Just last year, TMS premiered Megalo Box, a tribute to one of Japan’s biggest pop culture classics, Ashita no Joe. A lot of foundational qualities are common between these two series, but beyond that, they start to diverge in numerous ways. What are those similarities and the differences? Read today’s Then Vs. Now to find out!
The original Ashita no Joe is an allegory of the latter part of post-World War II Japanese society. Though the manga was in publication between the end of the 1960s and the first half into the 1970s, during that time, Japan was still struggling from the aftermath of the war and still a couple of decades away from having one of the top three economies in the world. Just like how Stallone’s first Rocky movie was an analysis of America’s moral state after Watergate and Vietnam, Ashita no Joe serves that same purpose for its respective time. When the series ended midway into the 1970s, it was the beginning of Japan starting to become an economic powerhouse, and Joe’s role representing his times appropriately came to an end.
As for Megalo Box, it takes place in a steampunk world and the series does allude to a war that happened sometime prior to the series. It doesn’t really get into the nature of it, but the series portrays how the war affected Nanbu, that respective Joe’s trainer, and a boxer he formally trained who served in that war. The series is more of an allegory to class warfare between those who live in the city are officially recognized as citizens, while those that live outside of it aren’t even remotely considered close to being second class citizens.
Both Joes represent the people that are struggling to live and they give them hope. In both series, they have their respective rivals who they initially have issues with, but come to see them as friends at the same time. Rikiishi serves this role for Joe in the first half of Ashita no Joe, while Yuri is the rival to Megalo Box’s Joe.
The art style to Megalo Box does an excellent job of representing the original Ashita no Joe series with its rough and sketchy style. Though their hairstyles are different, both Joes have the exact face and body type. As for the rest of the cast, their designs perfectly compliment that of the original characters they’re based on. As for the fighting, the fighting in Megalo Box is presentably much more technical in context to real boxing despite the augmented gear gimmick. The Joe in Megalo Box competes without it so he uses precise timing and technique to beat his opponents.
When it comes to the fighting in the original Ashita no Joe, it’s more of an ugly and exciting brawl. Just like how the Rocky Balboa character is more of a brawler as opposed to a boxer, the same can be said about Joe Yabuki. Every punch Joe throws is with the worst of intentions and when he fights Carlos (though this is more expressed in the manga), they result to sneaking in some cheap shots. The funny thing is, every time they snuck in an elbow, they thought it was funny and they just treated their boxing match turned street fight into a game.
Unfortunately, a certain fraction of the voice cast from the original Ashita no Joe series are no longer with us, but Teruhiko Aoi, the original voice of Joe still is. The funny thing is, he was never really famous as a seiyuu but more as a singer and actor under the Johnny’s agency, which has produced some of Japan’s greatest celebrities such as the members of Arashi. As for his portrayal of Joe, he manages to capture his cockiness and his casual attitude of being a rebel. Yoshikawa Hosoya, the voice of Joe in Megalo Box, captures the same deep voice of Aoi’s but has more of a laid back and chill feel to the character. As for the rest of Megalo Box’s cast, they do an excellent job of capturing the performances of the original and putting their own spin in conjunction to the atmosphere of the series.
The music is probably one of the strongest differences that stands out, and depending on your taste, we can’t say which is better, but we promise that they do an excellent job of capturing the mood of their respective series. Megalo Box uses a good amount of gas funk to capture its steampunk setting and adds in some hip hop provided by the voice of Sachio, a boy who supports Joe. Considering the hip hop presence in modern day boxing, it’s a very realistic inclusion as it narrates the true struggles of this series.
As for the original Ashita no Joe series, it relies a lot on traditional Japanese enka and harmonica sounds to capture that series’ dark and realistic period. The music also captures how everyday was a struggle and we don’t know how much a you could get a harmonica in Japan for between the late-1960s and mid-1970s, but considering the cheap and blues nature to it, the harmonica BGM to the opening theme song excellently sucks you in.
Due to their dramatic differences despite having similar foundations, viewers aren’t obligated to watch Ashita no Joe prior to watching Megalo Box. They tell their own unique stories with their own distinct cast of characters. Both do a great job of symbolizing what it’s like to come from nothing and what is like to have nothing but the clothes on your back. Ashita no Joe tells its story in relation to the time period of its broadcast and publication. As for Megalo Box, considering how class warfare is a problem in numerous countries in this day and age, a lot of what is portrayed is still relatable to many audiences.