Reviewby James Beckett,
Limited Edition Blu-ray
In a future riddled with crime, inequality, overpopulation, and corporate greed, the sport that everyone is talking about is Megaloboxing, which involves fighters squaring off with one another like traditional boxing, except in this case they are equipped with motorized exoskeletons known as “Gears”. Enter a nameless fighter who is known in the underground Megaloboxing circuit as JNK.DOG – he's a headstrong scrapper that's sick of throwing matches so his manager Nanbu can earn a quick buck. Junk Dog's life changes when he encounters the multi-millionaire Yukiko Shirato, an enigmatic woman who is throwing the biggest ever Megaloboxing tournament on her company's dime. Yukiko is joined by her equally mysterious partner, Yuri, a professional Megaloboxer with the kind of high-tech Gear that puts Junk Dog's rusty model to shame. Determined to fight his way out of anonymity, Junk Dog recruits Nanbu to help him sneak out of the slums and into the city, so he can defeat Yuri on his own turf. In order to do so, the scrapyard mutt is going to need a name, and there's only one that fits this classic tale of a fighter with nothing to lose and everything to prove: Joe.
You don't need to be familiar with the classic manga series Ashita no Joe (or, “Tomorrow's Joe”) in order to enjoy this 2017 series, even though it was made as an explicit tie-in to 50th anniversary of the original's debut. Even though Megalobox shares a number of character names, call-backs, and general themes with Ashita no Joe, it's out to do its own thing, which is clear from the opening frames of its first episode. What stands out most immediately is the intentionally retro look that director Yō Moriyama and TMS Entertainment have given the whole production. The combination of Megalobox's bold art-style and the special post-production effects applied to the animation's resolution has given the show a blurry sort of aesthetic that looks ripped right out of the standard-definition anime broadcasts of the early 2000s. In an interview that accompanies Viz Media's special box Blu-ray release of the show, Moriyama explains that this lack of sharpness possesses a certain beautiful quality that modern high-definition animation can't replicate. After having watched each of Megalobox's stupendously entertaining thirteen episodes, I find it hard to disagree.
For nearly every second of its runtime, Megalobox oozes a coolness that feels both effortless and precisely manufactured, the work of dozens of artists, musicians, and performers who knew exactly the kind of show they wanted to make. The grimy, bleak metropolis that serves as Megalobox's stage makes the show as much an homage to Blade Runner or the anime of Shinichiro Watanabe as it is a loving reworking of one of Japan's all time most beloved sports manga. Joe's journey from zero-to-hero isn't necessarily one that will surprise anyone whose read the original manga – heck, if you've ever even heard of a Rocky movie, then you're likely to see most of Megalobox's twists and turns coming well ahead of time.
Execution is everything, though, both in the sweet science of boxing and in anime, and Megalobox makes sure to sell each and every one of its clichés with a thousand times more passion and verve than a lot of other shows would have dared attempt. Some of the show's attempts at world-building feel a little unfulfilled by the end of the series, and Yukiko's character arc never quite lives up to the promise of the character herself, but those complaints are easy to lose track of once Joe is in the ring and fighting for his life. That's to say nothing of the soundtrack, which is astounding all on its own - the lush and atmospheric work done by manbua, along with the lively tracks from the several guest artists that pop in now and again, go a long way in elevating Megalobox towards legendary status. If you have any love for anime that tells a good story and looks damned fine as it does, then Megalobox is a must-watch. It's easily one of the best anime of 2018, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if it goes down as a modern-day classic.
I'm pleased to report that Viz Media has given Megalobox a deluxe Blu-Ray release that is worthy of a title-holding champion, too. The impressive packaging is gorgeous to look at, and it holds a very nifty booklet that contains interviews with the cast and crew, production artwork, song lyrics, and more. On the disc itself are nearly 90-minutes worth of extras, including behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the English cast. There's also a couple of partially animated audio-dramas that flesh out certain scenes and characters from the anime; they're by no means essential, but it's nice to have them all the same.
Speaking of the English dub, I really liked what Bang Zoom! Entertainment has put together. The whole production has that slightly cheesy and elevated feel that seems like it was crafted specifically to sound cool in Toonami advertisements. Kaiji Tang gives Joe just the rind amount of snarl to match his heroic tendencies; Lex Lang does an equally good job filling out the shoes of Joe's rival, Yuri. Erika Harlacher makes great work with what she's given as Yukiko – it's just a shame the character is given shorter shrift than her male counterparts. The closest thing I have to a complaint is in how Erica Mendez plays Sachio - the character sounds too old in English, to my ears, though Mendez makes sure to keep Sachio from feeling precocious or irritating, so maybe playing his age up a bit was a necessary sacrifice.
At the end of the day, I have to insist that you give Megalobox a shot if you have even a passing interest in things that are cool and rad. Megalobox is cool, and it is rad, and I want to be just like it when I grow up. Are you already a fan of the show? Then this box set is perfect for you.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A+
+ One of the coolest anime I've ever seen, amazing soundtrack, feature-stuffed box set is ideal for collectors
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