The season’s “sleeper hit” comes to a close in a way that most didn’t expect.
Megalo Box opened up with an incredible two-episode start that captivated many people’s attention back in the start of the season and that certainly included the likes of me who showed up nearly two weeks late to the series’ start. As a project meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of legendary sports manga, Ashita no Joe, Megalo Box conveys a retelling of the series with its own spin on things. As exciting as its start was, the question remains on how it continued on to its finale. Since I have yet to actually finish Ashita no Joe, but by presence in the anime/manga community alone, I am aware of some things regarding its plot, I will avoid trying to compare it too much and talk about Megalo Box on its own.
Megalo Box takes place within an ambiguously contemporary timeline in a city that is currently swept up by the fever of the titular sport known as Megalo Boxing. Proficient fighters are pitted against each other utilizing equipment called gears to up the power and intensity of fights and the manufacturing conglomerate known as the Shirato Group spear-heads the promotion of the tech and the entertainment by hosting the Megalonia Tournament, with its own sponsored fighter Yuri rocking the company’s latest model of gear. On the opposite spectrum of the sport though, the story focuses around the exploits of Junk Dog, an underground boxer who is partnered with former coach Nanbu Gansaku and they make their money by fighting in fixed gambling matches. JD’s disillusionment over his skills as a boxer reaches a breaking point when he runs into Shirato’s CEO Yukiko and Yuri one night and he is driven to challenge Yuri despite not knowing who he is. When Yuri visits JD in the underground ring and wins without finishing the match, JD and Nanbu are given a chance to climb through the Megalonia ranks for the fated rematch when the man who runs the underground scene, Fujimaki, demands payment from Nanbu after JD ignored his orders in an earlier match. With a forged ID to gain admittance to the tournament, JD assumes the name Joe to climb his way to Yuri’s ring for another round.
If my rather detailed synopsis back in the first two-episode recap wasn’t enough, I like it enough to describe again here. The setting for the series isn’t anything to write home about but the way the setting is framed and how the characters interact in them is certainly one of the series greatest strengths. It along with its strong presentation sold me with its first two episodes.
Joe is arguably the least compelling character in the series and that strikes a rather decisive blow in the series’ enjoyment outside the fact that he’s mostly a hype animal. While extremely likable in personality and design, that’s as far as his character goes as his charm can only make him so compelling when we never get to really see his drive aside from just wanting to fight and prove himself. Perhaps that’s all he really needed but the structure of the fights he’s involved with didn’t exactly help him too much either. The only point where Joe’s character is put into any real worrying crisis is his fight with Burroughs as he’s required to throw yet another match and he had the nerve to disobey orders to stand back up later in what I think is the series’ best moment. With a bit more motivation and some inner thoughts, Joe could have been a way better protagonist. Speaking of internal conflicts, it seems that Nanbu is the one that got most of it in the partnership as he’s the one who has the mental burden of dealing with Fujimaki’s deal and Aragaki’s condition, two plot points that honestly have the most pay-off. While Joe does the fighting, a topic we’ll get to in presentation, Nanbu deals with the narrative side of things and he of course comes off being a bit more relatable but still mostly a desperate scumbag who redeems himself in the end.
Sacchio didn’t really strike me at all with his plotline nor his contribution to the plot as the 2nd support member. I much preferred Joe and Nanbu’s dynamic than whatever Sacchio contributed to the group as a whole. At this point I just think he’s around for side-characters to exist because he and his kid group are the recurring side-characters on Joe’s crew aside from Nanbu’s inside contact for matches and the mechanic who helps Joe fix his bike and gear.
On the other side of things, we have Yuri and Yukiko, where the dynamic between Joe and Nanbu are switched. Yukiko is the one who has a rather easily explainable goal of promoting her company’s tech and bringing it to new heights with Yuri’s skills putting her tech to the test while Yuri has idealistic goal, doubled with wanting to repay Yukiko’s kindness in letting him be so successful in life by doing what he’s best at. Yuri’s character mostly remains out of view for the series before the final episodes bring him back into the spotlight and develop his inner desire to fight a lot clearer than Joe’s with his determination to fight Joe on equal ground to show his resolve. Mikio also counts as a character worth talking about but we’ll go over that in the next section.
Out of the gate, the visuals and music for the series are pretty fantastic, that has to be settled right now. This is also one of the first occasions where a studio deliberately upscaled and downscaled their resolution to make the series have that old, classic look to its visuals and I’m on the side that says that it definitely adds to the experience. The soundtrack also has a bunch of distinct motifs as well as multiple versions of them to fit the situation. The rap part wasn’t unwelcome but Sacchio’s little montage near the end of the series had me a bit confused since, as I said earlier, I didn’t like him too much. The ending song was definitely one of my favorites from this season, but seeing as how I only watched this and BnHA, I don’t think that really means a lot but it’s still a fantastic track. The only problem I had with the presentation would be some of the animations and the sound effects. I’m not entirely sure if they tried to keep it as grounded as possible and keep the sound effects realistic but I definitely feel like mechanically enhanced punches should have way more impact, and if Joe’s punches are enough to knock a man out in one-hit, I feel like that deserves and equally satisfying sound effect to go with it. The animations kind of also suffer from this where a lot of the enhanced punching action didn’t feel all that exciting and this paired up with the lack of exciting sound effects made the fights a bit less exciting than they should have been.
As far as the plot progression went, the set-ups to the fights were well handled while the fights themselves could have desperately used some better formulas. Samejima’s fight was Joe’s debut, Aragaki’s was a development period for Joe and Nanbu, Mikio’s fight helped develop the Yukiko and Yuri, and the Burrough’s fight was Nanbu finally breaking out, the Joe and Yuri fight doesn’t really need any explanations on the set-up side of things. The fights themselves, aside from Aragaki and Yuri, all seemed to come down to a similar strategy. Joe keeps getting beat, he holds up, gets a pep-talk, and knocks his opponent out with a single hit. This got old pretty freaking fast but at least there was some emotional pay-off in most of the fights to balance this out and Samejima’s doesn’t count since his fight was the first.
Yuri’s fight to me was a bit puzzling because I expected Joe to be a lot more on the offensive and not be pummeled around so hard before his senses finally kicked in to where he and Yuri had an even match. The fighting before that occurred wasn’t all that exciting and then it suddenly becomes all about the fact that they’re just fighting at such an equal level that the match just ends there and we get a short time-skip. If the fight was anywhere near exciting or had Joe get a bit serious a bit earlier to have an actually exciting final match before it goes all introspective with the whole spectacle. I’m a man who loved his Ping Pong the animation but I could have definitely understood Nanbu crying his tear-ducts out if I saw something worth crying about since the fight itself, aside from what it was going to mean in the next 5-7 minutes, wasn’t all too great. The ending was all feel good and I have no problem with that, since I at least know what really happened to Joe and to an extent Rishiki in Ashita no Joe, but I feel like they could have done way better with the fight that led to it. I get that they tried to hammer home the whole “real deal” thing and the theme of the guy throwing the punches and not the gear is what’s important with Mikio but the pay-off for it wasn’t as grand as I had imagined for a series with a boxing set-piece.
Despite my gripes, I can still say I enjoyed Megalo Box for the plot set-pieces that thankfully balanced out the lackluster fights. Aragaki’s fight as well as the circumstances surrounding Joe’s fight with Burroughs was also great with Nanbu finally deciding to stick with Joe instead of complying to Fujimaki’s demands. Those two fights fight alone were pretty damn fantastic to make up for the others and it’s not like I didn’t appreciate Mikio’s fight either since Joe literally had no choice but to stall for time and gamble everything against ACE’s predictions. Objectively speaking, I don’t have that many problems with the fights but something other than just one-punch knockouts could have made the series all that more exciting. Joe’s extremely simple mindset and lack of any sort of development or introspection aside from one or two moments of crisis were at least helped out with Nanbu and Yuri’s parallels to him.
Couple that with some unique visual choices and some great music, Megalo Box isn’t exactly the anime of the year people thought it would be but I’d say it’s still an enjoyable ride for anyone who understands the excitement of fighting and competition and the really “shounen” spirit of fighting someone as good as you. It probably could have used one or two more episodes to help pace out the fights a bit more but in the end, I wasn’t too displeased with what I watched.