Examining Old School Anime: Joe Yabuki’s Hard Heart

Greetings to our dear readers!  Having accepted TWWK’s invitation to write for Beneath the Tangles, we decided that blogging about old school anime (anime produced in the 80’s and in prior decades) would make for an interesting addition to the blog and introduce fans to some great old series.  This column shall point out and discuss themes in old school anime from a Catholic viewpoint.  Hopefully, the articles will both encourage you to explore older anime and provide ideas which will enrich your meditations on the Faith.

The salient feature of Ashita no Joe‘s plot lies in that it is a conversion story, pure and simple.  All my articles on this show will relate to this major point, and no better starting point for this conversion story exists than in the unfortunate state of Joe’s hard heart.  Diamonds are less solid!  Joe trusts no one, believes in nothing, and the notion of a good deed performed without an ulterior motive strikes him as pure fantasy.  If God now demanded the two coins of humility and charity from Joe for his entrance into paradise, Joe could offer nothing!

Joe Alone

To make this journey of conversion more difficult, our hero throws up every possible obstacle he can.  In Joe’s trial, it comes to light that Joe was abandoned by his parents at a young age, escaped from his orphanage, and has since lived as a drifter relying upon his fists and his street smarts until about his seventeenth year.  This life in nowise may be expected to produce a gentle heart!  Yet, he has the good fortune of meeting Danpei Tange, a retired boxer living as a homeless drunk.  Danpei becomes enamored of Joe’s fists, and persists in persuading Joe to take up boxing.  The first person to show Joe any kind of affection in a long time, Danpei does things like cover him with his overcoat when Joe goes to sleep and shields Joe from a beating by interposing his own body, which sends Danpei to the hospital.  When at last Joe caves in to Danpei’s entreaties, Danpei becomes Joe’s guardian and works night and day so that Joe might concentrate on training.  At the same time, a group of brats (I’m sure the Japanese term gaki applies to them) befriends Joe, but this association does not lead Joe to become a better person–despite the sincere affection the kids have for Joe.

Danpei goes down

Simple kindness does not suffice to break down a hard heart.  A merely downtrodden heart may gain its old fire through the application of kindness, but a hard heart must be remade: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).  Suffering and punishment break a hard heart even as love shows it the way to true repentance.  Certain hearts are blind to love.  What do you think that Joe is doing as Danpei slaves away at construction sites and denies himself decent meals for Joe’s sake?  Joe skips training and employs his little gang in various money making schemes and in his plot to destroy a gang of yakuza!  His avarice eventually leads him to defraud the wealthy Yoko Shiraki out of a substantial sum of money.  Like Joe, we feel like Yoko has ulterior motives in giving to charity–especially since Yoko calls the news when she wants to do something charitable!  But, this does not give one the right to steal from her.

Danpei chiding Joe

These actions force Danpei to come to grips with Joe’s rottenness, and he forcibly takes Joe down and hands him into police custody.  Before and during Joe’s trial, people keep trying to find reasons to offer Joe a lenient sentence–anything less than thirteen months of incarceration at a maximum-security juvenile detention facility!  Well, Joe bursts out laughing at their efforts to provide reasons for leniency.  Their attempts strike him as hypocrisy: they do not care about Joe but rather wish to feel good about themselves in doing Joe a good turn–as Yoko does to Joe’s way of thinking.  The only person for whom Joe shows respect is Danpei, because Danpei admits to having ulterior motives behind wanting to train Joe to box.  However, Joe becomes enraged to hear Danpei say that he also wanted to see Joe in the ring for the sake of the sport–an idea incapable of forming in someone who only thinks of himself!  After peals of maniac laughter and selfish outbursts, Joe exhausts the judges’ patience, and they throw the book at him.


However, the moment after the trial gives us hope for the salvation of Joe’s humanity.  As he’s dragged away in the paddy wagon, he sheds tears for the loss of his liberty for over one year, as if he has been snapped out of his sinful stupor and realized the harm he did himself.  Through this most unlikely series of events, a crack has formed in Joe’s diamond-like heart: that object harder than adamant, a heart suffused with pride, shows signs of breaking at last!

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7 thoughts on “Examining Old School Anime: Joe Yabuki’s Hard Heart

  1. I’ve heard some really good things about this series and can’t wait to start it. (though finding a legal place with the first part is tough)

    1. It is an awesome show. I’m very close to dubbing it my favorite anime of all time–pending a rewatch of Rurouni Kenshin. Concerning finding a strictly legal way to watch it, we can only hope that Crunchyroll will restore the series to its site or that a company will license it. Until then, I comfort my scruples with the fact that the series is forty-five years old and that no one is trying to sell it at present. For example, I won’t watch Star Blazers through an irregular method because one can buy the complete series on Amazon (for about $280, but it’s still attainable). The same cannot be said for Ashita no Joe. Maybe anime fans should start a petition?

  2. I believe I’m the only other BtT writer who has seen this. Glad you’re getting around to blogging on it since I know it has a lot of interesting themes to tell that I just didn’t get around to exploring.

    1. Ashita no Joe has a great story to tell. I have at least four more ideas for articles on it, though I may switch to another series before writing all of them. Hopefully, more people will be encouraged to watch it. What other anime can boast a funeral in real life for one of its characters?

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