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.

Brotherhood problem?

This is a pretty hot topic in the anime community. My take is that it depends on the source material (manga) and its respective adaptation. I will say that in my opinion that most of the time manga is superior when it comes to storytelling since anime has a time requirement it must adhere to, but with anime action sequences can be properly visualized compared to a manga. Each medium has its strengths and weaknesses.

I will say this don’t get hung up on these types of debates. If you can find a way to enjoy manga and its animated adaptation.

We anime fans are fairly spoiled in today’s market.

Animation A Lost Art?

Recently I have been watching a numerous number of Disney films. Mainly because my younger brother is on summer vacation, and he’s not allowed to play any video games at the moment as a punishment. As we were browsing Netflix I encouraged him to watch films I had grown up as child watching in my childhood. After a couple viewings it suddenly dawned upon me that in my homeland traditional hand drawn animation wasn’t as prevalent as before. The movies I had grown up watching, and idolizing no longer existed for my little brother who was born after the turn of the century. I am most probably late to the party because I don’t follow Disney as closely as others do since most of my focus when it comes to animation is aimed toward Japan, and in that country 3D hasn’t exactly taken over yet. I am not saying 3D animation is bad in any form I have enjoyed many films that have utilized 3D such as Toy Story, and Wall-E. I believe there is a place for 3D, and the fact in my opinion that video games are a form of art(those are mostly made using 3D engines). Should be evidence enough that I have admiration for any form of art, and the valiant artists who work on them. Especially since I am someone who lacks in such capability.

As I finished watching some of Disney’s older films I realized that in the United States we truly have lost something. There is something very touching about 2D animation that I don’t know how to describe. I would usually say it’s just nostalgia, and often in cases like these it is. Often the old games, and novels I liked are more memorable than they actually were, and I later realize that stuff material today is far superior This often happens in my case when it comes to video games. Why I think this time is different is because my little brother’s reaction to these films. He absolutely enjoyed them, and he wished for more. He didn’t necessarily prefer them over the many films he has seen in the movie theaters, but he began enamored with them because he truly hasn’t seen films like these in his short life so far. He loved the music, the characters, story, and most importantly the animation. You may ask won’t a kid like everything? Not necessarily, and what surprised me is that I still liked these films as much as I did as young child myself. That doesn’t always happen. We are often told as adults that we have to outgrow such pleasures, and that if we don’t we never really “matured” which in my opinion is complete bullocks.

What this whole experience has made me realize is as someone who is still spoiled by modern 2D animation from Japan. I took for granted the marvelous films that I enjoyed once as a child that were produced by Disney. I had seen CGI (Computer-generated Imagery) as merely the next step, and since I loved movies like Toy Story so much I didn’t think much of it, and I had anime to transition to anyways so I didn’t think much of it. Yet it was after watching movies with my brother I searched for modern Disney 2D films, and didn’t find much. That is when I realized that the industry had moved on. What sadden me was that many of the programs my brother enjoys today is of lower quality. Not only in animation, but a lot of shows he watches now are just a bunch of actors on a television set. Not saying acting isn’t a form of art, but it’s a shame that 2D animators have been displaced to such a degree. Granted many of the cartoons my sister grew up with were animated in 2D, and I know it hasn’t absolutely died yet in America. Now I can understand some of the paranoia many have in the Japanese animation industry when it comes to CGI, and why many fans absolutely hate it. I think that’s why there is still a resistance within the anime community. Unlike Disney who had positive feedback, and an audience who was willing to transition in the anime fandom CGI is seen as inferior, and not something to be encouraged. I think as time passes the barrier will weaken, and people will become more open to the idea of CGI, but at the moment I do see a lack of respect for 3D animators. In part stems from the fear of what occurred to Disney will happen to the Japanese industry. I am still not sure this fear is unfounded or not, but what I do know about the niche of anime fans is that they won’t let 2D die without a fight.

In conclusion what I am trying to convey is that it’s a shame that hand drawn animation isn’t as featured as much as it should be, but I hope that technology can improve to such a degree in which CGI can blend with the magic of the past, and create art that can truly touch the soul. I say that because when I look back the 3D movies I enjoyed because of the music, and the story. With hand drawn I truly enjoyed the purity of the art itself. There was something very elegant, and profound in it. It didn’t feel as robotic. Even though 2D animated is also not not as “perfect” as many who are nostalgic are lead to believe. I guess it all winds down to the fact that as a kid I drew a lot. I wanted to draw my favorite characters that I saw everyday on my television, and wanted to be a part of their story, and more importantly create my own. Drawing to me just felt so natural to do even though I have no talent for itt. It’s not dead in any means it’s still the basis of much of the artwork we love, and appreciate today. As I write this I guess I have realized I too am nostalgic for the movies of old, and the elegant artwork that touched my heart as a young boy.