Megalo Box is a Love Letter to Anime’s Past

Remember two years ago when Studio Wit released Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress? To this day, that show’s greatest strength was its artwork and how it called back to the anime of the 80’s in both character design, shading and even how the characters evolved. It was a beauty to behold and I’m happy to hear that the series is going to continue despite the first season’s lackluster narrative.

The few anime from the 80’s I have seen I have LOVED. Gunbuster is easily one of my favorite OVAs ever made and even the 80’s anime I have not seen speak volumes through the artwork I’ve stumbled upon. For this reason, I am delighted that TMS Entertainment has decided to further pay homage to the animation of yesteryear with Megalo Box.

[This first impression is based on the first five episodes of Megalo Box]

[Update 5/10/18: The title was changed as the influences of Megalo Box don’t necessarily stem from the 80’s specifically and decided to broaden my claim to something more accurate of the creator’s intentions, separate from my own interpretation… also someone thoroughly corrected me and I caved in :P]

In a distant future, a new sport is sweeping the nation called Megalo Box. Competitive boxing merged with exoskeleton technology called “gear.” The Shirato Corp. has announced a new Megalo Box tournament called Megalonia, open to all citizens, that promises to be the ultimate fighting tournament.

On the outskirts of the city, a young man by the nickname Junk Dog makes a living fighting in fixed boxing matches, helping his trainer and partner Nansaku Ganbu pay off a debt he owes. After a run-in with The Shirato corporation’s CEO and more specifically, her prized fighter Yuuri, Junk Dog wants to fight for real and face Yuuri in Megalonia.

2018 is the 50th anniversary of the classic boxing anime Ashita no Joe, and Megalo Box is very much a spiritual successor. Junk Dog, upon forging an ID so he can enter Megalonia even takes on the name Joe. Even without having watched Ashita no Joe, it is not hard to feel the passion the creators have for making a true successor to it. Apart from the obvious genre similarities and the name, the show shares character dynamics as well

Joe is a typical underdog and is as lovable as the best of them. He hates throwing matches and wants to be taken seriously as a fighter. More accurately, Joe wants to prove his worth as a person. Living as he is, he does not have citizenship and calls himself a stray dog. That’s where his rivalry with Yuuri comes in.

Yuuri is in a way a dog in his own right. He is a fighter for the Shirato corporation, a pet of its CEO, Yukiko Shirato. His strength and his fame make him the perfect target for Joe. Yuuri is a carefully constructed tool of the world he is barred from entering. To defeat him is to conquer the very symbol of what has kept Joe down. I look forward to their rematch and learning more about Yuuri.

This single coolest aspect of Joe’s journey and the one that puts his arc a step above others in this genre is how Joe fights. Starting at the bottom, Joe needs to prove himself, and fast, to work his way up the ladder. This means offering something that other boxers don’t. So amidst all the other boxers equipped with high-tech exosuits, Joe fights with none. One man’s natural strength versus the machinations of man. Joe isn’t just proving himself to be more than his class, he’s proving himself to be higher than those on top.

I’m excited to see the bond between Joe and his partners grow as well. Nanbu, Joe’s coach and partner in crime, initially seemed like the kind of character who would have been ditched early on as a small antagonist, holding Joe back from his true potential. On the contrary, the two have teamed up to conquer Megalonia, albeit for different motivations.

Nanbu owes money to some dangerous people and his survival depends on him and Joe getting into Megalonia to pay off the debt. His chemistry with Joe is fun to watch and they work well as a team. It will be exciting to see how their motivations clash and how they get closer. Same goes for Sachio, who’s youthful optimism, and surprising insight into technology makes him an invaluable resource. Alternatively, he is also the glue that holds Joe and Nanbu together at the worst of times.

The rest of the cast has my curiosity as well. I don’t think that Megalo Box will attempt to limit its supporting cast to standalone episodes, even though I am a huge fan of that format for sports anime. It is more likely that the supporting cast will have larger roles to play down the line, something the show has thus proven to be highly capable of doing well. Episode five’s introduction of one of Nanbu’s previous pupils looks to be a great character arc in its own right and a chance to show a more complex side to Nanbu.

All in all, Melago Box is an underdog tale that does not necessarily break the mold but excels in characters and setting very well. I am tempted to say it could be a classic in the making, but that might be speaking too soon. Megalo’s story is an interesting one carried by its immediately likable cast, but there is a lot that makes this show phenomenal purely from a technical aspect.

First off is the music, composed by Mabanua, an artist who has no prior credits in the anime industry to his name, which is baffling since the ost is so good. This soundtrack is a mix of hard rock and lo-fi hip-hop that immediately speaks to the Toonami kids in all of us. No doubt this soundtrack will be spoken of in the same breath as Bebob, Trigun and Samurai Champloo, among many others.)

Watching the opening makes me feel like I’m watching an obscure, early 2000’s anime from Production I.G. Shots of Joe riding the deserts on his motorcycle interlaced with the imagery of a feral wolf running along the same path, as the music relents with an airless desert swagger. The ending song by Emi Nakamura is equally catchy, but with a more upbeat rock song that gets you an emotional lift once the fists stop flying in the episode proper.

Mabanua is not the only artist who seems to have made their debut with this series, however. You, Moriyama, makes his directorial debut with this series and I’m always shocked and humbled when guys like this show up out of nowhere and steal the scene. Based on these first five episodes, I can safely say this guy is going places. Here’s hoping he keeps it strong until the end.

Remember when I said that Megalo Box could become an instant classic? What I meant was that in addition to its successes in characters and story, this show evokes a heavy nostalgia of the classics of the past. Megalo Box’s artwork is like looking into a time machine. The line art has an almost dirty look to it that seems to intentionally evoke the look and feel of older cell animation. Not only is the show a successor to Ashita no Joe, but it is a love letter to the anime of yore.

If you aren’t watching Megalo Box, you should be. It hooked me instantly with sheer style and got me to stay thanks to the likability of its characters. Perhaps what has won me over the most is simply the idea of a man facing off against man’s superior advancements in technology and succeeding anyway. This small subversion of expectation has been enough to keep me coming back each week, and I hope the same is true for you.

Megalo Box is available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll.

Hope you enjoyed my first impressions of Megalo Box. I’m trying to write more posts, more frequently, and I’ve got several drafts on the way. I’m working on my review of Violet Evergarden, a long overdue review of Your Name and the conclusion to my review of RWBY (I will finish that series, I swear). Thanks for reading and as always, I’ll see you next time.

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