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  • Forfatterens bildeStephanie

ashita no joe - the power of being a long running drama

Includes spoilers for:

-Ashita no Joe 1&2

-Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu


I hadn't really thought about it before today, but a comedy/drama is extremely difficult to pull of well. These two genres, which at first glance seem to be as oil and water, can actually manage to work so well together. Well, as long as there's a competent guy behind the steering wheel of course, which as we all know, most of the time, isn't the case. But it is in the case of Ashita no Joe. It's director, Osamu Dezaki fascinates me both as a human being, and a director. How one man could produce so much amazing work, one after another, is unbelievable to me. How one man is able to use cost cutting techinques not just in order to cut corners, but in order to further his artistic vision, and to expand on the work which he adapts, it's all crazy to think about This is a guy who literally worked in the anime industry since its inception, as he started work as an inbetweener on Astro Boy, later becoming director of the show. And througout his fortysix year long career, apart from some not so great recap movies, his body of work became filled to the brim with one amazing show after another. This is why I'm writing about Ashita no Joe. The first show Dezaki got to direct. And you know what? He made an amazing show on his first try.

Obviously, you can't attribute all of Joe's positive aspects to Dezaki. It is, after all, an adaptation from a highly popular manga. And I'm not smart enough to pick up on subtle details that Dezaki himself were responsible for. I haven't even read the manga. Did Dezaki elevate Joe to even greater hights? I don't know. While I don't know whether he succeded in adapting the story of Joe into animation, I do know that he did create a damn fine piece of work. So for this article, I won't be discussing Dezaki himself, or any of the more metacontextual elements surrounding Joe. I'll be focusing on the work itself, and what it accomplished, regardless of who actually accomplished it.


Ashita no Joe is a story about Joe Yabuki, a street punk with nothing to his name. He roams the street of the slum, he beats up people, and interacts with the locals. Enter Tange Danpei, an old man, and retired boxing coach. Upon seeing Yabuki fight, he gets an idea. He's going to use Yabuki to gain his spot back in the japanese boxing world, and together: they'l create a brighter tommorow.


This may sound rather uninspired. Nothing too original. But what makes Joe so special, is that it really takes advantage of it's format, that being a long running drama series. Because growth is slow, sometimes very slow, and it takes time and radical change for people to well... change. Yabuki Joe is a fucking asshole, and I do not mean that lightly. He scams people for money, beats up people on the street, and has no care for anyone other than himself. He even gets sent to juvenile prison for a long period of time, but does that change his behaviour at all? You'd think it would, but not in the slightest. This goes on for about 50 episodes (if my memory serves me right). For, while Joe's personality may not have changed while in prison, he did gain a conviction: to fight a previous boxing protege, Rikishii Toru. Rikishii is not to be taken lightly, and they do a damn good job of showing this. This is a guy who beat down a charging bull with his bare fists. Yeah, you don't wanna mess with him. So Joe gets out of prison, and is ready to fight Rikishii. And after the fight, Joe wins. Happiness ensues, yes! Finally, this story arc has been closed. Joe managed his goal! And then... Rikishii dies.

It happens as quickly as it would have in real life. And now, first now... does Joe become a good person. He lost the guy who, since episode 10 or so, had been his goal. They had even settled it in the ring themselves, they were good people now! Alas, there was nothing which could be done. Joe spirals into a depression, and leaves everything behind and becomes a travelling grasslot boxer, as he is never quite able to capture the feeling he had when faced with such an insurmountable task as Rikishii. Out of all the anime I've watched, the best deaths are the unexpected deaths. But, how do you make a death unexpected? It's a difficult task indeed. For, media, or art for that matter, isn't real. It's all staged, made up by the mind of the creator. So you have to kill someone who seems like they should be so intergal to the plot that they can't die. Obviously, the protaginst fits the bill, but if you don't have a main character, you don't have a story. Even the best of stories with ensemble casts have some sort of main character guy. Even if they aren't the main character in regards to the plot, they are so thematically. Since you can't go for the main guy, you've gotta go for second place. A character which has been integral to the plot since early on, but who's death won't literally just end the story. Rikishii is that. He's shown to be basically invincible, the dude beat a bull with his fists! And this a comedy/drama series running in a shonen magazine. And yet, he still dies. The only death which comes close to this for me is Kirchei's death in Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu. His was even more unexpected, as he had been with the main character since episode 1, since his childhood, and he had been integral to the plot many times.


And then, I watched season 2. It has been a while since I completed it, so I don't have much to say in detail, but it truly is a masterful ending. The animation quality has been improved greatly, as has the character art. The character art in Joe 1 was never bad, per se, but the weird looking noses always kind of threw me off. In Joe 2, it has all been done so much better, not to mention the wonderful character development. When I first started reading and watching analysis of anime, one of the things that would be repeated over, and over again, is character development. At first, I agreed. I thought, yes, of course, if you're watching a series you would indeed want character development. Getting to experience the growth of a character over a length of time is the main appeal of art, is it not? But after having watched more, I started to feel myself disagree more and more with this certain sentiment. Now, I was never against character development as a writing device, of course not. However, I felt myself putting less and less importance on it. But Joe changed my view on character development completely.


Getting to watch as Joe spent 50 episodes being an ulikeable idiot who refused to cooperate with anyone, before finally changing for the better wasn't just interesting, it was masterful. When Joe asks Nori-chan if he can help with something during Nishi's celebration party, and you see him genuinely care for someone, that was powerful. Joe, who swindled people for charity donations so he could use the money himself, is now doing something for no other reason, than because he just cares that much about a person. And Joe's beautiful speech about white ash, how he's going to keep fighting until he's burnt himself out, the only other scene I could even compare it to is the "Bonfire of Dreams" from Berserk. And watching Joe interact with all these fighters, the final fight with Jose Mendoza, watching the completely broken Carlos approach the ring, it hurts. It genuinely hurts, seeing these wonderful characters that you've spent 130 episodes connecting with, literally kill themselves in the ring. I feel for Nori-chan. Why, why oh why do these people destroy themselves like this? And that is masterful.


Watch Joe.


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