What The World Needs is Empathy.

I try avoiding writing personally about myself, but I have realized that a lot of who I am today is because of what I’ve seen and experienced. When I was a boy I lived in the Basque country for a period of about two years. It was a big culture shock to my system, but when you are a child it is easier to adapt to an entirely different culture. There is a reason why studies prove that it is easier to learn as a child so I benefitted in part because of this fact. I was able to learn and adapt to the culture. A culture that is both similar and different to the American one I am accustomed to. From what I remember the bounds of a community and family are still much stronger than the one’s I experienced in my homeland. It is something that I’ve learned to appreciate because elements such as those are so hard to build and maintain but so easy to lose. Especially now in our society of easy gratification, and simulation.

Living there I was close to two boys, and when it came time for me to leave the country I had one last sleepover with each of them. I was young at the time, but the adults must have understood it was probably the last time I would ever see either of them. The first night I stayed over at this boy’s Ben’s house. I don’t remember much, but I do know I had a lot of fun hanging out. It was the second night with my other friend Ivan that I remember the most. He was skinny and looked very weak my mother would tell me later that he was born prematurely. He had a PlayStation which we all loved to play with, and since he was one of the few who had one at the time we often loved to visit him at his house. On this last sleepover, we didn’t spend much time playing on the console even though I wanted to. Instead, I spent a very long time coloring pictures with him. We were coloring some egg shaped characters which to this day I don’t know where he got the design, but we colored them together. He drew them and I colored. I could see in his face that this was something he wanted to share with me. He wanted to share this moment in time with me because of this fact I have never forgotten it. He told me he really appreciated this, and thanked me for being a true friend because all too often most would turn him down in doing this activity and would only want to play with the video game console. I was pretty young but it took me back a little to this day it is one of the moments of my life that still resonates with me.

Another similar moment happened to me much later in the 4th grade. I befriended a Chinese boy in my class, and he was really into Pokemon cards. We often spent time together during recess and played cards. Sometimes we would play basketball if the big kids let us, and often they wouldn’t because, to be honest, we were pretty bad at it. It was because he was a weird kid who didn’t really socialize he got picked on a decent amount of time. It’s been so long I have forgotten why he was angry and crying but it was at the end of recess and we were waiting to get in class. He was very upset, and I reached out my arm on his shoulder telling him it was okay now. He immediately lashed out at me and swiped my hand away. Another moment I was taken aback but for different reasons. The teacher later told me she appreciated what I was trying to do, and gave me some words of encouragement.

I may appear strong on the outside, and in my demeanor and it’s not a fake strength I’ve developed to not be consumed by depression of this world. Yet deep down I have a soft heart a heart that is hard to keep hate, and bitterness. Looking back it’s why I couldn’t turn away as I became more educated and saw the pain and suffering of not only those around me but also in the world. It’s why I did try everything I could when I was younger with my limited power, and naivety. I saw injustice, and evil in the world and I couldn’t do anything about the suffering, and the pain. So I thought by understanding the world I could find the answer regardless if it would bring me happiness or not. Thus I pushed, and keep pushing I see education not as an institution, but as a way of life. As long as my heart beats I will never stop searching. I will seek the answers I am looking for until the day I die.

I see now that this was the only path for me. Even if I wasn’t curious my empathy would have driven me here. What these two stories taught me was that only when you can understand something or someone can you heal it. I see now that it is not my knowledge alone that allows me to see the world in a different light, but my abnormal personality that allows me to gain a different perspective. When I was a young teenager I would go on long walks on the weekends because sometimes the simple things can teach you more than any book you can read. Listen and observe the people walking, the architecture and position of the buildings, and the sounds and whistles of the world. We shouldn’t take for granted what is right before us. I exist to love this world. I love living things in this world because sometimes we forget how rare life really is, but also the objects that don’t have heartbeats. We are the world, and the world is us. We are fundamental of the same atoms, and too often we forget that.

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Joe: A Champion

Joe Yabuki: Anime’s Greatest Boxer? Perhaps

[Spoilers]

Let me start by saying that like many before me. I hated Joe in the beginning of this series as he was immature, and a brat. One who couldn’t see the big picture and was driven my his own selfish needs and nothing anything else. I haven’t been put off by a character like him in a very long time. This should have been my first hint that this anime was going to be special because by the end of it I felt attached to the protagonist. I understood what he was trying to achieve, and at each emotional turning point, my heart was touched with his burning desire to overcome his circumstance. Once you see the entire story as a whole you understand why he was in such an irrational state. He was poor, homeless, and an outcast. He was a delinquent and like many troubled children they easily end up in a life of crime. Yet there are many who find something to focus on and in our capitalistic society, this usually is sports. As you think of the many athletes who the populous worship today they often came from a lower socio-economic status. So for Joe boxing was a salvation one which he would love beyond reason. Once he had a rival, and friend in Rikishi he finally becomes focused on a goal and once he was focused on a goal he did everything in his power to achieve it. He trained, and fought with everything he had. Joe never threw in the towel if he was going down he was going down until he was knocked out unconscious or time had expired. Each challenge he faced he rose to meet it with everything he had. He wasn’t the most gifted technical fighter, he wasn’t the fastest, nor was he the strongest. Joe was the most resilient. A character trait that I think is what makes Joe stand out, and is a shining light in this series. He had nothing, and he even went to juvenile prison for fraud. It is at this low point in which he finally starts rebounding (granted it takes a while) once he does he becomes one of the most fiercest fighters.

Joe in the boxing ring is an allegory for life itself. You may be given a poor poker hand in life but that shouldn’t stop you from giving it your best. Yabuki represents this theme of never quitting even in the face of overwhelming odds. He didn’t fight for money, honor, or respect. He did it because he loved it, and wanted to fight until his inner fire turned to white ash (one of the most iconic scenes in Ashita No Joe). Joe did just that as he saw it through to the very end. There were many times he could have taken chosen the life of those around him who did settle down, and worked in an honest job. Instead, he wanted to see his boxing career to the very end. The conversation between Noriko (a girl who at one point in story had strong feelings for him) highlights this point as she ended up marrying Joe’s best friend, but only because she finally understood that outside of boxing he had no room for ‘love’ and his other possible love interest Yoko a rich girl whose hobby was running a boxing gym and promoting bouts also ran into this dilemma in the end as well. Yet perhaps he could have loved her because unlike Noriko she understood the passion of a boxer. And it becomes painfully obvious Joe doesn’t think about his future beyond the next fight since the next one might be his last.
Which bring me to the ending of the anime. The ending is ambitious in many regards but the conventional theory is that he dies in the ring but after reading Hox’s piece as his interpretation that Joe actually does live but is done fighting is most probably the most realistic ending even if it may not be the one I personally accept. The facts show that most boxers don’t actually die in the ring, but end up with mental disorders (dementia, bipolar, etc.) because of repeated concussions this may lead to drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide, but the actual act of dying in the ring is rare in modern boxing. So the odds are against Joe of actually dying in the ring. He most probably ends up as many fighters do as mentally crippled being restricted to a hospital bed the rest of his life. Luckily for him, the woman who loves him Yoko is rich and can afford to provide medical care until his death. So the probability is that Hox is right and Joe does live afterward, but his fighting career is over.
I can’t accept this interpretation of the ending because I hate it. Most people want Joe alive because he can be with Yoko after but the manga/anime clearly states he’s already showing effects of brain damage. Why would you want an epic character like Joe Yabuki to be living the life of a vegetable? It doesn’t befit him he should go out like his friend Rikiishi did.

So I like to think he did die on that day and gave Yoko his gloves so she could always remember him. Yoko who visits the graves of both Risiiki and Joe. Leaving roses in honor of their legacies as great warriors.

Side Note:

It must suck being Yoko even if she is rich and beautiful and pretty much set for life. All the fighters she has actually cared for end up dying or brain dead. The loss of both Joe and Rikiishi must weigh heavy upon her. Yet she is one of the most pro-female characters I’ve come across especially since she faces the reality that boxing is a man’s world and she often struggles to get the proper respect from the men who are boxers. Eventually, she does, and becomes a respected businesswoman and is able to connect with the emotions of the fighters she promotes. If Joe’s end is sad then, of course, hers is as well. Boxing ended up taking the people she respected, and cared for. Most importantly it took away the man she loved but boxing also gave her the opportunity to meet these great people. Yoko is framed in the beginning to be a spoiled rich girl who gives to the poor because she has so much not because she truly desires to. Joe ends up being wrong about her and at the end acknowledges. Yoko is actually a very caring, and warm person who cares for boxers but also has a love for the sport herself. Of the mental strength, and fearless one must have when testing his life in the ring.

What is the best visual medium?

As someone who has enjoyed both the highest quality of western television to which I have found not only great entertainment but which have also personally influence my own beliefs. Yet if I had to choose between all the western shows, and anime I would have to still choose anime. Most of the time the shows are cliche and filled with the same tropes, but ever so often I find a gem that truly touches my heart. It’s not an industry that is as big as Hollywood or the big television networks of America. Overall I would have to say that western movies and television have overall more quality and meaningful stories. I probably have a preferential favoritism because anime does let me see the world in a different societies perspective. Granted there is much about the culture I don’t agree with, but nevertheless, I feel like there is something learn about ourselves in that.

I’ve also been a part of the gaming culture growing up, but unlike the gaming culture, the anime culture in the west is not mainstream it is not considered mainstream Japan as it is considered a bit niche. Granted there are differences between a casual, and a hardcore fan and when I say hardcore I don’t mean those who merely play more games than most, but people who understand the industry, culture, and its history. Putting gaming aside for now for which I could write an entire article for, and returning to the topic at hand. Anime has produced a handful of shows, and movies that I don’t think there are many western equivalents. I think it is particularly down to the medium itself. Unless you have a high budget for a movie or tv show it’s hard to create worlds that exist in the imagination. When you can merely draw (obviously there are computer enhancements involved in the modern day) it’s easier to build worlds that exist outside of the human mind. Worlds in which you can explore the deepest of the human aspects of the human soul. It’s why it’s such a shame that many just view it as weird, or merely a cartoon. Through all the junk one can find a silent beauty in it which can touch the hearts of the few who watch it. It is a shame that the industry often has to pander to those who only see the medium as a form of escapism because truly beautiful stories can sometimes be told only in through this art form.

There are some wonderful HBO, and AMC shows that truly do define the standard of quality what it means to have good writing. The themes that humans tackle are universal, but it is amazing how we can go about them in different ways. In a world where anime is often discredited, I feel like I should make my stand, and vouch for the art form that I love.

There is something truly intrinsically beautiful in drawing or painting. Art is something to be appreciated in my opinion. For those who haven’t enjoyed anime, I recommend you have an open mind, and give it a shot. If you are trying to avoid the “harem romantic comedies” and just get the straight serious material. Merely ask and I can point you in the right direction.