by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 13 of
When MEGALOBOX's final episode begins, we're treated to the sight of Nanbu, blinded but incredibly jovial, practicing his dance steps and urging Sachio to get in on learning the routine. It's an unexpected but appropriate way to begin the scene, and not just because of the allusion to Joe and Yuri's fight being like an expertly performed dance performed by two masters. Team Nowhere has every reason to be on top of the world right now, because this is the Megalonia Championship match, the standoff against Yuri that Joe has wagered his entire life on. There's an idea that goes unspoken throughout this episode yet can nevertheless be powerfully felt in every landed punch, every swift dodge, every ferocious roar from the two men who have finally met someone worthy of each other's' ferocity. It doesn't really matter if Joe wins this fight. What matters is that he made it here at all.
"Born to Die" makes sure to send the series off on a high note with its best fight yet, devoting almost the entire episode to the raw, bloody intensity of a proud junk dog and a newly energized wolf tearing each other apart for 13 rounds. Like all of its other best fights, MEGALOBOX's climactic bout is a testament to how good direction and cinematography can enhance an otherwise limited scope of animation. The punches that Yuri and Joe throw are quick, nasty, and efficient, with each boxer reserving their flashiest uppercuts and dodges for moments of desperation. Though the removal of his gear has left Yuri badly winded, he still manages to assault Joe with a barrage of merciless jabs and straights, meaning that Joe has to take his signature style of defensive boxing to the next level. It's exhilarating stuff, especially because this fight feels more evenly matched than any other; Joe's been in dire straights before, but it was often just as much about his emotional struggles as well as his physical ones. Fighting Yuri, Joe has never been steadier or closer to his ideal self, and it still takes every ounce of strength he has to withstand Yuri's onslaught, much less fight back hard enough to win the championship title.
Elsewhere, Yukiko pitches her company's gear to the military's top brass, and this side-plot is the only weak link in what I would otherwise describe as a near perfect finale. It's nice to see more details regarding the Shirato company's motivations, along with Yukiko's own work on Yuri's Gear, but it feels odd to punctuate such an emotional battle with Yukiko's more coldly executed story. Yukiko does have one compelling beat where she sheds a tear upon hearing the results of the fight, but it isn't quite enough. Of all the character arcs in MEGALOBOX, Yukiko's is the only one that feels unfinished by the episode's end; much later, we even see her announce a second Megalonia tournament, which could possibly be setting up for a sequel season, though it still means that Yukiko's story ends on a less satisfying note than all the others.
With regards to everyone else, this finale simply sings, managing to sprinkle in resonant character moments between all the punches. At one point, Yuri drops his last water bottle and Sachio comes and offers one of Joe's, recognizing that Yuri is fighting alone after having cast off his ties to Shirato Corp. This isn't just a sweet gesture of sportsmanship and comradery, it's also a great way to punctuate Sachio's own development, knowing that he would gain so much respect for a man who had represented everything he hated about the company that cost him his family. Late into the fight, we also get this stupendous shot of Nanbu weeping from his blinded eyes, knowing that Joe has given everything to fight the greatest bout of his life.
As the match goes on past its dozenth round, it takes on a more dreamlike quality, as Joe and Yuri both reach the limits of their endurance. In an almost meditative beat, both of them realize that they have found in each other the perfect opponent, and the two rush at each other for one final knockout blow. In a surprise move, we don't get to see the end of the fight. Given the show's penchant for blunt foreshadowing and the ending of the original Ashita no Joe, the show plays with expectations even more by refusing to reveal who gets carted away on a stretcher or who even won the championship.
Instead, we flash-forward to the following year, where MEGALOBOX provides its final surprise: a happy ending. Nanbu has opened up a new Team Nowhere Gym, and he's about to mentor all the orphans Joe has inspired to start Megaloboxing. Yuri has joined the team as well, and though the intensity of his fight with Joe has left him in a wheelchair, he seems content. Others show up to celebrate the gym's anniversary too, including Mr. Miyagi and Aragaki, which gives a real sense of community to the people who Joe inspired on his journey to the top. Some might not be satisfied with such an overtly happy ending, but I think it fits this show's trajectory well.
After all, this was a story about underdogs who lived on to defy expectations. Nowhere is this clearer than with Joe, who not only survived his match with Yuri, but a post-credits title card even reveals that he won the fight as Gearless Joe with a perfect 7-0 win record. None of that seems to matter much to Joe these days though, as he goes about helping Nanbu run their gym. As he explains to the old man we first met at the beginning of the series, his time pursuing Megalonia was never about winning a title. He just wanted to live up to the best possible version of himself and become the kind of man that others could believe in. At first, that meant fighting his way to the top, but now that he's accomplished that, he can live a new life for himself.
That's why, despite the credits montage that runs later, I think the final scene of Joe practicing his steps on the cliffside is the perfect way to end this incredible series. The original Joe fought until he had nothing left to give, and while the melancholy, ambiguous end of the original Ashita no Joe may have been the perfect finale for that story, MEGALOBOX is a different kind of animal. This series has given us a Joe whose fierce drive to survive and overwhelming need to prove the value of his own existence has earned him some time to simply live his life in peace. This time, Joe doesn't die. He dances.
Megalobox is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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