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This Week in Anime
Rocking and Socking with MEGALOBOX
by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,
Since it's an anime-original production, nobody knew what to expect when Megalobox punched its way into the new season. This week, Nick and Steve pick their jaws off the floor to discuss this boxing series' strengths and future potential.
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for language.
Steve Nick, stop me if you've heard this one before: a down-on-his-luck boxer is living in the slums, fighting in rigged matches for money, but he dreams of fighting on his own terms and getting challenged by real opponents. This desire manifests in a rivalry/obsession with an elite boxer who's leagues ahead of him in popular respect and skill, but against all odds, he forms a mutual bond of brotherhood and bloodlust with our underdog hero.
Nick D No need to beat around the bush, Steve. Everyone else is just as excited as you are for Rocky VII: Rocky Fuckin Dies
Oh no, in this story they fight with robot arms grafted onto their bodies. Probably should have mentioned that part.
Seems like the theme of this season is What's Old Is New Again. We've got a new Cutie Honey anime. We've got a new Legend of the Galactic Heroes anime. We've got another god damn Gegege no Kitarō anime. And to top off this nostalgia trip, we have MEGALOBOX, the 50th anniversary project for arguably the most iconic sports anime ever made.
It's MEGALOBOX, which against all odds actually lives up to how incredible of a name MEGALOBOX is! And yes, it's also a spiritual sequel to the classic boxing anime Ashita no Joe, which admittedly I haven't seen. But MEGALOBOX really makes me want to.
I've read bits of the manga and seen key snippets of the classic anime, but other than seeing this bit homaged in Every Anime Ever, I'm also a relative newbie to Joe.
It's SUPER iconic, in no small part thanks to being helmed by legendary director Osamu Dezaki. So this follow-up had some gigantic boxing gloves to fill. And against all odds, it knocks it out of the park—erm, I mean the ring.
MEGALOBOX was far-and-away the most striking premiere for me this season. There were lots of other exciting shows, but nothing came out of the gate with so much confidence and energy. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the first episode of Garo -Vanishing Line-, where so much of the impact comes from perfectly capturing an aesthetic that just isn't done in modern anime anymore.
But where GARO was all about the ultraviolence of the early 90s OVA scene, MEGALOBOX is brimming with the dirty, scrappy energy of its predecessor, so that it feels both classic and oddly timeless.
As I alluded to in my very funny intro, the plot and setup for MEGALOBOX are pretty well-worn for good reason. They're classic stories about underdogs rising up against adversity and fighting their way to the top. But the brilliance of MEGALOBOX comes from its confident and stylish execution. Only two episodes have aired and it already feels iconic.
The setting is where it probably shines the brightest. Its vision of a dystopian future is one of the most engrossing interpretations of cyberpunk I've seen lately. We see some of the sleek and shine of the big city, but our story really begins in the muck and grime of the slums. Of course, the clearly communicated disparity between these two sides is integral to any good cyberpunk story.
Everything just feels real and lived-in, thanks to the incredible backgrounds.
I can't overstate how good the unspoken worldbuilding of the show is. So much is communicated just by the environment that you immediately understand the kind of society Joe lives in and how he feels about it with barely a word spoken.
Even the interstitial text feels like it's seamlessly integrated with the setting.
Though maybe the biggest factor in the show's style is its soundtrack. The use of music is some of the best I've seen in ages, crafting a fantastic soundscape that effortlessly transitions through each scene. My favorite sequence so far was episode 2's montage set to "Great Track #01".
Yeah! So far it's got a nice mix of synths and hip hop and rock that feels appropriate for the energy of the fights and the hard lives of the citizens (and non-citizens).
And speaking of the music, we gotta mention that kickass OP. It's got this sweet, bassy, constantly descending riff set against images of a junkyard dog snarling through the desert and eating trash. It rules so hard.
It's pretty fuckin rad, though for my money the scratchy guitar in the ED set over Neon Ed Hardy Tapout Logos is the most #aesthetic part of the whole production.
It's a gorgeous encapsulation of MEGALOBOX's style. It's brimming with loud and gaudy machismo, but it has the energy to keep from feeling like the brooding mess that the similarly retro Fist of the Blue Sky turned out to be.
In any other show, I'd be rolling my eyes at these lines.
here i am FIST PUMPING
It's all delivered with so much verve that I can't help but be charmed by it. I haven't been this hype to see two dudes beat the ever-loving hell out of each other since Fate/Apocrypha.
It also helps that, along with the backgrounds and music that we've already mentioned, the storyboarding, direction, and animation are all top-notch so far. Everything from the punches to the pillow shots looks big and cinematic. Even the static close-ups of characters' faces feel dynamic.
It's just an all around fantastic production, and I hope it can keep up this kind of magic going forward. These episodes have felt impressive in ways I'm just not used to seeing even in film, let alone TV anime.
It's an unholy amalgamation of talent, and realistically I know not to expect it to keep this exact quality up for the entire cour. But the foundation is so strong that I have full confidence in the creative team. Like, MEGALOBOX is hot-blooded and full of testosterone, which usually isn't what I go to anime for, but here it feels more in line with the classic action films that I love, rather than the aimless edginess that anime sometimes falls into.
Blood is spilled all over the place in MEGALOBOX, but it feels important and deliberate, or even artistic and beautiful at times.
There also seems to be a fair bit of thematic backbone to the series, or at least I'm hoping there will be from the bits of dialogue we've gotten in between all the punching.
From what I've gathered, a big part of the original Joe was confronting the arrogance of those at the top with the strength of those they've disregarded, and there's hints of that in these early episodes.
Yeah, there's already a clear visual contrast between our scarred and scrappy junkyard dog hero and the svelte Yuri, who looks as good in a turtleneck as he does in his cyborg getup.
Joe himself comes from nothing—no family, no real friends, not even a name until he makes one for himself—so fighting is all he has to express his identity, but even that's been commoditized for more powerful people. Meanwhile, Yuri seems to be in the opposite situation. He's the champion, the most recognizable and formidable person in the game, but his fighting is not his own either.
And I think that angle is what makes MEGALOBOX work for me. These two guys aren't fighting to prove who's the toughest or the most badass, they're fighting as a way to declare who they are and regain some ownership over how they live their lives. It's a really interesting idea that I hope the show digs into as we go on.
Joe's relationship with boxing is more existential than aspirational. It's what makes him feel alive, and I think the fact that Yuri felt that spark when they met means that he feels similarly. So the stakes are indeed much more than a title. How far will both of them go, both mentally and physically, to win? How much will Joe get the shit beaten out of him? Will Joe befriend a real junkyard dog? I don't know but I can't wait to find out!
Safe to say I'm excited to see where we go from here. Even this early on, MEGALOBOX feels like a real contender. And after Hajime no Ippo's protagonist literally retired because of CTE, I'm more than happy to see some bright-faced young men beat the daylights out of each other again.
There really is something timelessly appealing about two dudes overjoyed at the prospect of beating each other into an unrecognizable pulp. It must be something deep and primal in us that makes me eat this up.
So yeah, MEGALOBOX is a keeper for sure. Even if you're usually not into sports shows or macho violence-fests, I think there might be something here to draw you in.
So long as nobody in this show buys a damn robot for no reason.
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