by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 7 of
“Doesn't this seem a little too good to be true?” muses Joe a little way into “The Road to Death”. He's right to be trepidatious, and not just because this is the most ominous episode title we've gotten from MEGALOBOX yet. Following his rousing bout with Aragaki, Joe isn't just a scrappy underdog anymore; he's becoming a Megaloboxing phenomenon. His face is plastered on street corners like he's a counterculture icon; he's even got fangirls tattooing his (admittedly handsome) face on their legs, and there's at least one catchy hip-hop track devoted to him. This is as archetypal a sports narrative as there ever was, so a Junk Dog like Joe has to know that a fighter only reaches this level of fortune right before everything comes crashing down on him.
And crash everything does, though the signs were there from the beginning that our hero is finally suffering the consequences of playing such a dangerous game. The first thing we see of Joe this week is him pissing a horribly viscous stream of blood, and that image combined with the sight of his many bruises and bandages is more than enough to get the point across. Even if “Gearless” Joe makes it to Megalonia, there's no guarantee that he'll survive long enough to claim the victory he's been basically killing himself to reach.
Now, MEGALOBOX's conclusion may well be inevitable. The word “death” has been the fixture of every episode title so far, and the ellipses that mark the “Not dead yet…“ end card we see each week are beginning to feel more and more like they're emotionally preparing MEGALOBOX's audience for the worst-case scenario. The original Ashita no Joe's conclusion is absolutely iconic in anime, but something tells me that this iteration of Joe isn't going to have the same benefit of ambiguity. He's playing this game for keeps, and his only currency so far has been ripped flesh and broken bones.
Joe's dogged fight to the number one spot is made even more complicated by his involvement in the domestic squabble of Yukiko and Mikio Shirato. Mikio believes that Yukiko manipulated and cheated her way into owning the family company. We haven't seen much of Yukiko up until this point, but “The Road to Death” gives us some valuable insight into this enigmatic tycoon. Most surprisingly, despite her open antagonism towards Nanbu and Joe at the top of the episode, Yukiko's real conflict seems to be with her brother and her board of executives, who all look to be scheming her out of power. As far as drama goes, it's a bit sterile for my taste, but the Yukiko scenes do a good job of reaffirming her place in the story, while also putting Joe's place in the world of Megaloboxing into larger context. He may be the hero of his own underdog fighter story, but Joe is also a street rat moving up the ranks of a fickle and exclusive established culture. MEGALOBOX has gone to great lengths throughout its run to emphasize that all of Joe's success and good fortune is contingent on him stealing the right to be called a citizen in the first place, so one simple slip-up can undo everything he's worked for.
This is exactly what happens when Joe goes to fight Mikio Shirato after being called out on live television. Team Nowhere spend the entirety of the episode healing up and training hard, under the naïve belief that their efforts are sure to pay off, only for Mikio to smugly announce that if Joe tries to step into that ring, he will be exposed as a fraud. It's a predictable but necessary development, and the bleak final shot of the episode is a sobering blow, with Joe knocked out cold by Nanbu while Sachio collapses to the ground weeping. After the past few weeks have provided them with a series of thrilling victories, the story needed to take Joe down a peg or two, and this sudden wrench in the team's plans seems like the perfect opportunity for them to get creative.
This was a stage-setting episode of MEGALOBOX, so it doesn't quite pack the punch of previous weeks. The production remains as cool and confident as ever though, and even a story driven primarily by exposition and foreshadowing is made eminently watchable under the careful hands of this crew. The next time we see Joe and crew, they're going to be desperate to find their way back to victory, and if this show has proven anything, it's that a Junk Dog fights fiercest when he's all out of options.
Megalobox is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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