Ashita no Joe Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: C+
  • Video Rating: A/C
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: All
  • Region: 2 - Japan
  • Released By: Nippon Columbia
  • MSRP: �4,700
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Ashita no Joe

Ashita no Joe Vol. #1

    March 04, 2005
Release Date: September 21, 2001

Ashita no Joe Vol. #1
© Nippon Columbia

What They Say
The animation masterpiece that dominated the 70s, "Ashita no Joe", is now available digitally updated on DVD.

The Review!
It has been nearly 35 years since "Ashita no Joe" (i.e. "Tomorrow's Joe") was first broadcast in Japan on 1 April 1970. This is one of the first few sports anime and definitely the first boxing anime. The anime is based on the manga by Takamori Asao and Chiba Tetsuya. Both the manga and anime are hailed as classics in their own right. Does the anime stand the test of time and be rightly called a classic? That's what we are here to find out.

The DVDs for the whole show were first released in 3 mini-boxsets by Columbia Japan with the first mini-boxset released on 21 September 2001. The individual DVD volumes were progressive released one year later on 21 September 2002. On 2 March 2005, the Complete DVD Box is now released. The DVD volumes in all 3 releases (mini-boxes, individuals, and complete boxset) are similar.

There is only one track available - Japanese and monaural. Considering the age of the audio track, dialogue and background music are quite clear with fairly muted surface crackling evident throughout the main content and next episode previews. There has been some audio restoration work done. The opening and endings songs though are a different matter as there is very minimal surface crackling.

There are two ratings for video. There's good news and bad news. Let's deal with the bad news first.

The bad news is that all the openings, next episode previews and endings are not remastered and shows the condition of the originals. That's the C rating. You will see washed out colours, the scratches and blemishes in all their glory. It's a sobering thought that the video masters were in such bad condition.

The good news is that the main episode content is remastered and is very well done with nearly all scratches and blemishes eliminated. That's the A rating. It's a day-and-night comparison that really makes you appreciate Columbia Japan's remastering efforts. Only problem is that they did not take the extra step of remastering the openings, all the next episode previews and endings. However, I do appreciate it is a matter of cost and that it may not be worth it when people generally skip through those sections.

Packaging is your standard basic Amaray(TM) DVD case with a simple cover and an insert. The cover has a windowed image of the title character, Yabuki Joe, ready to throw a punch. The back of the cover has episode summaries of the 5 episodes in this first volume and also includes the standard technical details table neatly showing video aspect ration, running time, number of tracks and the track language, region, etc.

The double-sided insert shows a listing of the chapters in each episode, the production staff and the main cast on the one side printed in colour while the other side printed in black and white has the technical details table.

The DVD has the title, volume and other details die-cut masked-off with a mostly grey background and the English title of the show repeating in black.

Menu is simple and operates fairly quickly. The main menu screen is a static screen with direct selection of episodes. The opening tune plays in the background. The submenu allows selection of chapters. There is a window in the chapter selection submenu repeating the video clip of the whole opening but with no audio.

There is a downside to the chapter stops. There is no episode halfway chapter stop. The chapter stops for each episode are the opening, main content, next episode preview and ending. If you are watching the episode, you will have to finish the episode or take note of the point that you have stopped and fast forward to that point later.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This is the first sports anime that I have ever watched. As such, it has a place in my heart for nostalgic reasons. When this show was first released on DVD, it was a given that I would get my hands on it but with a small bit of trepidation. You see, in my experience, most shows that are remembered for nostalgic reasons often do not stand up to scrutiny when I get older and have another look. In addition, how would a show of this age compare with today's modern anime shows? It won't be able to match up to today's anime shows in terms of animation smoothness, neat clean visuals and 5.1 channel soundtracks. It will have to stand toe-to-toe against today's anime shows with the strength of its story and characters.

"Ashita no Joe" is set in the late 1960s. Tokyo as it was then a rapidly growing city with new high-rise buildings being built. However, this is not set in the rising gleaming part of Tokyo then but in the slums around Tokyo. This is not the safe suburbia where most of today's modern time anime seems to be set. This is where organised crime gangs run freely, mixing with the people there and extracting protection money from the poor. It starts with a drifter who approaches the slums looking for a place to stay and move on. The dusty wind and the city smog with the Tokyo Towers in the background add great effect. The theme song is whistled in, reminiscent of the spaghetti westerns with Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name. This is our introduction to the titular character, Yabuki Joe. Sounds clich�d and yet surprisingly it does not seem so as the opening scene is handled with restraint and understatement.

While walking through the slums, Joe bumps into a drunk, Tange Danpei, as the drunk is thrown out of the bar. Danpei harasses him for some money so that he can buy more sake to continue drowning himself in it. Joe dismisses him and they get into a minor altercation. Danpei, who was formerly a boxing instructor and also an ex-boxer, sees that Joe has the instincts and innate raw skills for boxing. He is further convinced after observing Joe make short work of some members of the local gang in a minor entanglement. Danpei vows to quit drinking and fulfilling his dream of training a champion boxer by training up Joe to become one. Except that Joe has absolutely no interest in boxing.

The minor entanglement results in the rest of the local gang coming together at night searching to have a go at Joe as they can't have their authority challenged and not properly responded to. While Danpei is trying to convince Joe about boxing at the playground, the gang shows up for payback and to reassert their authority. The ensuing fight is a no holds barred brawl between Joe and the local gang. The brawl is an exhilarating burst of energy that does not require anything fancy to spice it up. There's no slow-motion acrobatics, no bullet-time shenanigans, no fancy animation, just pure dynamism with punches followed through. When the blades come out, Danpei throws himself in the way to restrain and protect Joe for his own selfish reasons.

Right from the start, Yabuki Joe is a character that makes a strong impression and continues to do so in these first 5 episodes. We learn through these episodes that he is a lot of things - confident, cocky, street-wise, cynical, street brawler and a con artist with some charm. Always on the lookout to make money, he is a very accomplished teenage scoundrel. He even involves the kids in the slums in his schemes. Yet at this early stage, we get to see another side of him that he lets slip in the little other things that he does. His brash and cocky manner though takes centre stage as it is so ingrained in him that he can't help himself.

An example of it is when with the help of the slum kids, he cons the local gang of some money to pay for Danpei's medical bills. His actions results in the local gang going after him to deal with him permanently as retribution and reassert their authority. In due course, he takes on the local gang again but this time the encounter leaves him badly injured but the gang is given a thorough beating and their authority broken.

Joe eventually takes up Danpei's offer to train as a boxer but on his terms. He is not convinced about Danpei's idea. He has interest in staying on at as he has found a niche here pulling off money-making schemes with the local gang in tatters. His schemes get a bit more daring and his inability to control his brash and cocky self gets the better of him when he cons a rich girl who does her rounds of charity work at the slums. The scheme gets found out and there's the eventual showdown with the local police.

The local police can't handle him and Danpei comes to get him. Danpei has become productive by finding work at construction sites and working hard to pay Joe for being a boxing trainee under him. Like a father figure that he has become to nurture Joe as a boxer, he is furious and tries pleading nicely to Joe to surrender to no avail. He moves in to administer tough love with Joe and him going at it. Now that Danpei has shaped up with his daily manual labour and coupled with his knowledge of boxing, the fight is brutal, effective and short. Danpei sadly surrenders the unconscious Joe to the police.

The police put him into the city's juvenile lockup on his own to give him time to recover from his injuries. While in there, he exudes hostility like a caged wild animal. Danpei manages to find a way to provide training to him by way of a postcard. He tears up the postcard in his anger at Danpei. Being locked up and bored, he pieces back the postcard and is intrigued enough to try it out as he has nothing to do in there. He finds the training advice effective and practices it hard to pass the time.

The first five episodes run through a lot of ground. It is a show driven by story and the characters. Everything is in there with the express purpose to drive the show forward at a steady aggressive pace. There's no filler. The characters are fascinating and show depth even at this early stage when you start noticing the little things hinted that give you a peak. There are no angels here. They are plain ordinary humans with their quirks, their desires, their selfish reasons, i.e. warts and all. They come alive, even the minor and side characters.

There are however some niggles early on in this series as some aspects of reality are stretched a bit to get the story moving like taking on a whole gang on his own in a brawl and taking out the police offices at the local police station in the slums. With a grain of salt (much less than what needs to be used for more recent anime shows), these can be easily overlooked to just get yourself carried away by the story.

The show's visuals are in a style not seen nowadays with charcoal-style art. It gives it a rough and gritty look that lends itself very well and adds to the storytelling. The animation is not smooth but in its day it would be above average. What you will not be prepared for is that the show is quite violent when it needs to be. The violence is raw but not in a gratuitous nor highly graphic manner. It is there to serve the purpose of the story. There's bloodletting too but not in the gushing limitless flow seen in today's anime shows. The soundtrack, albeit from the late 1960s, has a good variety of music that does its part to enliven and accentuate the scenes - jovial when it is, sad and melancholy when it is, jazzy and upbeat in a fight.

In summary:
The first five episodes get the show off to a very good promising start. It's substantive with the introductions done naturally and the episodes do not waste time as they just get on with the story and the character development. The lead character, Yabuki Joe, is a gem of a character. There's so many hints dropped that it is easy enough to pick up and be drawn in. Watching these episodes have been quite refreshing and exhilarating with the next volume beckoning alluringly. The first volume is much recommended in my books.

Japanese language only, Single sided dual layered DVD, Contains 5 episodes

Review Equipment
29" Philips TV, Panasonic DVD-RP82


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