parts, where it emerged to a decent story. While all parts of this anime are unrefined, I found the characters to be intriguing as they're so unlike anything found in anime today. The ending I found to be an especially good highlight. While I believe this is a good watch from a historical perspective, I know most people watch anime simply to be entertained, not to gain a deeper insight into the genre. If looking into the roots of modern anime interests you, it's a good enough watch, most others will want to skip this one.
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