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.

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Japan – A Glimpse Into The Future

I’ve been an anime viewer for a long time since I was a child. I’ve written before of how I enjoy this medium of entertainment, but I sometimes wonder if it was fate that drew me into this medium as it happen merely by accident. I was born into a generation where the western audience was about to explode, and I happen to be involved with a family which had already been early adopters of the medium of what western anime historians typically recognize as the period 1970’s and 80s. This isn’t exactly another post about anime, but instead the point I am trying to convey is that this was the spark of my fascination with understanding an entire different country and later continent. I became fascinated with their history, and culture realizing that in some aspects it wasn’t that much different than my own, but in other ways it truly was foreign. Japan in my opinion gives a glimpse into the future of humanity. A place where economic stagnation is a consequence of decades of corruption, and bad policies. Where there isn’t a true incentive to bear children like before, and thus a declining population rate has developed as it also has in Europe. A world where the visual, and the fantasy become what the human heart desires a world in which reality is something to escape from not embrace. Resulting in a place in which instead of understanding pain, and loneliness we run away from it hiding through easy gratification services for pleasure, and joy. In which visual media keeps us so distracted we never bother to think too much outside of the world that was derived for our enjoyment.

The virtual becomes better than the reality. In my own country this is merely beginning as Netflix being the major chunk of Internet traffic is merely the proof of that fact. In the west there will also be a transition to what has occurred in the east a world in which the digital slowly takes over. In Korea RTS players are treated as kings, in China they are all so hungry for digital media they have become best DOTA 2 (MOBA video game) players, and in Japan you merely have to visit or Google articles about Japanese virtual girlfriends.

The fact the Staples Center sold out for a video game tournament only adds to long list of signals you as well the amazing growth of Twitch.TV. When I was young being a gamer wasn’t exactly widely accepted, but now it is part of the mainstream landscape. Most of today’s information is digested through digital means as most people use applications on their phones, and computers to communicate in this world to define who they are and in extension ‘live’. Slowly we will move from the 2D screen into the 3D realm that once we thought was unimaginable, but that is the yearning. When games like Second Life exist, and are popular I realize that people yearn to live their fantasy, and distance themselves from the bane of their existence. It’s always easier to delude yourself, and play along in the fantasy. Ignorance and escapism are intrinsic human traits. I see a world that won’t be as interconnect as it can be, but instead isolated and fractured. Where people no longer say anything meaningful to each other, but exist frame to frame thus a way of life that is devoid of any true meaning. Does this mean I am saying technology is the root of our problems? No the problems of today are instructively human no matter what the circumstance. Instead what should be obvious is that society, and people are evolving. As a species we are evolving to a much more visual culture where images impact us more than just words. This is nothing nothing new people have been writing about this transition for 35 years now, but before they only had photography, and television to provide as a basis. Now in the dawn of online video, games, streaming, and numerous other applications we all should see where this trend all lead to. It leads to a society in which everything can be compartmentalized. Everything a human could ever need, do, and dream about can be all neatly organized into a serious of different applications. Want to date? There is an application/site for you. Want to write a journal? Service for that as well. Share pictures? Thoughts? Dreams? Pain? It’s all there for the taking. I could go on but I hope you understand the picture I am painting for you. We are entering an era in which culture of all kinds will blend together, and it will be up to the individual to decide how to conceptualize it all. Are we ready for such a world? I think not, and perhaps it’s already here. As more people in the poorer countries become connected to our virtual world we will see the blending I speak of. It’s uncharted in terms of scale, and speed of interaction. In such a world everything will become an image of projection. Who you are, what you believe, and what you do will all become images and those images will tell your story. Not merely your own, but everyone else’s as well.