Shelf Life Tomorrow's Joe: The Movie
by Paul Jensen,
I saw The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl last week, and it's quite a trip. The visuals are fantastic, and the story walks a fine line between being surreal and relatable. If you get a chance to catch it in theaters, go check it out. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Tomorrow's Joe: The Movie
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Shelf Life Reviews
Watching Megalobox earlier this year got me interested in the Ashita no Joe franchise. Thanks to the recent release of the movie version, I got a chance to check out the original story of a boxer named Joe.
Like its manga and TV counterparts, this movie tells the story of Joe Yabuki, a young drifter whose street fighting skills catch the eye of a washed-up boxing coach named Danpei. Danpei wants to train Joe as a professional boxer, but our scrappy hero isn't interested. Instead, his violent tendencies land him in a juvenile detention center, and his troubles only get worse once he beats the stuffing out of his cellmates. Joe's time in the slammer leads him to meet former boxer Rikiishi, who immediately becomes his rival. Once Joe and Rikiishi are both back on the outside, they climb their way up the ranks of the pro boxing world, eventually meeting again in the ring for a final showdown.
This film is nearly forty years old at this point, and it definitely feels like a product of its time. Even in this condensed version, the story's pacing feels pretty slow by modern standards. Plot points are often repetitive, driving home the same idea more than once. Everything just seems to take longer than it really needs to, despite the fact that the writing is incredibly straightforward. There's not much emotional subtlety here, and nearly all of the characters wear their hearts on their sleeves, which often sets a melodramatic tone for the story. It's also clear that we're getting a short version of the plot, with entire story arcs getting removed or reduced to just a brief scene or line of exposition. As with many older titles, you will need to manage your expectations a bit in order to enjoy this.
With that caveat out of the way, Tomorrow's Joe still makes a strong case for itself as one of the defining works within the sports genre. It features significant growth and development for its characters from beginning to end, whether it's Joe's evolution from obnoxious street punk to genuine contender or Danpei's redemption as a boxing coach. Joe's rivalry with Rikiishi makes for a particularly interesting dynamic, and Rikiishi himself is just as compelling and arguably more charismatic than our underdog hero. Their final fight carries an impressive amount of emotional weight, and the ending comes as a genuine shock if you go into it without knowing what to expect.
Perhaps more so than its specific story, the big reason to watch Tomorrow's Joe in any form would be for its historical value. You can see early blueprints for a lot of what we now take for granted in sports anime here, from simple visual cues to whole character arcs. If you've ever seen two anime characters do a “cross counter” punch where they hit each other simultaneously, that also comes from Tomorrow's Joe. For anyone who watched Megalobox earlier this year, it's also really interesting to go looking for all the connections between the two titles. There are the big, obvious similarities in terms of character designs, names, and personalities, but even smaller things like the connection between “Gearless” Joe's fighting style and Joe Yabuki's “No Guard” stance or the location and appearance of their boxing gyms stand out. Rikiishi and Yuri also have a lot in common, especially in terms of the measures they take in order to fight their respective rivals. It's pretty cool to be able to make those direct comparisons between one of this year's standout titles and its decades-old spiritual predecessor.
Visually, it's the direction that stands out here more than the animation. By coincidence, I've ended up watching several of director Osamu Dezaki's works for this column, and his sense of style and shot composition is as apparent here as it is anywhere else. This combined Blu-Ray and DVD release includes an English dub, but it's from an older release done by a company that apparently didn't have access to all the necessary audio tracks. As a result, it's full of some really weird edits in the music and sound effects. Aside from that, this release's audio and visual quality is about as good as you could ask from a title as old as this. On-disc extras are limited to a theatrical trailer, but I would have loved to see some kind of commentary track to help put the movie into context for new viewers.
If you're looking for an easy way into one of anime's more influential franchises, this movie is a pretty good option. Given that neither the original manga nor the first season of the TV series have seen any official English release that I can find, it's also one of the only options. It's worth watching as a prototype for so many of the sports series that followed it, and it also holds up pretty well on its own as long as you recognize just how old it is. Give it a look if you're interested in how anime got to where it is today, and go check out Megalobox if you want to see that original blueprint adapted into a more modern form.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember to send your Shelf Obsessed entries to [email protected]!
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