Discussing the Socio-Politics of Megalobox 2: Nomad with Yo Moriyama, Katsuhiko Manabe, and Kensaku Kojimaby Lynzee Loveridge,
Megalobox 2: Nomad takes the story of Megalobox in a surprising new direction. Years after Joe and Yuri's fateful match, Joe has become a wanderer who fights in underground boxing matches. ANN reached out to director Yo Moriyama and screenwriters Katsuhiko Manabe and Kensaku Kojima to learn more about how this unexpected sequel came to be.
We're back in the world of Megalobox but a lot has changed since Joe's victory. Although Joe's fate was ambiguous in Ashita no Joe, it seemed like Megalobox's Joe escaped a possible death, yet he is still struggling. Can you talk about the creative decisions to take Joe in this new direction?
MORIYAMA: After the end of Megalobox, I was thinking of a proposal for my next work, but it wasn't proceeding quite like I was hoping. At the same time, the producer approached me about the possibility of creating a Megalobox sequel. In the previous work, the characters may have reached a full stop, but it's not as if their lives are over. If Joe's most sparkling moment was when he defeated Yuri and took the Megalobox crown, then what happens after? If we were to focus on themes that weren't depicted in the previous work, then there would be meaning in a sequel. That's how we began thinking of the story.
MANABE: Nobody had been thinking at all about making a continuation, not the scriptwriting team, the director, or the producer. We'd been proceeding with a proposal for a different original anime, but it wasn't going well. Around that time, there was talk about trying out a sequel for Megalobox because it was well-regarded overseas, so we turned in its direction once again.
However, we were starting from an empty state where everything had already been resolved, so what kind of story was it going to be? We came up with all sorts of ideas, but nothing gave us the certainty that we had a clincher. Whenever we finish our meetings, we always go drinking at an izakaya while we chat, but during those discussions the term “unforgiven” came up in reference to Joe. Director Moriyama used that as the base to prepare the plot of Nomad. From there, we constructed a story that hinges on Joe restarting his life after losing his home and family due to his own mistakes. Those miraculous three months when he climbed to the top of Megalobox were nothing more than a checkpoint in his life.
As long as you're alive, life goes on. That universal theme had a feedback effect on us the creators as well. We decided together to depict reality and society head-on, without turning our eyes from it. I think that thoughtfulness, as well as the ambiguity, is what gives the story of Nomad its feeling of realism and passion.
KOJIMA: At the end of Ashita no Joe, Joe was burnt out like white ash. The Joe of Megalobox didn't die in the ring, but after the bout with Yuri I think he was burnt out in a certain sense. What would make Joe get into the ring once more in that state? When making the continuation, the director, the producers, and the scriptwriting team talked a lot with each other. In those discussions, director Moriyama suggested the idea of Nanbu – a person who was like the sun to Team Nowhere – dying, and Joe wandering the underground as he shoulders his sins. After that glorious victory, something happened to Joe and he lost everything. We were all charmed very strongly by that idea. We had no idea where we were going, but we decided to kick off the story in that direction.
The immigrant experience in the series has resonated with many fans. When it came to Chief and his community, what was the process to ensure its authenticity? Were any references used?
MORIYAMA: Megalobox is set in a world of the near future, where characters of all kinds of nationalities appear. However, on the other side of this setting, the issues of race and immigration were always close at hand. We thought about weaving those elements into the sequel. When it comes to immigration issues, I'm no expert, but I took inspiration from the news and documentaries I'd seen until now to construct the story and create the images.
Personally, I'm influenced very strongly by films; for example, during the production I looked back on Ken Loach's works and Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. With their layered dialogue and depictions of the complicated relationships between the diverse folks living in the same place, I think that they influenced the thoughts and actions driving Chief and his compatriots, as well as the people trying to drive them away.
MANABE: There are plenty of foreigners in the town that I live in, and some of them are immigrants who had no choice but to distance themselves from their homeland. It's a shameful thing, but there are people who are biased and discriminatory towards those immigrants.
Looking back on history, many Japanese people crossed the seas to emigrate, not just to the United States but to Central and South America as well. Japanese-Brazillians and Japanese-Peruvians live across Japan today, making communities like a casa (home). They received baseless discrimination and inadequate social services. And yet many Japanese people, including myself, saw them only as laborers, and maintained an indifference towards them. It didn't matter if they'd lived in this country with us for over 20 years.
It may be difficult to stop the vicious cycle of fear born from ignorance, but I wanted to make a stand, however slight. That's the feeling I poured into the story. If the story resonates, then I consider my prayers granted. I may be a pessimist, but I don't want to drag down the ideals I've touted with reality.
KOJIMA: I live in the small city of Warabi in the Saitama Prefecture. It's a place where many immigrants live. Anti-foreigner groups have even come here to do hate speech. In particular, my area has the biggest population of Kurdish people in Japan; it even gets called “Warabistan.” The immigrants and their families came to Japan to flee persecution in their homeland, but for political reasons they're left hanging instead of being accepted as asylum seekers, and so they live in a state where their human rights are restricted. I happen to see them in my day-to-day life, which might have influenced the depiction of the immigrant experience in this story.
If I were to give an example of a work that I referenced, it would be the British film This is England. I drew on that when depicting the relationship between Mio and the local boys.
After Joe's victory, we see that he became a hero to some. As a man and a symbol, what does Joe represent to you in Megalobox?
MORIYAMA: I think the appeal of Joe as a character is his strength and brilliance, and how he made it as a person affiliated with no race. That's why he's a symbol of the hope that people can help each other out and live together. Depicting that was the theme of the previous work. Joe might be a man, but in that regard, gender doesn't matter. That's the feeling I poured into the characters of Megalobox.
MANABE: “When you're up against a great power, don't flatter it – resist it.” Joe, who existed without a name, reached the peak of Megalobox; to the downtrodden, he became a beacon of hope. Chief represents exactly that. However, Joe has lost his father figure Nanbu, and in his attempt to fulfill a father's role to Sachio and the other orphans, he hurt them deeply. This exposes his immature self, which was trapped by the curse of toxic masculinity.
To a person who has been raised in a society that values patriarchy and machismo, overcoming this illness is troublesome. Chief might have been the same at one point. However, even as he lost his family, Chief shows his mettle as a mature “good adult” in this story. By taking the baton from Chief, Joe is released from the curse.
Joe's charm is in his simple honesty and sincerity; he doesn't try to erase his own weakness and uncertainty by looking down on others. I think he's upright without having lost his kindness. Also, as I wrote at the start of my answer, he dislikes political power and authority. His strength is in continuing to resist without giving up. To me, he is a friend worthy of respect and a role model that I wish to emulate.
KOJIMA: I think that Joe embodies the power to believe – not in money, political power, or God – but in people. He became the champion as “Gearless Joe,” but his heart will always be “Gearless.” His unguarded sincerity and precariousness when he fights his opponents with his bare body is sure to pierce a viewer's heart, I think.
What do you consider the legacy of Ashita no Joe for anime and sports stories?
MORIYAMA: This is a difficult question for me to answer well, but… it's still a massively influential work in creative places.
MANABE: On the sports side, there's a pro boxer named Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, who became a superstar in Japan. He was a WBC Bantamweight champion. His father took the name “Joichiro” from the Ashita no Joe protagonist Joe Yabuki. He's also a favorite boxer of mine.
On the anime side, I don't think there are any creators who haven't been influenced by Ashita no Joe, and especially Ashita no Joe 2. It made a deep impression not just on a technical level, but by instilling a strong competitive will to not lose to the legendary original manga. It is an evergreen masterpiece that won't be defeated easily, and it still has the power to make hearts tremble.
KOJIMA: Ashita no Joe is a monumental story that juxtaposes strong romanticism with sentimental realism. I think that its spirit wasn't just limited to anime and sports, and that it hugely influenced Japanese culture as a whole. On the other hand, it portrays machismo and betting one's life on a fight without regard for the risk of death as a good thing. It's true that the “male-centric philosophy” may be difficult to accept with today's values. I think that it's the task of modern creators to figure out how to transcend those trappings.
Visually, Megalobox is distinctive in multiple ways. Can you discuss the decision behind its "grainy" appearance?
MORIYAMA: When we were creating the previous Megalobox anime, I was conscious of creating something that was close to the original concept of Ashita no Joe while also maintaining distance. For example, the setting is significantly different, but the theme of the story carries over. The “grainy” appearance is also a part of that; I thought that it would be neat to make a new anime look like a rebroadcast. A story with a simple structure needs impactful visuals, and for me the aged visuals reminiscent of a VHS are a big part of the charm.
Director Moriyama, you have quite a bit of experience with conceptual designs, what was your starting point/inspiration for visualizing the world of Nomad? Were there skills or ideas from your previous works that helped form the basis of Megalobox?
MORIYAMA: As far as my inspiration goes, in almost every case I'm deeply influenced by the things I've seen so far. I've received a lot in particular from films and music. During the production of Nomad in particular, I looked back a lot on American and Spanish Westerns. Also, for the camerawork and so on, I wanted to adopt the atmosphere of traditional filming techniques, so I looked back on a lot of 60s and 70s New Wave Cinema. I take a lot of ideas from live-action films.
The way I approach concept design differs depending on the project, but in Megalobox's case, meetings with the script-writing team were particularly important to me. Regardless of what was discussed in the conversation, I think that communication as a whole influences the work.
Mr. Manabe and Mr. Kojima previously worked together on the live-action Netflix series Midnight Diner. When did you first begin working together and how would you describe your working relationship and process?
MANABE: I started working with Kojima because of the Midnight Diner Netflix series. We met when he attended a lecture I was doing on scriptwriting at the writer's guild that I belong to. For the curriculum, you have to write a two-hour-long film; he told me that he wanted to write a story about the nuclear accident at Fukushima. I told him that it wasn't easy to write about a sensitive topic, but he said that if he didn't write it, he wouldn't be able to move forward. So he did his research and wrote the story. That made me think that he would become a reliable writer, and I introduced him to the Midnight Diner director Matsuoka. From there, he earned Matsuoka's trust and was added to the scriptwriting team.
We might have met as professor and pupil, but I found his ideas very stimulating, and I regard him as a splendid screenwriter in his own right, irrelevant of the hierarchy. He is a cinephile with an abounding knowledge of film, and I hold great respect for him as I work with him.
We go to each other's houses to think up the plot: the way we do it is 20% sharing ideas and 80% idle chatter. There are times when one of us will take the lead slightly, but by exchanging opinions without reservation during the plotting stage, we can remain on the same page. Of course, there are times when we don't quite align, but by listening to each other and not sparing any words, we can make a decision on whether the other person's intention is a plus for the work or not.
A script is the blueprint and sheet music. As the top runner in the creative process, it is of utmost importance for a screenwriter to think about the extent to which the script should assert its own presence. There are occasionally times when I get haughty, but Kojima is very gracious about it. I'm too scared to ask him about that directly, though.
KOJIMA: We met in 2012. Manabe was a professor at the scriptwriting school I was attending. After I graduated, he invited me to work on the Midnight Diner project. We've been working together ever since.
My work with Manabe always begins with a lot of talking. We talk about the films and dramas we saw, the books we read, things happening around us, the news happening in society, and so on – things that we're interested in. From there, the ideas start to flow, and the structure of the story gradually comes into view. It's not rare for us to forget about work and spend the entire day just chatting. On those days, we're both pierced with guilt. Anyway, that's the workflow we take as we show each other what we've written, exchange our frank opinions, and brush things up.
I have a bad habit of thinking in a theoretical and academic way, so Manabe's intuitive and pragmatic advice always helps me out.
Thanks to Kim Morrissy for translation.
Megalobox 2: Nomad is currently streaming on Funimation
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