Champion Joe (Ashita no Joe) (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, April 29, 2008
What They Say
Joe Yabuki is a troubled orphan who ran away from the orphanage. While wandering in the Tokyo slums, he meets Danpei, a former boxer who sees the potential in Joe and trains him to become a superb fighter. It's only a matter of time before Joe faces his greatest rival, Tohru Rikiishi!
Finding a path through boxing while in juvenile all, Joe's rebellious nature is honed and channeled into something engaging and amazing.
Tai Seng has gone to the extra length to dub the film which is a real surprise, but it's not without its issues. The original Japanese track that's included here is surprisingly good with a stereo mix encoded at 224kbps. It does get a bit scratchy at some of the higher frequency moments, such as the opening song, but otherwise has some good impact throughout for a film that's really just a center channel based piece of work. The English language adaptation is done at 192kbps and is roughly the same in its spatial design. Where it is a problem is that it has for the most part a different music score to it. More than likely the original elements just weren't available to do a new dub with them so they introduced other music to it. The real issue is that the music used doesn't recreate the mood properly. This is most evident during the final fight scene where the Japanese one is full of energy and excitement while the English one feels like we're in the midst of a funeral. There are moments where the tracks overlap and the English soundtrack has the same pieces of music, but the differences are very striking and they change the mood of the film.
Originally released in 1980, some nine years after the original TV series aired, the film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is not enhanced for anamorphic playback. The lack of an anamorphic print does seem to point that this was not created with the remastered edition that came out in Japan in 2005. With the film being nearly thirty years old and the bulk of the source materials nearly ten years older on top of that, expectations were low and were basically met. The film looks the worst in the beginning; or rather you see it more there and adjust to it as it goes along. There is a fair bit of print damage, dirt, scratches and so forth throughout that's made worse by a generally mediocre authoring job as the bitrate tends to settle in the fours and fives outside of some action scenes. There's a good bit of grain in places and a lot of it feels noisy in general as well which lends itself to blocking in various scenes. The film simply doesn't look good but it wasn't one that I expected to look good either.
The cover artwork for the film is a dark and murky mess s it shows its roots in an attempt to be stylized. The cover is designed by introducing two different pieces of artwork as we get a headshot of Joe in fight mode as well as one with Rikiishi towering over him in the midst of a fight. It's all very red and orange colored which along wit the blacks in the shadows gives it a menacing look. The logo is through the center in both languages and there's a bold mention that it's actually dubbed along the bottom. The back cover is similar in that there is a lot of the classic illustration work used through the center strip mixed with animation shots. The bulk of the back cover is made up of a large headshot of Joe being pummeled with the summary next to it. The bottom section has the basic technical grid - sans any real useful bits like audio setup or aspect ratios -and the standard run of copyrights and the like. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.
Minimal in design, the menu is done in a way that isn't a surprise considering the cover artwork. The static menu has a picture of Joe in his boxing mode along the left while the right has the bilingual navigation and the series logo along the top. The menu is set to a loop that runs just under two minutes so that the vocal music can play out mostly to conclusion. It's a decent enough menu and one that is certainly functional but there's little more that can be said about it beyond that. The disc correctly read our audio presets from our player but it defaulted to traditional Chinese subtitle instead of English subtitles.
The only extra included is a three minute long trailer that was made for the films original release in 1980, which is unfortunately not subtitled.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga created by Tetsuya Chiba and Asao Takamori which began in 1968, it spawned the anime series which started in 1970 and ran for seventy-nine episodes. That series was eventually reconfigured into this movie which was released in 1980. Directed by Osamu Dezaki, it's a film that is very much something that just screams that it's one of his works which is a very good thing.
This compilation film served as something of a reminder to the fans as a new series kicked off a few months after this was released back in 1980. Compiling seventy-nine episodes into a single movie certainly isn't an easy feat but with a two and a half hour runtime, Dezaki has managed to pull the right scenes into play to provide a fairly good narrative so that the core story can be told. It does come across as a bit long at times, but the film has much to go through to deal with the core story of a young man that represents the low social class man of the times and how he tries to cope with a world that's constantly kicking the crap out of him. Joe isn't a bad guy since he wants to help others, but he has little going for him other than his scrappy attitude.
Champion Joe revolves around the teenager by the name of Joe Yabuki who is something of a wanderer when we first meet him. A bit of trouble causes him to get roughed up at a bar which in turn lands him in jail. This is a fortuitous event for him as he meets a man by the name of Danpei Tange, a former professional boxer who sees an incredible amount of potential within Joe. Joe is highly resistant to the idea and just wants to be free to do whatever he wants. That apparently includes beating up everyone at the police precinct he's in before Tange can get him out of there. That little act gets him tossed to juvenile hall where his life gets a fair bit rougher.
Like most boys juvenile halls, it's a rough and tumble place where the strongest survive. Joe knows this instinctively and it lands him in a fair amount of trouble once again as his skills aren't quite where they need to be. His time in here if rather fascinating though as he makes a friend in another boy there named Nishi and he makes a rival in the form of Rikiishi, an older boy who has an incredible amount of boxing skill. Tange makes use of Joe's time in juvenile hall by sending him letters of instruction on how to get better at his boxing skills. Joe is again resistant at first, but as he finds that he needs the skills in order to survive in this place, he adapts to it and learns well which earns him a stronger rivalry with Rikiishi who he challenges regularly.
Rikiishi is certainly a good rival for him as we learn that he was a boxer before he came to this place but was sent in because of his brutality. Rikiishi has the backing of the Shiraki Gym which is working to get him back out into the real world after the time he's spent there so that he can become a professional once again. Rikiishi's moving onto the larger stage is a strong motivation for Joe who finds himself falling in line with Tange's training and joining his gym officially when he gets out of the juvenile hall. Naturally, once he's out there, there are new challenges to face such as Tange trying to get certified as a proper gym once again and Joe and Nishi going through their training and certification periods as well. All of it leads up to the series of fights each man must now face before they can truly face each other in the ring to finish out what was started back in juvenile hall.
Champion Joe is one of the granddaddies of the sports genre and it's little surprise that much of what's here is quite familiar, especially in its compressed form. This movie compromises the first fifty odd episodes of the series from what I can see but it really does reach a great crescendo at the end. The challenges that Joe and Rikiishi face are earnest ones and they deal with the adversity rather well though in a certain male way. After watching such a great show as Hajime no Ippo/Fighting Spirit in the last couple of years, it's much clearer the influence that Champion Joe had on that show. And just like that show, it's not the plot or the fights itself that makes it a winner, it's the characters and how they interact with each other and face those challenges.
Going into Champion Joe was also interesting from another angle, that being of Osamu Dezaki. My exposure to him isn't grand by any stretch, but after seeing his work in Nobody's Boy Remi in the last year and being a fan of Black Jack as well as the various Lupin movies and other shows he's done, going back to a show that came out in 1970 was a real treat. The visual style of the show is certainly part and parcel of the time period as it's not exactly fluid animation and it has a very rough feel to it. But there is something here that continues to draw me back to these older shows and that's a certain warmth and feeling that comes through in all of it that I don't find with a lot of newer shows. That rawness to the animation, particularly in the fight scenes, just comes across with some real impact. It feels more genuine and more real in a way that's hard to explain, particularly if you didn't grow up with this kind of animation. While storylines and the writing in general is quite dated, the feeling and emotions of the creative team truly do shine through in works like these, even abridged ones like Champion Joe.
Compilation movies are pretty hit or miss, especially the longer the series that's trying to be compressed. Some have worked out well while others have failed miserably. It's hard to say how well this translates the original series since I haven't seen it, but the movie works well enough on its own that I know the characters, I know their stories and I enjoyed the experience quite a lot overall. Enough so that I would rather like to see the entire series in full but that's a huge pipe dream right there considering it's both old and a sports related show. In the end, Champion Joe does what it does best by showcasing brash young men trying to find a place in the world and having only their fists and willpower in their arsenal. Cocky, arrogant and strong, the men in here are fascinating to watch as they work on their goals in order to fight the other. It's a hard show to recommend for the reasons that make it a hard sell, but it really is something where if you have any interest in shows like Fighting Spirit, make the effort to check this out.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Chinese Subtitles (Traditional and Simplified)
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B-
Video Rating: D+
Packaging Rating: C-
Menus Rating: C
Extras Rating: C
Age Rating: All
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Tai Seng
Running time: 152
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen Letterbox
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Champion Joe (Ashita no Joe)