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Manga / Ashita no Joe

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Ashita no Joe (English title: "Tomorrow's Joe") a critically acclaimed boxing manga created by Asao Takamori and Tetsuya Chiba in 1968 that was later adapted into an anime series and movie. While absurdly popular in its home country, it's almost completely unknown outside of it. Outside Japan, it is also referred to as Rocky Joe or Joe. Masami Kurumada, author of Saint Seiya, has also stated that he actually created his first famous manga (Ring ni Kakero) as a tribute to this one.

Joe Yabuki is a troubled orphan who runs away from the orphanage, wandering the slums of Tokyo until he meets up with former boxing trainer Danpei Tange, who teaches Joe how to box while the latter is in prison. While in prison, Joe develops rivalries and friendships with the other inmates (and these two groups often overlap) while developing his skills at boxing and trying to become the best in the world.


Ashita no Joe has been made into several video games, including a Punch-Out!!-like arcade game by Taito, the infamous Neo Geo game Legend of Success Joe, Ashita no Joe: Masseki ni Moe Agare! for the Game Boy Advance, Ashita no Joe: Masshiro ni Moe Tsukiro! for the PlayStation 2. The GBA and PS2 games are both by Konami) and Sunday VS Magazine: Shuuketsu! Choujou Daikessen for PSP.

In 2018, Megalo Box, a futuristic Alternate Universe retelling of Ashita no Joe, was released as part of the manga's 50th anniversary.


This manga contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The first anime series by Mushi Productions shows us some examples:
    • Youko's first introduction in the manga (c.11) is as an audience member at Joe's trial. She was the person who donated all the money to Joe's scheme with the children, and didn't have a speaking role with him in that chapter. In the anime series, we are shown Joe tricking her himself, inside her home with all the kids, and insulting Joe after the trial is over. This actually makes their antagonism more personal.
    • Joe managed to escape the prison in the anime, something he never did in the manga. He returned because he couldn't face the fact he didn't had a fight with Rikishii.
    • The second series isn't short of this either. The backstories of some characters are expanded upon, including Wolf Kanagushi(who now has a fiancée) and Jose Mendoza(who is stated as an ace since he was sixteen).
      • Jose Mendoza in general gets more screen time, and unlike the manga, his view on Joe evolves to a similar type of Friendly Rivalry that his past opponents shared.
      • On top of that, there's added Ship Tease between Joe and Yoko
  • The Alcoholic: Danpei at first. He gets better.
  • Anti-Villain: Youko. She antagonizes Joe mostly during the first half of the series, then organizes most of Joe's fights, and, as he puts it, toys with his fate like a demon. She is however a good person, and grows to fall in love with Joe, who likes her back in his own way.
    • All Joe's rivals, except for Harimao, are honorable fighters that he respects in some way, despite being his opponents.
  • Ambiguous Ending : The manga ended with joe in an iconic pose slumped himself in a corner leaving his fate unknown
  • Book Dumb: Joe, which comes back to bite him big time when it turns out there's a theory portion of the boxing license exam.
  • Boring Yet Practical: Basic boxing techniques. They're boring, seem pointless, and the moment Joe first tried out a jab after reading its description he discovered his punch was much faster and stronger. And then there's footwork and defensive techniques.
  • Byronic Hero: Joe Yabuki goes through many hardships... and he brings almost all of them on himself.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Joe can't tell Youko that he likes her due to being Not Good with People, to the degree that the day when he finally confesses... is the day when he dies.
  • Casualty in the Ring: Two characters die this way. One of them is happy about it.
  • Character Development: Nishi goes from a Jerkass leader of a group of delinquents to a Gentle Giant.
  • Cross Counter: Trope Maker. It's also Joe's specialty.
  • Darker and Edgier: Ashita no Joe 2 is this for the manga. Boxers die or retire a lot more.
  • Downer Ending: Mendoza wins the final fight of the manga, and Joe dies on the ring. Somewhat of a Bitter Sweet Ending since Joe achieved glory despite his loss, managed to tell Youko his feelings, and ultimately dies with a smile because he had the fight he dreamt of, and chose his fate. Though it is considered as an Ambiguous Ending when Tetsuya Chiba drew the ending at the last minute according to his interview.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Weirdly, the Punch-Out!! clone arcade game has one.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Danpei.
  • Famous Last Words: Joe Yabuki's are: "Take these gloves and keep them for me... I hope you'll keep them for me...", and they go to Youko Shiraki. Some dubs (like the Italian one) take it further to a Dying Declaration of Love. ("I hope you'll keep them as a proof of my love for you...").
  • Game-Breaking Injury: It's a frequent trope in the series. For instance Joe's triple cross-counter fractures Wolf's jaw so badly that he has to retire.
  • Gentle Giant: Nishi post Character Development.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Quickly Deconstructed: Joe was established early as a capable fighter even if he only had brawling experience - and then he had a serious fight with Danpei and went down hard and fast, with Danpei being tired from his hard work. That's when it starts becoming a manga on boxing.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Joe has a gentle smile on his lips as he passes away after his last fight.
  • Heroic BSoD: Joe, after accidentally causing Rikishi's death in their fight.
  • Heroic RRoD: Joe's death at the end is from the exhaustion of his last match.
    • Similarly, Rikishi's death is from the brain damage that Joe accidentally dealt to him with a too-well-placed cross counter in the sixth round, which kicks in right after the fight is over.
  • Hot-Blooded: Joe Yabuki
  • Identical Stranger: Freelance journalist Kiyoshi Suga looks confusingly like Joe's first rival Rikiishi, albeit with more handsome features.
  • Japanese Delinquents: Joe, Nishi and Rikishi. In fact, all of them met in a juvenile prison.
  • Jerkass: Joe, through and through. His Jerkass tendencies rise to the point where you have to wonder why Nishi continues to put up with him. After the Juvenile prison arc, he is more of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
    • Nishi himself used to be quite the asshole.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: At first, the boxing club presidents composing the Japanese Boxing Commission refuse to reinstate Danpei, openly call him mad for thinking they'd even consider doing so, and tell him to his face he's a cancer and a threat to their sport, a remnant of the time boxing used to be considered little better than street fighting that they'd rather forget about. As a boxing club owner, Danpei was constantly drunk, mistreated his boxers, and assaulted opposing boxers, referees, JBC officials, and even the public, for anything that could vaguely be considered an offense, up until they had to disbar him, and they were genuinely scared he'd resume his antics - and right after being refused, Danpei got drunk, marched back to the JBC building, and attacked them.
  • Jerkass Victim: The sports journalists often harass Joe and put him in hard situations just to have something to write about. Every time the people of the slums rob them is quite deserved.
  • The Lancer: Nishi becomes this to Joe after his Character Development.
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Rikiishi has this.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Jose's hair turns gray once he beats Joe in the finale.
  • Moral Guardians: They claimed that the manga was "teaching young children to be rebellious and anti-social towards Japanese family values" back when it first came out. They soon changed their mind, however.
    • Not only in Japan, actually. When the anime was aired in Spain in The '80s, people complained about exactly the same thing.
  • My Greatest Failure: Danpei Tange became a drunkard after the boxer who he spent years training for the championship threw the fight for money.
  • Nice Hat: Joe's newsboy cap, and Danpei's fedora.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Not so much as stupidity as an act: Carlos Rivera purposely struggled against his first Japanese opponents because no matter what country he goes to, nobody is willing to fight him once they see how powerful he is.
  • The Ojou: Joe's love interest, Youko Shiraki, is a girl from a rich and well-known family. Lampshaded by Danpei, who refers to her as "ojousan" ("young lady") rather than by name.
  • Peek-a-Bangs: Joe's hair always cover one eye.
  • Reality Ensues: Serial user:
    • Even with gloves and rolling with the punches, a boxer can get permanent damage from being repeatedly hit in the head. Examples include Danpei losing sight in his left eye, Wolf Kaniguchi's jaw being unable to take hits much weaker than anything it took on the ring after his final bout with Joe shattered his jaw, the various cases of punch drunk syndrome, and Rikiishi dying from a temple shot that made him hit the ring ropes, causing a fatal brain hemorrage.
    • Joe's early antics and scams got him arrested, and while his many extenuating circumstances and the presence of a responsible tutor willing to use any means to keep him on the straight path (Danpei. Who, upon learning of his scam and break-out after the initial arrest, personally beat him up so the police could bring him back in) should have helped him get away with a reprimand, his attitude while waiting for his trial landed him in juvenile prison for a thirteen month sentence, later extended for his attempt at escaping. The extension stays even after he straightened himself up.
      • His attitude in juvie turns everyone, inmates and guards, into enemies, and they only tolerate him out of respect for Rikiishi when he calls dibs. He doesn't start making friends until he straightens himself up.
    • Joe established himself quickly as a formidable fighter even with no training. He learned that Good Old Fisticuffs just don't work against a trained boxer when Danpei, a former boxer who had retired years ago, inflicted on him a brutal Curb-Stomp Battle while tired from overworking himself - and without an eye (lost on the ring, hence why he retired right before his title shot).
    • After learning the jab, Joe felt invincible - then he got in a fight with Rikishi, a professional boxer around his age, and found out the hard way he wasn't.
    • Boxing being a very competitive sport, one-trick ponies relying on some gimmick eventually get schooled: Joe's Cross Counter first found Rikiishi coming up with a tactic to prevent its use and then Wolf Kanagushi with the Double Counter, Wolf Kanagushi committed the error to show the Double Counter early and was "retired" by the Triple Counter Joe came up for him, and Harimao found all his gimmick punches countered and turned against him by more skilled fighters after the first use.
      • Also, boxers will take advantage of an opponent's weaknesses, the greatest example being Joe being defeated by Japanese champion Tiger Oozaki, even if he was the better boxer, because Oozaki had noticed that, after killing Rikiishi with a blow to the head, Joe couldn't bring himself to hit an opponent there, and thus could concentrate on protecting his body only.
    • During the preparations for the juvie's boxing tournament, a large inmate challenged Aoyama, the smallest of all inmates, to beat him for a spot in the tournament, knowing that even if Aoyama was being trained by Danpei he was still a lot bigger. Turned out that boxing training involving footwork, the swat-away and other defensive manouvers made Aoyama more than a match for anyone who wasn't a trained boxer, as they just couldn't hit him and he'd be able to take them down with his relatively weak punches once they were tired. He showed it once again on Joe in their match, as Joe was refusing to use boxing basics out of spite at Danpei training Aoyama in his place - and was repeatedly knocked down by his opponent.
      • In the same way, Aoyama ranked in the light flyweights at most. The moment Joe, a bantamweight, started fighting as a boxer, even copying his defense, Aoyama was simply too weak to compete with the larger opponent. Something Aoyama knew perfectly, given his reaction when Joe pulled the cross-armed guard.
    • Rikiishi was a dutiful inmate, and got his time reduced for helping stopping Joe's escape attempt. Because of this, he had to miss the final match of the juvie's boxing tournament.
    • Danpei's colorful attitude may be amusing to the reader... But it's also what cost him his first boxing club, pushing away his various boxers (his best one citing just how he was being treated by him as the reason he threw a fight and ditched him once he was given a good offer) and getting him disbarred by the Japanese Boxing Commission, that later refuses to reinstate him even after he cleans up due to his past. Even after Joe forces the Commission's hand into reinstating his license and he gets known as the trainer of the rising star Joe Yabuki, the only athletes Danpei gets are Joe and Nishi, two former juvenile delinquents that spent over a year each in prison and can take his attitude, and the Tange Boxing Club doesn't get new fighters until after he cleans his act up and Joe draws with Carlos and starts taking out the strongest bantamweight boxers of Asia.
      • At the same time, Joe forced the Commission's hand by knocking out rising star Wolf Kanagushi in front of journalists and making it look like the boxing club presidents in the commission were scared of him. This gets him on the presidents' black list, and they try more than once to force him to retire - especially after he kills Rikiishi, as the latter act is not looked on kindly in Japan, even if it was a genuine accident.
    • Joe never cared about the theory of boxing - and thus he fails miserably his first boxing license exam due to his abysmal written score.
    • Rikiishi was a natural featherweight, so to have his professional fight with Joe he took on a diet to reduce himself to a bantamweight, two classes lower (featherweight limit being 126 lbs and bantamweight limit being 118). The diet almost drove him mad, got him in the ring much weaker than usual, and made him die much faster after Joe's fists caused him a brain hemorrage, preventing any attempt at saving him.
      • In the same vein, Nishi being a natural heavyweight (at the time, anyone over 168 lbs), he had a lot of trouble surviving on the diet needed to stay a middleweight (upper limit 160 lbs), and may have played a role in the hand damage that forced him to retire.
    • After getting his jaw shattered in the fight with Joe, Wolf Kaniguchi was forced to retire, and took a job as a hard fighter for the yakuza. While his boxing punches easily took down most rival yakuzas, he himself went down easily against professional slugger Goromaki Gondo, as he could take a few of his punches and was smart enough to hit his glass jaw.
    • When Carlos Rivera, sixth ranked bantamweight boxer in the world, came to Japan and won his first two matches by apparent luck, everybody started believing his fame was overblown, ignoring Joe's warnings (as his reputation had been ruined by his string of defeats after fighting Oozaki) and the various other hints he actually earned his reputation, including the US TV networks being willing to sign lucrative deals with anyone who could defeat him. Then he fought seriously against Oozaki, who was taken down by a single punch, and Japan learned he often played the fool as anywhere he went boxers go out of their way to not fight him as soon as they saw him fighting seriously.
  • Refusal of the Call: Joe's initial reaction to Danpei's pleas to train him in boxing. Eventually, Joe gives in.
  • The Rival: Rikiishi, for the majority of the series.
    • Privileged Rival: Unlike Joe, he already had experience in professional boxing before they met and has the financial support of the Shiraki family.
  • Say My Name: The original one. "JOE!!!"
  • Self-Made Orphan: Asian-Pacific Champion Yong-bi Kim once killed a man over a misunderstanding. He then realized that said man was his father. The incident scarred him so much that he was left with a phobia of blood.
  • Stock Shout-Out: The final shot of the series, a slumped-over Joe, passing away with a smile on his face at the end of his final match, is culturally ingrained enough to be called to in all forms of Japanese media.
  • Take That, Audience!: Part of the manga can easily be seen as a take that aimed at boxing audiences who want to see bloody slugfests and K.O's and don't care how dangerous and damaging these kinds of fights are to the boxers, or about the technical and strategic aspects of the sport. This is even explicitly brought up during one fight when the audience starts to complain that the fighters aren't at each other's throats every second, and justify it with "they paid for a ticket".
  • Title Drop: Multiple times in the anime.
  • Training from Hell: The training regimen Danpei puts Joe and Nishi through is brutal even by pro athlete standards, and especially difficult for Nishi, as he needs to drop and maintain a certain weight to qualify for Middleweight, even though he's a natural Heavyweight.
    • Even Danpei's training is a cakewalk compared to what Riikishi puts himself through to reach bantamweight so he can fight Joe, including dehydrating himself to the point of delirium and locking himself up at night to keep himself from drinking any water. The dangerous training ends up damaging his body to the point where his fight against Joe kills him
  • Wham Line: "I'm in love...with you, Yabuki!"
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Yong-bi Kim, due to having accidentally killed his dad, is very scared of blood.
  • Worthy Opponent: Rikiishi and Joe seem to see each other as this.
  • Yakuza: What Wolf Kaniguchi turns to, after his boxing career ends. It doesn't end well.


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