Ashita no Joe Vol. #2 -

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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. #2

    March 21, 2005
Release Date: September 21, 2001

Ashita no Joe Vol. #2
© 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. This review continues from the review of Volume 1.

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.

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)
Following the first volume, the show continues to be substantive in story and character development from the start of the second volume. Yabuki Joe is being held on his own in a cell for him to recover from the injuries he suffered at the hands of Tange Danpei. Once he has been deemed fully recovered from his injuries, Joe is transferred to a proper prison to wait for his sentencing. At the prison, Joe is handed over to the juvenile section and is put in one of the dormitory type cells. Common within such cells a heirarchy is already in place amongst the cellmates with the biggest and baddest one being the leader of the juvenile prisoners within the cell. The leader arranges for a welcome for Joe being the newcomer to the cell in order to assert his authority. The welcome accorded is so raw and brutal that it is really gut-wrenching to watch. The scene is definitely not for the squeamish. It is so bad that he becomes unconscious from it. However, his resilience later enables him to turn the tables on his fellow cell inmates. Using the more effective jab technique that he was taught by Danpei on postcard, he makes short work of the followers in the cell. He then takes on the cell leader in a one-on-one fight that's short, vicious, and bloody.

Throughout this volume of 5 episodes, there's a large serving of brutality and violence. This is just shown as is. No whitewash, no sensationalism. What impresses me further is that it's not there for the sake of having it but there to drive the story and character development. It goes for the jugular in setting up the harsh conditions that the protagonist, Joe, has to live through and establishes his hard tough-guy credentials in the eyes of the viewers.

While all this happens in prison, we get to see how much Joe means to Danpei and the slum kids. Danpei is despondent with his hopes crushed of training Joe to be a champion boxer going back to hitting the hard drinks while the kids try visiting Joe at the prison but they are told he is held separately and that only relatives are allowed to visit him. When they get back to Danpei house under the Bridge of Tears, the oldest of the slum kids wonders aloud to Danpei what is meant by Lesson #1 for the sake of tomorrow - the very same words that Danpei wrote in his earlier postcard to Joe - that he has heard from the prison guards. Danpei now knows that Joe has been practising the jab technique all along. That rouses him from his despondency and makes him even more determined to train Joe up as a professional boxer.

When the day of sentencing comes, the people attending his sentencing are Danpei, the slum kids and Shiraki Yoko, the rich girl he conned. Joe's entrance into court is all tough guy bravado. We even hear him whistling his way in before we see him. His happiness at seeing the kids again is distracted by Yoko's presence as he gives her a long hard look from the dock.

Sentencing is fairly swift and the show takes the opportunity to give us a bit of background on Joe. The lead judge reads from a prepared statement providing a short summary of Joe's history. Joe's cocky brashness gets the better of him as he sarcastically applauds the judges for finding out his history. Continuing with his prepared statement, the judge mentions that Danpei became his guardian and to reform him by training him as a boxer. Joe laughs hysterically in court and explains the real situation and tells Danpei to speak up. Refreshingly, Danpei does and admits how he is using Joe but that Joe has the raw talent to become a great boxer and he cannot let this opportunity pass. Joe reiterates to all that he is not interested in boxing and never will be. He is one person who does not want to go quietly. The court in the end sentences him to a term of 1 year and 1 month in a high security juvenile penitentiary for the hard core. What follows thereafter is we eventually see his facade of bravado and toughness evaporate in the solitude of the wagon that takes him to the juvenile penitentiary. He is human after all.

The juvenile penitentiary he is being sent to is located on a small isolated island. While on the ferry there, he meets up with the leader from the dormitory cell, Nishi. Nishi's attitude has changed on learning he is being sent to the same penitentiary as that place is infamous for holding the hard core juvenile cases and the tales of abuse emanating from the place are notorious. They arrive at the penitentiary at night. When the wagon slowly makes it way past the buildings, the inmates are gleefully awaiting the new arrivals. The prison guards process their admittance into the penitientiary and they are told of how impossible it is to escape from the island and that they should forget to even dream about escaping. Joe being Joe tweaks their noses by coolly remarking that he would attempt to escape from the island before backing off claiming it as a joke after getting the required rise from the prison guards. He just can't help himself with his cocky bravado. Yet, in mitigation, often enough he is able to back up what he says.

Being newcomers to the penitentiary, Joe and Nishi have to bear the hazing. How Joe and Nish deals with it gives us a contrast with Nishi doing it in typical Japanese style, with fear and respect to the seniors in there, while Joe, again being himself, sets himself up as a target and deals with them in his own way by giving back a bit more that he gets.

In due course, we get to meet Joe's main rival, Rikiishi Tohru, in the penitientiary. His introduction is just simply done during mealtime when Joe assesses the people in the dining room. Joe notices the large calm quiet figure sitting behind him looking straight at him. Rikiishi's theme is played and really captures the 60s feel to it with the brassy horns backed by a jazz orchestra. I love it. The tune is so reminiscent of the big band type of music you hear in movies of that time, e.g. James Bond movies of that period. The rivalry is setup when Joe works out an escape attempt during one of the hazings which the seniors made Joe and Nishi clean up the pigsty using their bare hands. The escape attempt fails with the intervention of Rikiishi. Joe challenges him to a fist fight and they go at it. Joe comes out an obvious second best in the face of Rikiishi's professional boxing skills. He was so obviously and badly beaten that he was stunned into a state of shock.

That however does not deter Joe in trying another escape attempt later. He fashions a successful escape from the penitentiary by playing it smart and opportunistic. Getting onto the beach, he celebrates his freedom and tries to swim off the island but is unable to as the currents pull him back to shore close to the island's jetty. While sitting there recovering, the regular mail delivery to the penitentiary arrives by boat. The old captain who does the mail drop off spots him and talks to him. Amongst the mail being delivered are mails sent by Danpei and the slum kids. Danpei continues to encourage him on boxing. The mails from the kids though are those that start him thinking as he reads into how they look up to him. While thinking about his situation, he also remembers Rikiishi and his loss to Rikiishi. He sees the very compelling challenge that Rikiishi presents to him as a rival worthy of his attention and decides to give up and stay on at the penitentiary to challenge Rikiishi. In doing so, he also writes back to Danpei to get more boxing lessons. His boxing odyssey begins and thus ends volume 2.

There's a lot happening in the story and the characters. A number of key relationships are being setup with the most notable being Rikiishi as the main rival. There's no good versus evil thing going on here. In fact, Rikiishi is just a decent person that's just trying to serve his sentence and get back out to continue his very promising professional boxing career before he was charged with causing grevious harm in a street fight.

The animation continues at approximately the same quality. It's definitely not comparable with the animation quality of today's anime but for a 1960s TV show, it is good enough. The charcoal-style art of the show that lends it a raw grittiness just suits the story and the characters so well. The music continues in the same vein by providing the right emphasis at the right time. The show's themes and tunes are an extremely good fit with the time in which the show happens.

In summary:
The second set of five episodes builds on the very good start offered by the previous volume. The show continues to be substantive and the episodes do not waste time as they just get on with the story and the character development. The lead character, Yabuki Joe, continues to fascinate as we get to know him even better. The introduction of his main rival, Rikiishi Tohru, adds a lot into the very good mix of a show. There's so much that I enjoyed in this volume, it's been hard to write the review without giving away much. To also put it perspective, when I finished the first volume, it was hard to tear myself away to write the review. With this second volume, I was so sucked in that I forgot entirely about the review and just had to watch the next volume onwards. This volume comes very 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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