Champion Joe [あしたのジョー, Ashita no Jō] (1980)
AKA Tomorrow’s Joe, Rocky Joe, Joe
Starring Teruhiko Aoi, Shigeyoshi Fujioka, Toshiyuki Hosokawa, Fumi Dan, Shirō Kishibe
Directed by Osamu Dezaki
Joe is one of the most iconic and recognizable characters in all of anime. The series was so popular that when one of the characters died, a real funeral was held, with a Buddhist monk presiding and several hundred mourners attending. I’m no expert on funeral customs for fictional characters, but this is the only time I have ever heard of one.
Champion Joe is a tale of a young man’s rise in professional boxing, and as with any sports drama, it has its share of intense training sessions. It’s got improvised punching bags (a tipped over mattress, not a slab of beef), jogging (on dirt roads, you’re more likely to sprain something on pavement), and plenty of jump rope. This naturally invites comparison to Stallone’s iconic Rocky films. In fact, the comparison is so unavoidable that some western fans even refer to it as Rocky Joe.