26 April 2014

Many Thoughts on Good Manga 10 (Tomorrow's Joe Complete)

At last. Despite being available in French, Italian, Chinese, Korean, and several other languages for a long time, the unofficial English version of arguably one of the greatest and influential manga series is finally done. I say done, but that’s not quite so accurate since Happyscans and I’ll be re-doing the first 6 volumes as well as fixing all the typos and mistranslations I’ve made (the updated versions will be labeled as v2 in my mega folder). Now I’ve been meaning to do a some-thoughts-post on Tomorrow’s Joe for a while now, and I believe now’s the best time for that. So if you don’t want to get spoiled or don’t care about my opinions, the download links are right below.

Tomorrow’s Joe v20:   Mega; Sendspace
All previous volumes:   Mega

By the way, I'm surprised to realize that this is the longest post thing I've ever written. Much longer than the longest history term-papers I've written. My sleep-deprivation is making it hard for me to tell if what I've written sounds like really stupidly obvious stuff or far-fetched theories so I would appreciate hearing back from you guys. If you don't feel like slogging through my post, then ignore them and just share some comments, no matter how brief or long, on what you personally thought of Tomorrow's Joe.

Kamui-den gracing the cover of September 1969 issue of Garo
The 60s were an exciting time for Japan and its manga industry. The impact of the Korean War and investment in heavy industries of the 50s set the groundwork for economic recovery, and the 1964 Summer Olympics held at Tokyo demonstrated to the world that Japan had risen from the ashes. As the Japanese consumer became richer, the cheaper aka-hon and kashi-hon manga were quickly phased out, replaced by the weekly/monthly magazines that still dominate the manga industry today. Demand for manga not only soared, but diversified as the Dankai generation (baby-boomers born in the late 40s) entered adulthood and now wanted something more mature than what the mainstream offered. That alternative was gekiga, and in 1964, the establishment of the seminal magazine Garo gave it a strong voice through which it could communicate its ideas. Its poster-child, Kamui from Shirato Sanpei’s Kamui-den, was beloved by many college students across the nation. Garo’s success soon paved the way for the first “seinen magazines” to appear in the late 60s; Manga Action and Young Comic in ’67, Big Comic and Play Comic in ’68. But gekiga, or to speak more generally, “mature/alternative manga” were not restricted to these seinen or avant-garde obscure magazines. The management of the hugely popular Weekly Shounen Magazine, in the wake of the W3-incident of 1965 in which Tezuka angrily switched over to the rival magazine Weekly Shounen Sunday amidst accusations of plagiarism, decided to tap into the Dankai-demographic by allowing much more serious and mature stories to be told. And it was in Weekly Shounen Magazine that one of the greats in the gekiga-movement, the so-called “King of Gekiga” by some, would leave his mark. 
That man is Kajiwara Ikki, the author of Tomorrow’s Joe (working under the pen-name Takamori Asao). In the late 60s, he wrote 3 of the most influential sports manga of all time AT ONCE: Kyojin no Hoshi (’66-71), Ashita no Joe (’68-73), and Tiger Mask (’68-71). One related famous anecdote is that Tezuka was so impressed by Star of the Giants (Kyojin no Hoshi) that he demanded his assistants to be able to explain precisely what made this manga so great. Indeed, Kajiwara’s absolute mastery at hot-blooded sports stories may have played a significant role in Tezuka’s decision not to try his own hand at the genre. 
That said, the success of Tomorrow’s Joe is not the result of one man’s genius. Just as good prose is needed to fully realize any great plot in literature, such is the role of art in the visual medium of comics. The man responsible for how the characters of Tomorrow’s Joe would look and how their tribulations would unfold in panels and pages was Chiba Tetsuya. At the time of Joe’s serialization, Chiba was no newcomer, having a decade of experience under his belt. He had gotten his first taste in 1956 by drawing kashi-hon manga while still in high-school and only 2 years later, his oneshots Butoukai Shoujo and Rika no Hitomi, published respectively in Shoujo Book and Shoujo Club, marked his entry into magazines. As these shoujo magazines offered more opportunities for newcomers than shounen magazines did at the time, Chiba quickly polished his skills with 3 serializations, Mama no Violin, Sasurai no Shoujo, and Rina. By 1961, he had proven himself enough to start working in Weekly Shounen Magazine
Harisu no Kaze's MC Ishida Kunimatsu, a proto-Joe in many ways
Although there’s no precise written-record about who’s responsible for exactly what elements in Tomorrow’s Joe, looking at the early works of Chiba Tetsuya and Kajiwara Ikki helps quite a bit. Kajiwara’s stories were known for their tense, hot-blooded mood featuring hard-working heroes who slowly progress their goals in a bitter 2-steps-forward-one-step-backward fashion, often resulting in a tragic end. Chiba on the other hand, preferred lighter-hearted stories though still spiced with a fair amount of hardships. Arguably, his only real grim work prior to Tomorrow's Joe was Shidenkai no Taka, a WW2 flying ace story partly based on a true story of the Japanese aces of the 343rd Naval Air Group flying the new N1K (shidenkai) fighters in the closing stages of the Pacific War; Chiba would later consider this manga a failure for its overt seriousness despite being well-received. But if the harsh and bitter elements of Tomorrow’s Joe is more attributable to Kajiwara than Chiba, then Chiba was heavily responsible for one of manga’s most iconic characters, Yabuki Joe. In the works leading up to Joe such as Harisu no Kaze or Missokasu, Chiba had been developing his own version of the archetypical rough-and-tumble delinquent. In fact, it was Chiba’s experience in drawing the boxing-arc for Harisu no Kaze that would spur him into doing a series solely about boxing.

Now before I comment on Chiba's art in Tomorrow's Joe, I must confess I have a pet peeve with the term “dated.” I often see this term used in comments for famous manga of the 60s and the 70s. True, they are “dated” in the sense that few, if any, modern-day mangaka would still draw in that style. However, what irks me is when people necessarily equate “datedness” as a negative attribute. For instance, “Oh, manga X has a really dated art but the story still holds up so you should read it!” But it really shouldn’t be used in this negative manner unless the said “dated art” inadequately depicts the scene, mood, or emotional state of characters. This is why I stay far away from this term when describing the art in Tomorrow’s Joe, which I never felt was inadequate. In fact, instead of judging it from today’s perspective on how dated it is, I think it’s far more interesting to judge from a 60s perspective on how forward or novel it was. 
Tetsujin 28 ('56-66) and Sasuke ('61-66)
Here, you have Yokoyama Mitsuteru's Tetsujin 28 on the left and Shirato Sanpei's Sasuke on the right. Both series were serialized in Shounen throughout the early 60s. You can see both mangaka are carrying over the mainstream art-style of the 50s heavily influenced by Tezuka. Simple and clear depictions of motion, cartoony limbs, minimal detail, and not much variation in the linework.
Fantasy World Jun ('67)
Now these are from Ishinomori Shotarou's experimental work Fantasy World Jun which serialized in COM, Tezuka's answer to Garo... 
Chikyuu wo Nomu ('68)
while these 3 images are from Tezuka's Swallowing the Earth. Serialized in the seinen magazine Big Comic, I believe it's considered Tezuka's first attempt at gekiga. When you look at these manga, one of the things you'll notice is that they're trying to break away from the '50s mold with much more innovative or surreal paneling, and putting a lot more detail in objects and backgrounds. In fact, Tezuka's background is so detailed that his simplistic characters stand out in stark contrast. These characters were hardly different from their earlier, more mainstream counterparts. Indeed, a character from the earlier Magma Ambassador could inconspicuously sneak his way into Swallowing the Earth and vice-versa. The same goes for Fantasy-World Jun. The character's faces, hands, and other body parts don't have any substantial detail, nor are they drawn in realistic proportions. Now this is not to criticize or belittle their artwork, which I both admire. But it is quite telling of the mindset of a mangaka working in the early and mid-60s. Perhaps they felt that realistic-looking characters just weren't appropriate for the medium, or that people just weren't ready for it yet. Whatever the reason, the point is that mangaka, whether consciously or subconsciously, weren't quite comfortable in giving realism to manga characters even as they strove to evolve their artwork to the next level.
Kamui-den ('64-71)
Now enter Garo and Shirato Sanpei's Kamui-den. You can immediately notice that this is nothing like the art posted so far. The linework no longer have that simple and squeaky-clean look as in Shirato's earlier Sasuke and the characters have lost their exaggerated cartoony curves. 
This style quickly spread in the gekiga-scene and in the 70s, you would get works like Kojima Goseki's Lone Wolf and Cub, whose artwork still impresses readers today.
Now let's turn our attention to Tomorrow's Joe. From this page and most of volume 1, you might think that there's nothing really avant-garde or innovative about Chiba's art. And you'd be right. Stylistically, it's certainly a lot closer to the mainstream manga under Tezuka's shadow than something like Kamui-den
From vol.1
But then towards the end of volume 1, you notice that Chiba is not going to be retreading same grounds. Just look at how the bodies are drawn. There's actually some hatching to give shape to the muscles! Joe has nipples! And holy shit, there's even a faint trace of nostrils in the bottom left panels! "Wooooowww... So a few lines, unsexy man nipples, and a poor excuse for a nostril is enough to excite you?" Go back and flip through mainstream 50s and early 60s manga if you're thinking this. Go back to Fantasy World Jun and Swallowing the Earth, which I posted examples of above. Keep in mind that those are two experimental works running in a magazine aimed at young adults. And yet, did any of the characters have any proper shading through hatching? Did any of them have any realistic features like nostrils (for the non-pig-nosed humans) or nipples? No they did not. Well... There is that tribal scene in Swallowing the Earth, but Tezuka only uses hatching to separate the black tribal people from the protagonist, who has no shading, abs, nor nipples, so it really doesn't harm my argument. Even in the original Kamui-den, the intended "stand-out" scenes don't really have much hatching or cross-hatching.
From vol.7
In fact, I get the feeling that even Chiba Tetsuya wasn't quite comfortable with the big step he had taken forward, especially on the point of nostrils. In volume 2, we again see more hatching and nipples, but the nostrils disappear from any close-ups. As the series progresses, the hatching and cross-hatching get more and more detailed and the blurred spots that passed for nipples in volume 1 have now developed an areola distinct from the actual nipple. And yet, the nostrils do not reappear until volume 8 making a special exception for Rikiishi in the famous scene where he almost gives into temptation.
Nostrils strike back in in volume 8 and Volume 13
In fact, Joe doesn't start getting nostrils again until volume 13, more than half-way in the series! It's only from hereon that Joe's nostrils become more and more frequent for his close-ups. Obviously, it doesn't take much artistic skill to plot down two black spots and call it nostrils. So as trivial as this all seems, this is a conscious choice by Chiba. Just as Tezuka or Ishinomori didn't yet feel quite comfortable giving such realism to their characters, it must have taken Chiba some time before he thought of Joe as such a human character that the nostrils were a necessity in any close-up scene meant to deliver impact. It's also interesting to note that Youko never gets any nostrils although she tends to get more detailed eyebrows and eyelashes. Chiba does try a few times to try and place lips on her, but he quickly gives it up. Clearly, the attention to eyebrows and eyelashes are just markers of femininity, but the reasons for the lack of nostrils are less clear. It's possible that Chiba never feels that he has a firm-enough grasp on Youko's character to feel comfortable in giving her the same human-treatment, being a Kajiwara creation as Natsume Fusanosuke theorizes in the BS Manga episode on Tomorrow's Joe
A little side-note here. In case you're wondering, BS Manga-Yawa is a manga talk show on NHK in which a panel of manga critics and guest stars discuss a different manga for every episode. Most are entertaining and/or enlightening, especially the "Natsume's Eye" segments, in which the distinguished manga critic Natsume Fusanosuke (incidentally, he's the grandson of Natsume Souseki. Dayum) offers an in-depth analysis on a particular aspect. Alright then, now that I've talked about super-interesting nostrils and nipples, it's time to talk about the story.
Character development: No hair-cuts necessary
The thing that really impresses me about Tomorrow's Joe every time I read it, is the gradual development of the major characters (Joe, Youko, and Tange) and how fleshed out they all seem by the end. It's communicated quite effectively through the combined effect of the written dialogue and the visual expressions or actions. 
Is Yabuki Joe gonna have to choke a bitch?
Let's start with Yabuki Joe. I absolutely love what an unruly delinquent he is. At so many points in the earlier half of the manga, he seems to almost go out of his way to be a total dick (pic most definitely related). Now some people might not like that. Probably the same group of people who're genuinely offended by Matsutarou when watching the currently-airing anime adaptation of Chiba's Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutarou, I guess. But to me, this unrestrained wildness feels so raw that I never doubt if he's the product of unnecessary tampering of editors, wary of over-protective parents. He's a real delinquent through and through, not the posers you might see in some modern manga who only know how to dye their hairs and steal money from the weakest-looking nerd in their classes. And yet, he's never an "evil" character. 
He beats the shit outta little kids... but mostly in self-defense and even goes out of his way to save Sachi from yakuza thugs. He's not above stealing, vandalizing, extorting, or conning people... and yet he naively dreams of building hospitals, parks, and playgrounds for his Doya neighbourhood. He puts up a tough front and brags incessantly when confronted, but when alone, he's usually silent and curled up in the fetal position.
He's never black nor white (except for his ink colours). He feels... human. Like in the way he's a loud-mouthed character who's often bad at hiding his feelings or loves to vent out his thoughts (examples above) when he's angry, and yet when he's feeling sullen or dejected, Kajiwara chooses to have him be reticent and the only hints to his thoughts and feelings are through Chiba's art.
from v14 p187 and 190
These two pages are particularly good examples of that. When asked by Yoko if he had changed, Joe tries to put on an air of nonchalance and a faint smile but can't help but sweat nervously. Youko, being the shrewd observer she is, immediately picks up on his stiff body language and on p201 (not attached above), questions him on how long he's been battling his weight. This is, of course, all foreshadowing the troubles Joe will face in volume 15 in staying a bantamweight. Meanwhile, on p190, Joe looks visibly surprised, or at least, thrown off-balance, when he learns that Youko had only invited Carlos Rivera for his own sake. Through this, you can see that his perception of Youko is still clouded by his bias and suspicions, making a selfless and caring Youko impossible for him to imagine on his own. None of these scenes have dialogue or narration that ham-handedly gives away Joe's thoughts, but Chiba leaves enough visual cues for the attentive reader to understand his state of mind. Yes, yes, sweat-drops may seem trite in the world of manga, but what's effective is effective.
from v19 p178 and 190
Another good example of subtle scenes that really flesh out Joe's character is the fantastic wedding scene in volume 19. As Noriko and Nishi walk down the aisle, Joe shouts playful jeers at Nishi. That's classic-Joe for ya, isn't it? Well, it's up to your interpretation but I don't see it that way because of the pensive look he has in p178 as shown above. If he were really just in his usual joking-mood, it'd be hard to explain why he suddenly makes such a face. The truth is, Joe already knows what Youko desperately wants to tell him at this point in the story. He knows there's something seriously wrong with his body, whether it's punch drunk syndrome or some other medical condition. And yet, he's already made the choice to fight Mendoza at the cost of his life. For any man who knows his death is near, the sight of new beginnings, whether a wedding or a newborn baby, is bound to make him pensive. As Joe watches his friends marry and embark on the next phase of their lives, he can't help but wonder, "What if? What if I didn't walk down this path to self-destruction? What might the world hold in store for me?" It's not that he's getting cold-feet, but he's merely pondering at what might have been. And in a Joe-like fashion, as soon as it's his turn to give a toast, he puts on a nonchalant front again by giving a half-assed speech ("Welp! Have a good life!") as if he hasn't a care in the world in order to not share his burdens with anyone else. An example of an even better expression is Noriko's on p190. Absolutely brilliant. If that isn't the face of woman who's resigned herself to her second choice (Nishi) but can't help but ponder what a life with Joe might have been, then I must be blind. 
Joe on the values of sportsmanship (v2 and v4)
Equally impressive is how Joe's wildness is handled. Too often in stories do antagonists or "bad" characters do a 180 in their personality under the guise of "character development." [sarcasm]After all, dynamic characters are better than static characters! That's what my English teacher said![/sarcasm] This shit pisses me off to no end. It's all about execution. There's no point in having a character be dynamic if you've essentially reduced him to two polar opposites with no in-between such that the effect is indistinguishable from having two separate flat/static characters. Joe starts off as a wild self-centered hooligan who's not above breaking two or three rules as long as he wins in the end. If Kajiwara and Chiba were poor story-tellers, they'd follow the rule of more change = better characters, and de-fang Joe into a self-less goody two-shoes. It'd make no internal-logical sense for such a deformed Joe to be so stubbornly determined about a self-destructive showdown with Mendoza. Thankfully, Kajiwara and Chiba wisely chose not to cut down on his wildness but merely redirect it. 
A dramatic monologue from v2, though unfortunately not done justice in the English translation
Joe in the beginning was wild because it was an expression of his freedom, the only thing he possessed in the world, having no money, home, family, or friends. But as the story progresses, he acquires all these things. He earns money from his matches and lives in the gym, while Tange (despite his gender, he comes across as more of a mother than a father-figure to Joe), Nishi, the kids, and the rest of the Doya-folk become the first family and friends he's ever had. But above all, Joe finally finds a meaningful purpose in life for the first time. He redirects all his energy from his former hooliganism into beating Rikiishi. His wildness, which had fed off their rivalry, naturally withers away in the immediate aftermath of Rikiishi's death. Joe is no longer capable of using the no-guard stance and famed cross-counters that epitomized his 100% offence-minded wildness. When he finds a new purpose in life (seeing how much he measures up against Carlos), he's able to shake off the mental trauma and return to being "Brawler Joe." And yet, he's not the exact same boxer he once was. He no longer purely relies on counters even though he can still throw them, and the commentators note his defensive techniques are much better. This makes sense in the context of a boxer naturally adding more options to his arsenal with time, but it also makes sense in the context of his new-found purpose. His goal is no longer to fight a single person, as it had been in the arcs leading up to the fights against Rikiishi or Carlos. 
Joe's new-found purpose in life (v14, v20)
His new purpose is to taste that intense burning sensation gained from proving his worth on the ring, even if that entails burning up into nothing but white ashes. He's no longer willing to break any rules on the ring because that would be to compromise his goal, depreciate his worth, and signify he's a lesser boxer. 
After the fight with Harimau in v19
This is precisely why he never resorts to any penalties in his fight against Harimau, no matter how many penalties Harimau racks up. He's still a wild boxer and his animal-like instincts attest to that in the final showdown against Mendoza, but his coarse wildness has been paradoxically tamed or polished, by his purpose in life.
Youko's first appearance, beginning of v2
After Joe, my second favourite character in the story is Youko. I love her because how she starts out as a total mystery and her character is only slowly revealed as the series progresses. Take for example, her first appearance which was at Joe's trial. She only has a few lines and her almost unchanging expression make it difficult to gauge her intentions. Is she there to gloat at Joe? Or is she there simply to make sure the trial proceeds smoothly? Joe on v2 p22 seems to think the former but just how reliable are his opinions? After all, it's possible that he's biased against the rich and privileged due to his poor background.
re-translated from c22 (v2 p221)
I certainly think there's enough evidence in the manga for a definite answer. The fact that she stops showing up periodically to juvie after Rikiishi leaves seems to confirm Joe's suspicions that she was never staging plays out of any genuine concern for the "pitiable rabble."But I don't think you need to wait for that comment in v5 for confirmation of Joe's suspicions. There's enough material to analyze in the scene where Joe responds to Youko's demands to know why he thought she was unfit to play Esmeralda (above pic). This is one of two scenes in the manga that Youko yells in anger. Considering how restrained and composed Youko usually is, most likely a product of her almost aristocratic-upbringing, it's not unreasonable to conclude that Joe's remarks has hit her too close to home. The way Chiba marks a slight blush mark in that bottom left panel seems to hint at her embarrassment from being exposed. It's because she feels that she's been exposed that she wants to get even with Joe, but she can't just let Rikiishi pummel him there and then. After all, that would only cause problems for Rikiishi, whom she cares for, and she might also fear that allowing such a direct retaliation would be to admit Joe's accusations as true. And so she seeks a by-the-books way at getting back at Joe, as to not tarnish her image in front of the large crowd gazing intently at that scene; hence, she enthusiastically accepts the boxing match proposal.
In the chapter right after that, she leaves the detention facility after confirming the date of the match with Rikiishi. When I look at the expression of her face as she abruptly leaves and the general tone of her lines on this page, I can't help but feel that her confirmation of the date with Rikiishi has less to do with her concern over the possibility of Rikiishi getting hurt, and more with the possibility of her failing to get back at Joe. That line, "Good, as long as you know not to let your guard down" just seems to convey a tone of, "Good, you better win."
This conflict between her immature desire to get back at Joe and her concern for her image is also captured in this scene, when she has no qualms about stooping down to Joe's level and throwing dirt at him only when none of the other juvie inmates or guards are watching.
Separated at birth!? Dun-dun-duuunnn!
Now if my interpretations are making it sound like she's not the quiet-spoken, composed, and graceful aristocrat she tries to appear as, then you're understanding me correctly. I personally believe that despite surface-dissimilarities, Yabuki and Youko are far more alike than any other character in the story, though neither would be willing to admit that (humorously enough, they look almost identical at the start of the story, but that's probably unintentional). Now you might be saying, "Wait, wait, wait. What about Rikiishi? Surely, Joe's greatest friend and rival shares a lot more in common with Joe than Youko." I disagree and I point to you this page below.
v7, p166
Rikiishi states in no uncertain terms here that his ambition is to become rich, famous, and the proud owner of pacific and world title-belts. This is fundamentally different from Joe. Joe never fights to become rich or famous and he certainly doesn't fight because he wants some title-belt. He fights because, as I mentioned above, he revels in that intense burning sensation gained from proving his worth on the ring, even if that entails burning up into nothing but ashes. This is why he doesn't care about the result of any fight in which he felt this burning sensation. Go back to when he lost to Rikiishi in their ultimate showdown in v8. Immediately after the loss, but before Rikiishi dies, what's the first thing Joe does? He walks up with a smile and concedes defeat. What about the first fight with Carlos when he loses by disqualification because of Tange's mistake? Again, he's not angry. He feels refreshed that he's finally beaten off Rikiishi's ghost. What about the second fight with Carlos? Does he care that his chance at entering the world-rankings was foiled because of the double-disqualification? No, he couldn't have been more satisfied to have fought with Carlos, both fighters baring all they had, whether illegal or legal techniques. And last but not least, what about the world-title match with Mendoza? Does he care that he lost? Or if you fall into the faction that believes Joe had passed on even before he heard the final decision, do his actions or attitude immediately after the final round show eager anticipation of what the result was? Of course not. He literally states during the match that all he wishes is to burn into white ashes. That's all he desires. As he states in the last page of volume 19, he must go on the ring because the world's strongest man is waiting for him. Not because he has a chance to win the world-title. The world-title, or any title for that matter, is meaningless to Joe. Plus, there's the fact that the usually calm and mild-mannered Rikiishi has a personality that's almost a polar opposite to Joe's.
c23 (v3 p11)
So let's return to Youko. I've already explained how she actually possesses an immature streak, just like Joe, but that alone isn't what I'm basing my theory on. The main reason why I think Yabuki and Youko are reflections of each other is in their goals, their pursuit for "tomorrow." The only characters who reference the entire theme of this manga, the pursuit for tomorrow, is Joe, Tange, and Youko. In the above scene, Youko uncharacteristically forgets that there are others around her and without realizing it, she babbles out loud (this is no thought-bubble) about the meaning of tomorrow. Why? Because again, this scene has hit her too close to home. She isn't just describing Tange and Joe's arduous pursuit for tomorrow. She's describing her own self. At the start of the series, I think that Youko, like Joe, doesn't have any clear goal of what to do with her life. She's playing the part of the wealthy philanthropist in an attempt to gain some sort of meaning for her life by exchanging money for respect and a sense of moral fulfillment. However, just as Joe's chance encounter with Rikiishi changes his life, so too does Youko's life when she meets Joe. Her fixation on Joe is hinted at several points in the manga leading up to Rikiishi's death such as below.
Another good example follows shortly after this scene in which she sends Joe a congratulatory bouquet and letter, hand-written to boot, after his first win as a pro-boxer (v6 p214). When questioned by Rikiishi, she tries to hide her feelings by saying they were funeral flowers for when Rikiishi crushes him, to which Rikiishi wryly responds that they're far too flashy for a funeral.
v10 p130-131
If you don't think Youko is fixated on Joe, then it's difficult to explain how she, a relative novice to the world of boxing, can immediately tell that Joe's a mere husk of his former self in his comeback-match in v10, something that even the veteran commentators are incapable of doing. Her fixation is undeniable by v10 p130-131 when she decides to become the new manager of Shiraki Gym all in order to help Joe recover his form.
stepping into a man's world
Now this is a difficult path that Youko's chosen for herself. Numerous times, the story reiterates how the world of boxing is exclusive to men. The other gym managers point fingers behind her back, and the press seems to think of her and her actions as the "random whims of a rich lady." Her situation is comparable to Tange, who's also mocked by the other gym managers and seen as bit of a loony by the press. Look back to the image I posted above from c23 (v3 p11). "A today in which you suffer mockery from others who treat you as crazy... If and only if such a today exists, then... Then will a true tomorrow... A true tomorrow-" Sound a little similar? It's not just her situation that's similar to Tange. From v10, she basically assumes the role of a second Tange, working covertly from the shadows to support Joe.
Now when I call her a second Tange, you might be thinking, "Then wouldn't Tange be the better candidate? Wouldn't he be the one who shares most in common with Joe than any other character?" Setting aside the obvious problem of their polar personalities, the real reason why Tange can't be viewed as a reflection of Joe in any way is that he's far too soft-hearted. He tries his best to aim for tomorrow but his growing attachment to Joe, whom he comes to think of like his own son, means that he has too much to sacrifice for tomorrow. He essentially becomes a man complacent with "today." This is evidenced numerous times throughout the manga such as all the times when Tange, fearful of his player's health, tries to convince Joe to forfeit a tough match. In volume 11, Tange even decides to close the gym in order to prevent Joe from destroying himself.
Yokokura, an alternate Tange
Now compare that to Youko's actions as Joe's unofficial manager. She's not afraid to bring a monstrously strong opponent over to Japan like Carlos Rivera for Joe's sake, fully knowing that if her plan backfires, Joe would not only remain psychologically traumatized, but crippled as well. Her sink-or-swim methods stand in stark contrast with Tange's coddling. She's not afraid to jeopardize the lives of other boxers like Tiger, Harajima, Nangou, and most famously, Takigawa Shuuhei. In v18, Kajiwara sets up Takigawa's coach Yokokura as Tange's alternate-self of sorts. Both were poor and unsuccessful gym owners who took massive loans to keep their gyms running in the slim hopes that they'd be blessed with a "golden egg" one day. Tange even weeps in sympathy at Yokokura's tears of joy broadcasted on television. Of course, Takigawa Shuuhei might seem more of a silver egg in comparison to Joe, but he is everything to Yokokura nonetheless. And yet, Yoko does not blink twice in breaking this silver egg all for Joe's sake.
Tange and Youko's two choices
But the most critical difference between Tange and Youko comes in the final volume. When Joe's luck and energy seems to run dry, and all those watching are painfully aware of the hopeless situation, Tange cannot bring himself to give a willing approval to his player's almost insane insistence on continuing the fight. However, in comes Youko. She alone tells Yabuki that he must fight with no regrets and that she'll stand right by him watching every last moment, even though this means she'll be watching the love of her life die or become irreversibly crippled.
Yes, she's been the timid woman who couldn't help but avert her gaze every time Joe received a severe beating. Yes, she, like Tange, also tried to convince Joe to retire on a few occasions. She even tried to run away from watching his matches on 3 separate occasions. And yet, in the very last match when Joe needs support the most, it is Youko who gives it to him. She is the one willing to sacrifice her tomorrow for the sake of Joe's tomorrow. Or perhaps, it's more accurate to say that her tomorrow was Joe's tomorrow all along. This resolve of hers is why at the end of the manga, Joe hands his gloves to Youko, not to Tange or anybody else. It is not an expression of pity or Joe returning her love. It is to signify him acknowledging her as his comrade, the only one remaining who understood the tomorrow he aimed for.
Quite possibly the most iconic ending of all time in manga
Now a word about the ending. I've seen a lot of people say that Joe dies at the ending, and even people who've yet to read/watch Tomorrow's Joe will usually have heard that he dies at the end. I want to point out that this is not quite the case. The fact that he turned white just like burnt ashes does not necessarily correlate with his death, although it is quite tempting to think so. This ending is purposely meant to be an ambiguous ending. The only thing definite about the ending is that Joe loses the match and whether he dies or not, is up to the reader's own choice. Particularly telling about this issue is the original ending as envisioned by Kajiwara Ikki.
The original end for Tomorrow's Joe
In this version, Mendoza wins by a narrow decision and Joe is slumped on the chair, drained of all his energy. Now here's where it diverges from the actual ending. Tange then tells him that he may have lost the match, but he won the fight (おまえは試合には負けたが、ケンカには勝ったんだ). The scene then switches to the terrace at Shiraki's mansion. Joe is idly sitting by with his arms locked around his knees as usual while Youko tenderly gazes at him. Chiba Tetsuya didn't quite feel comfortable with this ending and asked Kajiwara Ikki if he could change the ending. Kajiwara, busy with many other serializations and trusting Chiba's ability, gave him free reign to change the ending as he saw fit. However, as the deadline approached, Chiba couldn't come up with an ending he liked. It was during this dilemma that his editor pointed out the time Joe and Noriko went on a date for the first time. Upon remembering the burning into white ashes line, he immediately drew the ending we're now all so familiar with. As you can see, Chiba's major change to the ending was not to kill off Joe. It was to give the readers a more easily understandable resolution to his struggle in life. Although I don't have any official interview transcripts (so take this with a grain of salt), I have heard that at one interview later on in his life, one audience member asked Chiba why he killed off Joe. To this, he responded that Joe did not die that day because he is Tomorrow's Joe. This echoes Natsume Fusanosuke's own interpretation of the ending, in which he points out that the left-side in manga represents the future (right-to-left order, remember). By having Joe sit down facing the left with a faint smile, while the status of his mortality is kept intentionally ambiguous, the manga tells us that whether or not he died is trivial. The true significance is that Yabuki Joe faces tomorrow.
In any case, Kajiwara Ikki's hugely influential sports trinity of the late '60s (Star of the Giants, Tomorrow's Joe, Tiger Mask), transformed Weekly Shounen Magazine from something read by only kids into acceptable reading material for college students. While the main characters Hyuuma and Tiger Mask of Star of the Giants and Tiger Mask were popular, it was particularly Yabuki Joe that many Dankai youths who participated in the student protests of the '60s identified with. The fact that he's called a "golden egg" at several points only served to make him more identifiable. Golden Egg (Kin no Tamago) was a popular term in the '60s for the Dankai youths who worked blue-collar jobs and served as the metaphorical golden egg which supported the rapid economic-rise of the '60s. This is why when the Japanese Red Army, a communist militant group, hijacked JAL Flight 351, they famously announced, “We are Tomorrow’s Joe!” New-found prosperity, passionate youths seeking to change tomorrow, a flourishing gekiga movement… This is the necessary context a manga like Tomorrow’s Joe is best judged under. Many manga critics have followed this model, and there’s even one book which gives precise real-life dates to Yabuki Joe’s life in an attempt to firmly frame Tomorrow’s Joe as a story of the Dankai Generation. Nevertheless, more than 20 years have passed since the first chapter of Tomorrow’s Joe was serialized before I was born and more than 40 years have passed since I began translating this manga into English. Lack of context nor the generational gap did not dull my appreciation of this manga when I was first exposed to it, as I’m sure is the case for many other manga fans around the world, regardless of how many years after we were born after its serialization. This is the surest sign of that often ambiguous but coveted term “classic,” and I sincerely hope that these unofficial translations may help in preserving its memory. 


  1. Simply thanks for all your work. Thanks so much!!

  2. Congratulations on finishing your project.

    "Natsume Fusanosuke's own interpretation of the ending, in which he points out that the left-side in manga represents the future in manga (right-to-left order, remember). By having Joe sit down facing the left with a faint smile, while the status of his mortality is kept intentionally ambiguous, the manga tells us that whether or not he died is trivial. The true significance is that Yabuki Joe faces tomorrow." That's a Natsume for you. Never I would have arrived at such an interpretetion.

    "more than 40 years have passed". Time flies for sure...;)

  3. looking forward for another Chiba masterpiece, Ore wa Teppei..

  4. I initially gave up on Joe after chapter one, lol. This post helped me realize my prejudice against cartoony art (which even makes it tough for me to get into Tezuka-sama at times). The historical context of the art form is fascinating. You've convinced me to give Joe another try!

  5. Thank you very much, looking forward to reading this!

  6. Thank you very much

  7. I read Joe back when I was 13/14 years old and few manga leave as deep and lasting impression as Joe (and I've read hundreds of manga).

    And thank you for your essay, especially about the ending. I was extremely sad as a teenager reading the final volume, but now when I'm mature enough to really READ the manga, the iconic end have a different meaning.

  8. May I begin by thanking you for giving your opinions about the manga and thank you for the detailed introduction to manga in the ‘60s and ‘70s and pinpointing the differences between Tetsuya Chiba’s art and others in these periods. And I find Chiba’s art to be on a higher artistic standard than most ‘60s styles. Although that doesn’t mean the other artworks were any less impressive - they each are unique in their own way. Concerning the term “dated” – for my part, it never seemed so to me – I’ve been impressed by the quality of this work. And if I have to rephrase the term ‘dated’, then I would say it has a sort of ‘quaint’ feel to it - a kind of an old-fashioned beauty to about it which I really like. The things I like about this manga are that: It is very well-written, splendidly illustrated and affecting your emotions. Done with great skill and engaging style of writing. Some of the artwork shows great attention to the backgrounds and facial expressions (and the brilliant shading that goes with the bodies ). Regarding the characters, I particularly like how Joe’s character has grown steadily and gradually over the course of the story. At first glance, Joe looks like a smart-aleck who has no room for sentiment in him, but under the surface, there’s more to it than that. He seemed to be overflowing with human feelings - you can feel his strong emotions, his frustration, energy and fierce determination. I also agree with the analogy you drew between Joe and Youko. Furthermore, I was relieved to read your interpretation of the ending because frankly, I thought that was an official ending or something. So I can heave a sigh of relief now. Nevertheless, it was a sensational, really meaningful ending to the story, and a very memorable one as well. In conclusion, thank you for a very informative post – it was interesting to read. And congratulations on finishing Joe! You did a great job on it. Thank you very much.

  9. I sent a lot of frantic emails to Dragons & Tigers manga back in 2003, wondering when there would be future chapters of Joe. I seriously thought I would never, ever see this series finished in English. So when volume 13 went up a few months ago, I was ecstatic.

    It may be because I just finished reading volume 20 and am still a bit overwhelmed (I started tearing up before the fight even began, when I spotted Aoyama and the old detention center gang in the audience) but I'm calling this my favorite manga of all-time. Few things have given me so many different emotions so strongly.

    As if translating it wasn't enough, you had to go and write this amazing essay to go with it. It's like watching a Criterion Collection DVD and then reading/watching the special features. I've left the same comment in many PunPun threads here and on /a/ but you are a goddamn legend, Hox.

  10. Hox, I want to thank you as well for translating this. I began reading this manga about 3-4 years ago. I remember reading the first 7 volumes and then hitting that brick wall. Every month, I would check to see new chapters. I would wait. Then, you began translating it. The wait was horrible (no offense). A part every few months. 6 months for a part. I hated it. I'm only saying this, because what you've done has filled me with so much happiness. To finally see this manga translated and finished in the time you did was fantastic. I have patiently waited and read each release you've done.

    This story was something special to me. To see these characters grow and shape into adults. To see Joe fight, struggle with Rikishi's death, and rise to the top was something I've never experienced in a manga. I've never felt as close to characters before. I've rooted for Joe the whole way through. I even ignored spoiling the end until a few weeks ago. I recommend this manga to anyone and everyone. It has slowly nestled it's way to my favorite manga, and inspired me to pick up boxing as a hobby. To put it simply, this work means a lot to me. Thank you for all of your hard work, and I want you to know that is certainly appreciated. Thank you.

  11. Thank you for this educational rant. I read it all and am glad that you took the time to finally finish this! Thanks.

  12. Thank you and all the people involved for translating Ashita no Joe.

    It has been a long time since I read a manga start to finish with such anticipation for each volume. While I feel the last few volumes may have been lackluster compared to previous ones, the 'reveal' of Joe's condition and the superb volume 20 make up for it.

    Although the ambiguity of the ending is something I had not considered before (like many, I learned of it before actually reading it), it is definitely something that matters less than Joe's accomplishment and the meaning behind it. Good stuff.

  13. Many many thanks for picking up this project and seeing it to the end. For many years I have wanted to read this manga in its entirety, and now that I finally got the chance, it instantly became my favorite of all time. I really appreciate the effort and work you put into releasing what is in my opinion the greatest comic ever drawn.

  14. As I'm sure many other people did, I first came to know Joe because of it's last scene. I was always under the impression that Joe died. And while I was reading and saw how little pages left there were, I kept getting anxious, but seeing it so abruptly for some reason made me feel it was lacking in impact. Specially considering all the panels spent just to make a point of Mendoza being scared of Joe's look and his lack of fear.

    I think Mendoza's fight could have been a bit longer, considering it's given more or less the same space than any other fights and that many rounds are pretty much skipped. Still, this is just me grasping at things that I didn't like, because as a series, I loved it. It's rare for me to read a Sport manga like this one, but I was very pleasantly surprised in how easy it was to get into it.

    It's also amazing to see the physical changes for the characters going back to the first volume. I do have to wonder why he didn't apply any changes (at least that I noticed) to the kids. I was always Taro to grow along with the rest of the characters and pick up boxing.

    How bad were the translations for the first volumes, though? Or is it just the typesetting that makes you want to redo them?

    1. The translations are decent, but some of the key scenes like the pages I posted from v2 and 3 and had some lines that are off and give a misleading view, which is the main reason I want to re-do them.

  15. Dear Hox,

    Thank you so much for giving us a chance to read Ashita No Joe.

    Also, thank you very much for your comments and thoughts.

    I also would like to share some of my thoughts. The most touching moment, for me, is when Youko at the side of the ring tells Joe to continue fighting fully. The scene to me, is similar like at a hospital where a man is in a coma, a doctor asks his closest family (his wife) on the treatment he should receive.
    This was such a touching scene, and showed the bond between Joe and Youko.

    Thank you

    1. Some more thoughts...
      Indeed, Joe throughout the story has always been wild. If you're looking for tame, that would be Nishi - who turned good and became a good member of society...

      But Joe could not be tamed, even until the end.

      In the dressing room, after Youko confessed... Joe as usual insulted her in quite a mean way. But I think he was not trying to be nasty. Maybe he is pushing her far far away, so as not to hurt her? Maybe he was trying (unsuccessfully) to be funny and lighten the mood?
      Maybe he was shocked at the confession, and felt tempted to accept her offer? (then feeling angry about his lapse, vented his anger on her?)

      Anyway, we saw a rare tender moment of kindness from Joe when he put his hands on Youko's shoulders and said, "Thank you..."

      Joe, who never been attached to any material things... carefully passed his gloves to Youko, says to her... "i want you to keep them"

      He didn't say "Take them", or "Here"... he said "I Want"... meaning he is conveying his desire to pass his most treasured possession to Youko....

      No, not just possession; but basically the gloves represent all his feelings and thoughts, he wants Youko to have them... so she can understand all that he cannot explain...

      These are my feelings.

  16. Thank you so much for all the excellent work you did on this manga! I'm glad you'll redo the first volumes! I can't wait to read the whole series again.

    Thank you very much for this essay too! I appreciated the general information about the era, I think having a grasp of the background gives you a better understanding of the manga. And since I don't have an eye for details (orz), your comments made me realize many things about the manga...it was pretty eye-opening, so thank you!

    The ending had been spoilt to me too, so I had started getting that bad feeling since reading volume 19. And I started crying right after the fight ended. It's been a while since I last cried like this reading a manga.

    So, I absolutely loved this manga. I think the story is truly magnificent, the characters are amazing, and the art is gorgeous. I can't believe some people dismiss it as "dated"...in my opinion, the boxing scenes are drawn beautifully, they are so vivid and "moving". But even in the every-day life scenes, the expressions of the characters' faces are amazing. Just as you wrote in your essay, those panels in which the characters say nothing but their stares are full of meaning, are magnificent.

    The fact that the art style of Chiba-sensei changes throughout the manga is great too, since it makes the characters look like they change as they grow up. It's very natural and smooth, in my opinion.

    About the ending...thanks once again, because you gave me a ray of hope! I'll opt to think that Joe isn't dead. On the other hand...I'm not sure if him surviving is a good thing. I mean, even if he survives, this will probably be his last fight, right? I think that a Joe that can't box on a high level would be pretty miserable. I mean, I might be mistaken, but I thought that he kinda saw a vision of his future self during the reunion with Carlos in the changing room.

    Anyway! I'm very grateful to every person involved in this project, for giving me the opportunity to read such a great manga.

  17. Does anyone know what Harisu no Kaze and Tiger Mask is about? The details about them are sparse and I have scoured the internet trying to find even the smallest amount of information about them.

    1. Hi,

      I saw the anime (both the old, classic TV series from the end of the '60s, and the second series from the earliy '80s, which is not directly related to the manga) of Tiger Mask as a child in the '80s, and read the manga when it was translated in Italian a few years ago.

      Tiger Mask is about a lawless masked wrestler that, to set a good example for the children of the orphanage where he too was raised, decides to become a clean fighter and so betrays the international criminal organization where he was coached to become an invincible dirty fighter. This means that he has to fight against the wrestlers the organization sends to kill him on the ring, as well as against other clean and dirty wrestlers. If you're familiar with Shirato Sanpei's Kamui you'll recognize the same basic idea.

      Date Naoto (Tiger Mask) is an orphan who's decided to become a dirty fighter in order to leave poverty behind and help as many orphans as he can: this is his main motivation to fight, so as you can see he's simpler, more heroic character compared to Yabuki Joe. I'd say the manga was meant for younger readers, but then it has a ending where undoubtedly the protagonist dies.

      Tsuji's drawings are at the same time the best and the worst part of the manga. He was definitely bad at drawing in the cartoonish style of a Tezuka, so especially the protagonist'a big eyed face is quite painful to look at (fortunately most of times the protagonist wears a esquisitely drawn tiger mask; in the anime he had a more mature and much better-looking face). On the other hand, he was very good at drawing in a realistic style, and the movements and techniques of wrestler on the ring are represented with amazing skill. I think he must've previously been used to draw in a completely realistic style.

      The manga was higely successful in Japan, and several professional masked wrestlers afterwards went by the name of Tiger mask.

  18. Thank you kindly for your hard work. The ride has been wild.

  19. This was a fantastic series. There is an excellent mix of lightheartedness, complex and evolving characters, and realistic urban grit. Yes, the Harimau bout threatened to destabilize this finely crafted balance, but even then it had great thematic importance to the series in terms of how far Joe's character had developed in this series and its necessity in rekindling Joe's passion.

    Thematically, the series has a superb sense of gritty determination grounded with an overarching sense of fatalism. One thinks that Joe's drive to outdo his rival Rikishii would have ended after the latter's passing, but it becomes clear that his death only drives Joe even further to the top but not for himself--for the people he came to find were very important to him and fulfilled him.

    It also becomes clear that Joe has no interest in living a more normal life or being content with wealth or fame that prizefighting often is associated with. He wants to get as much as he can out of the one thing that excites him before the flame flickers out as it eventually does in everyone sooner or later. The same holds true to many of the opponents he faces that are willing to enter that same world, burning out prematurely in an uncompromising arena, both in and out of the ring.

    I have to give special mention to the "punch-drunkenness" introduced into the series. It was fantastically handled. Every other movie, TV series, etc (I've seen plenty) only goes for the cheap sentimental aspect of it, turning the victim into little more than an object of pity. Tomorrow's Joe goes far beyond that, giving us a respectable and mature side of the character not yet seen.

    That's another thing the series does well, Joe becoming "respectable." Sure, he becomes a more honorable and less selfish boxer but he never loses that spark and anarchy that make Joe such a compelling jerk early in the series. Even near the end of the series, he's not afraid of insulting the press or picking fights. The essence of Joe is never lost to conform him into Japan's most beloved boxing star, which often happens in fiction relating to delinquents getting back into society's good graces.

    I could go on and on, but you already did an excellent job on the article. My most sincere thanks for translating this to English.

    P.S.: I'll also strongly support your stance that any criticism that includes the phrase "the artstyle is dated, but..." is nothing but complete ignorance and personal narrow-mindedness on the individual. This is especially true in terms of manga and comic book art, where there should be no technical limitation to the quality of the art. Themes can be dated sure, but art? Absolutely not! It tends to be in any review pandering the the high school crowd and others who sneer at anything made earlier than 15 years ago. It's also a dishonest way to avoid personal distaste by assuming the fallicy of old=inferior is a fact supported by all. It's much more honest to say "I don't like this particular art style, but..."

    This is especially true in the case of Tomorrow's Joe. Fantastic nuanced artwork that can be both wonderfully detailed and full of life. The number of unique character designs in these 20 volumes is staggering. Take a more modern series like Hajime no Ippo with its relatively more mainstream manga art style, and it's obvious which holds up better artwise. I like Hajime no Ippo and its good in its own right, but there is NO comparison in terms of art. From character designs, to background art, to the crowd shots (compared to HnI's copy/paste ultra-generic crowd shots), Tomorrow's Joe's art holds up extremely well.

    I guess some people are just obsessed with the novelty that manga art has to follow some sort of stock convention and has to look distinctly different from "Western style" artwork. I know I was one of those myopic youths several years ago before deciding to broaden my horizons.

    1. I agree with you 100% i personally don't mind the art, let alone the age it may have, as long as the story is good, well this is kinda a lie, i tend to avoid shoujo manga, and have read little to no Josei, i may be allergic to cuteness and romance (not romance like in the epic poems sense, but that thing that we get nowadays that they call love and is everywhere).

  20. What an amazing manga, I'm glad I read it thanks to your translations. I disagree with quite a few of your views into the story and some of things you like actually ticked me off during the course of the story, but I have never read something quite like this and I'm very glad that I did. Thank you once again for all your hard work.

  21. Big thanks for this scanlation. I was extremely surprised with how good Joe was; I was expecting something far simpler that I would primarily enjoy to read because of its historical importance but nope, this was excellent all by itself. Wrote a short review (in Swedish) on my blog but referred to this text for a longer, more thorough, and better review, unless you're afraid of spoilers ;-)

  22. Thanks a lot for this release, and uploading it all on Mega was truly a genius move! really how come you always do such a good job and on such great mangas, you are a legend already and this just keeps confirming that.

    Now, as if that was not enough you also gave us this wonderful post, i love this post, so much info, some of those facts i didn't even knew before, i will try to watch some BS Manga-Yawa, sounds really interesting.

    About Joe i agree with most of it except with Youko, i hated her from beginning to end, she was such a pain in the ass even when she does things to help Joe, she does them in the most obnoxious ways, and after reading this post i can say that i still hate her, that poor poor combo of Takigawa and Yokokura, i can't help but remember how i screamed "It's a trap don't do it, goddammit is a trap" and image myself entering the world and saving them from their doom so many times while reading that arc, oh man she... i hate her, and her confession at the end felt so cheap, as if having Tange getting in the way was not enough, but she fixes that at the end, and still i just cannot help it, what a pain she has been!

    I like most people had the knowledge that Joe died at the end, and i am glad that this is not entirely true, because indeed the fight for some reason felt a little bit short, it maybe was the intensity of the duel, seeing how both fighters come to acknowledge and fear each other, and put everything they had, with Mendoza even panicking near the end, which made the whole thing to pass incredibly fast, or it probably was Youko getting in the way and stealing the last rounds from us! sure she is an important character, sure she has some similarities with Joe, but she got in the way of the fight! even turning off the radio! i know, i know, that was perfectly normal of her, she was running away after all, but goddammit, i would be dammed if by the moment she finally decides to get back what we find out is that last page of Joe sitting down in that corner after the fight ended, luckily that was not the case, and yet we completely missed 2 rounds, the insistence on giving Youko some panel space over the actual fight was getting on my nerves, i wanted to see every punch to the air, every dodge and block, and every hit, and then they swap to her leaving all the way into her car!!!! that was a whole new level of her getting in the way, i know, i know she was not getting in the way she was helping Joe, right? like she always does, because hey he needs obstacles! and she does this again by getting in our way blocking us the development of the fight, in a very Youko way of her, all to come and then help Joe, she was a pain, a helpful unbearable maybe even needed pain from the start to the finish. I always thougth that i understood how Joe felt each time that Youko appeared with some trickery to change his plans, even if she did it for him, but it was in that final moment, when she gets in my way of enjoying that fight that i understood "damn she really is a pain", and then when she goes and gives him his support, i feared, i feared for this to become a Joe fighting thanks to the power of love (which kinda was, damn her), but i want to believe that he gave it his all not thanks to Youko but because he himself already had the will to go and follow his tomorrow, i want to believe that even if she didn't went there he would have managed to fight like he did, man even in the final moments she gets in the way, lets call it Tomorrow's Youko, to be fair i would have avoided this story if that was the title XD.

    What a great manga, i hope the correction come without any problems. Thanks again for informing me about BS Manga-Yawa.

  23. Thanks Hox. Excellent translation and commentary. It was a pure pleasure to read through it.

    With respect,


  24. Thank you for your hard work.I liked the ride.

  25. dear hox,

    Thank you for completing this manga. This is definitely one of the best manga out there. I also like your analyze of the ending so much. I personally want the ending to be open like the way you interpret it rather than having joe died. I am just curious if you can give some more detail of the original ending ? (the one that you have a picture of joe sitting and youko starring at him ?


    1. I already described the original ending in as much detail as there is in my post. There really isn't anything more.

  26. Have there been other unofficial endings to this series? I remember the old arcade game ends with a shot of Joe's marriage to Youko.

    Does the anime retain the ending, or does it alter the ending, trying to wrap it up in a pretty bow?

  27. It took me some time to figure out that this manga was still being translated, before I knew it was better to check the site of translators and not those big websites. I luckily never saw any spoilers, though I eventually checked wikipedia to see if there were any more volumes. I actually found out about Rikishi and thought it would end with that fight. While checking out the well known other boxing mangas I found out Ashita no Joe was still being translated and I was really happy.

    Anyway, I love this manga and I did not expect it to end this way, simply because I thought it would all work out somehow, maybe with Joe becoming the champ. I knew that it wasn't like some other sports mangas I read, the mood was different, so perhaps I should have seen it coming. Maybe I did, subconsciously. In the end, I was so glad, in a way, it didn't work out like I expected. But of course, sadness was also part of the ending. It was memorable and perfect.

    And to not end all gloomy, I laughed a lot too, just thinking about the audience alone makes me laugh again. I loved how the audience was not just cheering all the time, being some kind of anonymous background crowd. They really reacted how you would expect, one moment supporting the boxer and just a minute later booing and throwing objects in the ring. One of the funniest sentences of this manga for me has to be: 'please do not throw objects onto the ring!'. If I ever hear or see that again, I will immediately think of Joe, probably having sad and happy memories at the same time.

    Thank you for all your work. I am grateful I got to read this beautiful manga.


    1. At least they weren't throwing chairs (most of the time):

    2. Apparently throwing cushions on the ring is a customary thing when a low ranking sumo fighter steals the champion title from a higher ranking one. Didn't know it applies to boxing, though.

  28. Inio Asano's new series:


  29. Someone should also translate the Attack No 1 manga. Having seen the anime, it is the closest to Ashita no Joe regarding narrative and characters, even though it is about womens/girls volleyball.

    Dezaki has made a very good adaptation, even though the series sequel is anachronistic, setting the series in the late-70s instead of the 60s. But the quality of the matches feels much better than the first series, post-Rocky influence probably.

  30. This was such a depressing ending for me. I loved the manga, but feeling like Joe could just die at any moment was too much for me. That ending frame, with him looking like he's dead and the manga just ending. So powerful yet so depressing. I actually would have preferred that other ending you mentioned, maybe he really isn't dead, man how can this be aimed at young boys, way too sad :(

  31. Dear hox,
    you're right, the term "dated" does sound derogatory, but when it's applied to manga I take it as a compliment, since I regard the 60s and 70s as the golden age of Japanese comics. I've recently read Kamui Den in French, and I've posted a short review on my blog http://marconacher.blogspot.co.uk/, in case you'd like to take a quick look. I also adore Sangokushi, and I can't thank you enough for translating it.

  32. Good work, thank you very much! Please continue Gambare Genki, anoter very good boxing manga.

  33. Hi,

    I'm Italian, and a great fan of this manga. I think your analisis is very acute; perfect character development and skillful expression of psycholgies through Chiba's constantly improving drawings (each volume looks better than the previous one) are what makes this classic manga stand out.

    By the way, as a sidenote, I think the stark contrast you noted between Shirato's graphic style in Sasuke and in Kamui-den might be also due to the former being aimed at a younger audience. I haven't got the chance of reading neither of the two manga, but saw the anime series from the late '60s (both of which of course didn't tell the whole story), and the former definitely looks like a shonen anime (although with lots of cruelty and violence). Shirato's earlier masterwork, Ninja Bugeicho (one of the best comics I've ever read), is drawn in an inititally (wonderful) cartoonish style, that gets progressively more rough and expressionistic in the last volumes.

  34. Thank You for translating this manga. A true masterpiece. This article is also very interesting. I agree with your interpretation of the story which you stated very well.

  35. I've just finished reading this work.
    It's clearly a masterpiece meant to last forever, and every volume is a testament of what "skills" meant in the manga world back then, and what "passion" really means.

    Like unproductive people use the "I have no time" line for excusing themselves for doing something they don't want to, the same to me happens with those people that talk about "dated" works; it's the easiest way out to NOT form a personal opinion by stating a pseudo-elitist comment on something they are afraid to read because they lack the brains to understand its quality.
    Simple as that.

    I've read someone up there that said that the ending lacked impact, but to me it was a huge shock, even knowing how this manga ended before reading it, like pretty much everyone else. It made me ask myself a lot of questions while coming to terms with my shock, and I believe this is what separates this work miles away from the rest.

    There are a lot of panels with pauses, backgrounds and many spacing techniques to make readers THINK about their feelings and to make the dialogues come to life (if there's nothing to think about, then they're just one-liners), and the ending is like the full summary of this concept, which I personally think is brilliant.

    Also to note is how nearly all volumes (not the chapters, but the VOLUMES) end with a massive cliffhanger that not many other works could pull that well, and again, the ending is no exception.

    It wouldn't be exaggerated to say that in one way or the other, you're the one that allowed us to enjoy this perennial piece of work, and for that, I thank your work and effort.
    Simple as that.

    From Argentina, salud.-

  36. I loved this analysis, and thank you soooo much for translating such a gem! I only found out about it some weeks ago and it's already one of my favourite manga ever. Days after finishing it I'm still so swept away.
    I was somewhat spoiled that he'd "die" (by Google suggestions of all things) but I never saw the last panel before finishing it thankfully. It got me very confused and I had to look up if this was the actual ending haha.
    It was so heartbreaking to me to see Joe grow and sacrifice anything for the sake of his "tomorrow". I will absolutely read this one again sometime and analyse it more like you did (with the expressions conveying more emotions than I presumed at first, really interesting!). The character development is absolutely phenomenal and as an aspiring comic book artist it was a privilege to having been able to read such a masterpiece like this.

  37. This manga probably saved many lives, but not for reasons one would have expected. It's so gritty yet so inspirational. Never pulled a punch with all the dangers and consequences, and faithful to its narrative. No sappy sissy endings. Happy ones, bittersweet or whatever. Very 20th century-ish, with its 'passion for the Real'. Definitely one of Japan's greatest contributions to the world.

  38. "Too often in stories do antagonists or "bad" characters do a 180 in their personality under the guise of "character development." [sarcasm]After all, dynamic characters are better than static characters! That's what my English teacher said![/sarcasm] This shit pisses me off to no end. It's all about execution. There's no point in having a character be dynamic if you've essentially reduced him to two polar opposites with no in-between such that the effect is indistinguishable from having two separate flat/static characters."
    Old topics and all, but I just thought I'd ask if you have any thoughts about this in relation to Vinland Saga's post-Askeladd direction, Thorfinn in particular.

  39. Great post. Out of curiosity, would you ever translate Star of the Giants if you got the chance?

  40. Even then if we convince our brains that the subject we're seeing is real, then it must be real right? Besides most of the things we believe in is a subject matter, which means you either believe it, or not. read manga online

  41. What did you mean by "more than 20 years have passed since the first chapter of Tomorrow’s Joe was serialized before I was born and more than 40 years have passed since I began translating this manga into English." Were you actually translating joe for 40 years, or did i misunderstand you?

    1. Time between the release of the first Tomorrow's Joe chapter in Japan and my birth: more than 20 years

      Time between the release of the first Tomorrow's Joe chapter in Japan and me releasing an English translated chapter: more than 40 years

    2. Oh thank you for clarifying that

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