[Throwback Thursday] Ashita no Joe Review - Burned to White Ashes


ashita no joe wallpaper

Burned to White Ashes

  • Episodes : 79
  • Genre : Sports, Boxing, Drama, Old School
  • Airing Date : April 1970 – September 1971
  • Producers : Mushi Productions

Ashita no Joe Preview/Plot (no spoilers)

Between World War II and the booming of Japan’s economy from the mid-1970s (when Japan became the second biggest economy in the world), the land of the rising sun was still a developing country. A good number of citizens were living around the poverty line and despite being twenty years after the war, the country was still in a dire period of recovery. So who was the million to one underdog that would represent the then struggling citizens of Japan?

That would be Yabuki Joe, an orphaned teenage delinquent. After a scam involving the neighborhood children lands him in juvie, a run down boxing trainer tries to teach Joe the fundamentals of the sweet science. After causing a riot and being defeated by Tooru Rikiishi, a fellow inmate and suspended boxing prospect, Joe takes his training seriously to even the score with Rikiishi and upon his release, to become the best in the world.

ashita no joe rivals

Who does Ashita no Joe cater to?

For those of you that love Hajime no Ippo, try giving the original boxing anime a start. Granted the fights of Ashita no Joe are not as technically detailed as Hajime no Ippo in a realistic definition, the fights are distinctly exciting and have a golden age feel to not just anime, but to the sport of boxing as well.

If you feel like you're the underdog in whatever you do in life, this will give you a distinct kind of inspiration to go out and do it. It doesn't matter if you win, in the words of Shia LaBouf and Nike, JUST DO IT!!! Don't let your dreams be dreams!!!!

What is appealing about this work?

If you recently saw Creed, the newest addition to the Rocky franchise then maybe this is it. If Rocky is the All-American underdog story, then Ashita no Joe is the All-Japan Underdog story. Just like how Stallone made Rocky as a response to America’s atmosphere in a post-Vietnam/post-Watergate situation, Ashita no Joe serves the same purpose and both products show various similarities but each show their distinct societies and cultures.

What is also great is that Ashita no Joe (like Rocky) explores the flaws of the characters, and how they overcome and embrace them. Nobody is perfect and the series does a great job of showing that in both good and bad ways. Everybody has their fight and it doesn't have to be in a ring.

As Rocky Balboa would say which perfectly applies to this series (and ultimately in life), it’s not about how hard you can hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.

Ashita no Joe trailer

Ashita no Joe Character List

Yabuki Joe

ashita no joe joeyabuki

Voice Actor :Aoi Teruhiko

Introduced as a 15-year-old wandering orphan whose initial goal in life is to scam people and make a quick yen, Joe is a capable street fighter to the point that he can handle a gang of adults. His natural fighting prowess gains the attention of Tange Danpei, an alcoholic ex-boxer who wishes to resume his dreams through coaching Joe.

Joe does not take him seriously until one of his scams lands him in juvie and being defeated in a prison fight by Rikiishi, a suspended boxer. Upon his release, Joe wishes to settle the score with Rikiishi in the pro-ring but his delinquent habits will continue to haunt him through his life.

Rikiishi Tooru

ashita no joe rikiishi

Voice Actor :Nakamura Shuusei

A rising boxing prospect who lands in juvie after assaulting a reporter who insulted him. He defeats Joe in a prison riot and Joe uses the defeat as motivation to settle the score. At the same time, Rikiishi progressively sees Joe’s potential as a boxer and beings to take his threat seriously.

After both of their releases and with Joe fighting at a much lower weight class than Rikiishi, he makes the decision to go through a demanding and dehydrating diet to fight Joe one last time.

Tange Danpei

ashita no joe tangedanpei

Voice Actor :Fujioka Juukei

Once a club level fighter but after going through many brawls in the ring, he lost his eye and suffered many injuries forcing him to retirement. Not willing to give up his dreams of the ring, Tange decides to become a trainer. Unfortunately, prior to meeting Joe, one of his previous fighters did not take the sport seriously because he just wanted to look cool in front of girls, and leaves Tange for another camp that is willing to offer him bigger pay day fights.

After losing this fighter, Tange becomes an alcoholic. Then after seeing Joe in a street fight, after much hard work and persistence, takes him as his new pupil and his last hope of glory.

Shiraki Youko

ashita no joe youkoshiraki

Voice Actor :Ebisu Masako

The granddaughter of a rich family, Youko does what she can to help Joe and the other inmates, despite Joe being a total jerk her throughout a majority of the series.

After helping establish the juvenile facility’s boxing program, Youko goes onto become a promoter during a time when equality for women in Japanese society (and most especially the sport of boxing) had a ceiling that was made of titanium and hopefully win the heart of someone as cold as Joe.


Contains Spoilers

Ashita no Joe Review (Spoilers)

The story is reasonably paced and easy to follow as it tells the life story about a young man’s illustrious and yet troubled career, and his personal struggles in and out of the ring. Initially, Joe is just a bum who had nothing but the clothes on his back, and throughout the series he develops to becoming the hero of a nation, but a bit of that troubled kid (or that bum from the neighborhood) is always there deep inside of him.

Throughout the series, he creates so much controversy to the point that he makes Mike Tyson as innocent as a nun, but yet, he was down to earth and has this aura to him in his neighborhood in the slums of Tokyo as if he were Manny Pacquiao in the Philippines (or maybe Rocky in the mean streets of Philly?).

Despite how you can describe Joe in a personal level, it’s bizarre to see him as a hero at the same time. I just find it unique that in real life, people can react the same way when some famous athlete is involved in a scandal and doesn’t apologize for it, and the media and a good percentage of society does not really scorn them to some capacity sometimes (for example, Kobe Bryant).

What is it that makes people identify with the “outlaw athlete” with all these scandals? Do people recognize deep down they're human? Who knows but Yabuki Joe seems to be able to achieve that.

The rest of the characters are also unique and some may not be of significant use, but they still have some kind of overall unforgettable impact in establishing and advancing the story. Nishi, Joe’s cellmate, never makes it as a journeyman in his boxing career but eventually finds success as a businessman.

Youko, Joe’s love interest (and victim of his threats and abuse), shows tremendous strength and leadership in a country, sport, and time period where women have little to no power but overcomes the odds in her own ways. Tange in his advanced age finds a new reason to dream and gives up alcohol. Every character like all people have their ups and downs in their own ways and audiences can relate to them.

Yes, the art and animation are old and outdated which is something that many people today can not really get past by which I can understand, but if you are a type of person that can still appreciate the old Rocky movies or old movies in general, then this should not bother you. Or to put it simply, if you are about substance over style, the check this out!

Chiba Tetsuya, the artist of the original manga still draws in that manner to this day and if he were to draw the manga all over again for today, he would still do it the same way. But getting passed the outdated style, it still does an excellent job of bringing out the expressions in the characters and the fighters’ bodies are well appropriate for their respective weight classes.

ashita no joe wallpaper

It’s also interesting to note that with some characters, they will show age and change such as Joe, Nishi, and Noriko. The series does a great job of making Rikiishi look dehydrated to make it to Joe’s weight class at 118 pounds, bantamweight, when his best weight class is at 126 pounds, featherweight. And believe me, the difference in eight pounds in smaller weight classes is very significant in combat sports whether it'd be boxing, kickboxing, amateur wrestling, and mixed martial arts.

Sorry to bring up another Rocky comparison, but the fights are on the same epic level, and Joe’s fighting style can be compared to that of the Rocky Balboa character himself. Rocky and Joe are both in no way textbook boxers like Floyd Mayweather or Pernel Whitaker, and they are go for broke brawlers who rely on power like Manny Pacquiao and Rocky Marciano.

Every punch they throw is intended to knock you out. Every fight in Ashita no Joe brings a different kind of flavor of intensity, and will keep you on the edge of your seat. As described with Joe’s fighting style, sometimes you think you’re watching an intense street fight instead of a boxing match. And the ending fight when Joe finally gets his shot is one of the best pieces of work that has ever been done. The ending fight can be compared to both of Rocky’s fights with Apollo Creed.

The seiyuu cast is wonderfully top notch. Johnny’s singer Aoi Teruhiko does the voice of Yabuki Joe. He does an excellent job of making Joe sound like a smart ass. Nakao Ryuusei, the voice of Freeza in DBZ plays Carlos Rivera, and current J-Drama actor Kishibe Shiro does the voice of Nishi. Nishi comes across as a Japanese version of Lenny from Mice and Men at a physical level and his voice is presented in that manner as well. Unfortunately, some of the other cast members have now passed on but they created a legacy with this anime.

Naturally, the music is just something that defines the old school feel to it. It may not pump you up like Rocky’s iconic soundtrack, but a strange way to describe it is it’s just so masculine and emotional at the same time. It’s about conquering adversity and how it will make you a man. But other than that the soundtrack is just one of the passionate instrumentals and vocal deliveries one will ever hear.

1. Yabuki Joe vs Rikiishi Tooru

ashita no joe Highlight 1

After Joe starts a riot, he gets his butt whooped by Rikiishi, driving the first significant rivalry in the series. After hearing about Rikiishi’s background, Joe starts to take boxing seriously and wants to beat Rikiishi at his own game. Due to their rivalry, the juvenile detention center officially starts a boxing program.

When they have their first match in juvie, Joe is losing but he puts everything into his first signature move, the cross counter resulting in a double KO. Due to this achievement and Joe being a much smaller fighter, earns the respect of Rikiishi. After the fight, their rivalry becomes more friendly and they begin their wish to settle their score in a pro boxing ring.

A couple of years later and with Rikiishi’s harsh weight cut, they have their fight. It is a brutal eight round war, Rikiishi with superior technique comes out the victor. However, due to Rikiishi’s taking a wild right to the temple causing a brain hemorrhage, Rikiishi passes shortly after being declared the winner.

2. Yabuki Joe vs Wolf Kanagushi

ashita no joe Highlight 2

In Joe’s first major test as a pro-boxer, he faces respected prospect Wolf Kanagushi and goes through secret training to fight Joe. However, the neighborhood children try to spy for Joe, they get caught, and they are beaten by Wolf and his men on,y to be delivered to their front door from the trunk of the car.

This low action by Wolf angers Joe to defeat him in the ring. When it comes fight time, Wolf initially gives Joe problems by neutralizing his cross counter. Eventually, Joe finds a way to defeat Wolf by stepping up his cross counter with the triple cross counter by shattering Wolf’s jaw and ending his career.

3. Yabuki Joe vs Carlos Rivera

ashita no joe Highlight 3

After the loss of Rikiishi, Joe hits a low and depression costing him three fights. In order to get Joe’s fire back from when he had his rivalry with Rikiishi, Youko enlists the help of Carlos Rivera, the number sixth bantamweight fighter in the world. Despite not being the champion, Carlos has the charisma of Apollo Creed and the exoticness of a super model. Despite his success and his upbeat nature, deep down inside, he was a kindred spirit to Joe and they develop a deep friendship and respect for each other.

By the time they get into the ring, Joe and Carlos put on the fight of the lifetime that surpasses Joe’s fight with Rikiishi. To best express this bout, as Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce once said, sometimes a fight can express things words can’t.


Closing

Long after the ending of this great classic, many other anime and manga have actually paid tribute to this wonderful classic by restating lines or re-enacting scenes from it such as episodes and chapters of GTO, Fushigi Yuugi, Berserk, FLCL, Ranma ½ and Urusei Yatsura. If you want to know the impact this series has, when one of the characters died, the fans even held a funeral for him. That’s how big it was there, but unfortunately, Ashita no Joe never really made it to America until recently under the title, Champion Joe.

Not too long ago, the series, specifically the rivalry between Joe and Rikiishi, was made into a live action movie starring one of Japan’s hottest stars, Yamashita Tomohisa. The age of the series may be a turnoff to many newer and younger viewers, but the maturity of the series is one of its charms. It tells a great story of Japan during a unique time and is pretty educational.

It ended at a time when Japan’s economy started to progress and audiences should be able to learn about a time before Japan became the country it was and what it had to go through, and this is the anime to expose audiences to that.

Justin

Writer

Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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