After watching twenty-nine episodes of Ashita no Joe, the time seems ripe to tell my dear readers about why I have become addicted to it. In the past couple of weeks, I have only twice turned my attention to other anime: Rolling Girls and Angel Cop. But, I might be forgiven for my narrow viewing by the fact that Ashita no Joe renders everything else mediocre in comparison–especially more recent anime. Don’t get me wrong. Rolling Girls is entertaining, Aldnoah.Zero 2 will likely be quite good, and Yuri Kuma Arashi just might find itself on my watch list. But, none of these has a prayer of meeting the quality of Ashita no Joe.
So, what makes Ashita no Joe so great? It’s strongest suit is the characters. Our hero might be the worst jerk you’ve ever seen; but, Joe Yabuki feels surprisingly real, and certain moments of his characters development blow one’s mind. The Aoyama Arc’s conclusion almost made me fall out of my chair! Sometimes you root for Joe, at other times you pity him, and much of the time you want to see him knocked flat. With Joe’s proclivity for fighting everyone and everything, one does see that time and time again. Yet, Joe always gets back up.
A central theme of the anime revolves on rising again after each fall, which makes boxing itself a perfect metaphor for life. The characters, especially Danpei, hold on to lunatic hopes, which show no chance of fulfillment. (There is real craftsmanship in this. For the sake of the series, one knows that certain things must happen, but the storytelling makes one doubt even the things necessary for the continuance of the plot!) Before Danpei met Joe, he lived as a drunk in the slums, but the goal of seeing Joe become a world class boxer made him turn his life around. His perseverance is incredible considering the extreme resistance Joe puts up as he lacks any hope of making a good life for himself. One simply must watch the hero’s journey from a drifter with no hopes and dreams to a man with something worth fighting for!
Also, laughter plays a huge role in this anime. Most of the laughter is cold, cynical, mocking, pathetic, or insane. So far, I’ve only come across one scene where the laughter held real mirth. People laugh in order to mask their pain. Central to the landscape of the city where Joe trains is Namida-hashi or “the bridge of tears.” One is reminded of the phrase “vale of tears” in the Salve Regina, and this Namida-hashi becomes another metaphor for life. Seeing the characters wrestle with their pains and sorrows is every bit as compelling as watching them fight with their fists. I can’t recommend this series enough. I fear lest it take Rurouni Kenshin’s place on my Top Fifty list!