The hits keep on coming in MEGALOBOX, but the road to dusty death is paved with some fascinating foes. This week, Nick and Steve examine the many multi-faceted fighters Joe has faced so far.
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Hey Nick, I need a second opinion. So, there's this boxing tournament I want to enter, except all of the boxers have their arms and punches enhanced by a robot exoskeleton. Now, my idea is to enter this tournament, but WITHOUT a robot exoskeleton, so that if one person punches me even one time, I'll most certainly die. Is this a good idea?
Oh yeah, you'll be fine. What do robots know about punching anyway? At least I don't think you'll be in any mortal danger.
Even though we're nine episodes in, I am so worried for my boy Joe every time he enters the ring.
Joe will be fine! Look how much fun he's having!
You know they say the best part of going out for sports is all the new friends you make.
I mean, the messed up part is that he IS having fun, and that also worries me! But I love how endearingly bratty he is, even when his life is quite literally on the ropes.
But yes, a whole lot's gone down since we last discussed
MEGALOBOX, the charming comedy about a down-on-their-luck found family working together to get one of them pummeled half to death on a bi-weekly basis. Ever since getting his fake ID and entering the world of professional Megaloboxing, Joe has doubled down on just going fist-to-fist with nothing but his own squishy body.
As a literally no-name boxer from the slums, the "Gearless Joe" gimmick was his only way of making enough of a name for himself to reach the final round of Megalonia. But it also fits not only Joe's image as a scrappy junkyard dog, but later his status as a kind of folk hero among the poor and downtrodden—Joe, perpetually the underdog, is still triumphing over any Megaloboxer who challenges him.
Also, gearlessness gives us a better view of his tight body, which is good.
It's definitely a smart move narratively. What better way to make sure every fight is a challenge than to put our hero at an immediate disadvantage every time? And it's honestly pretty ballsy to just drop half your premise three episodes in. Respect.
Yeah! And each boxing match has been structured smartly as well. The challenges inside and outside the ring intertwine, and Joe and his team have grown after each one. The first match was the most basic, since it was just about Joe proving that he could get away with the whole gearless thing in the first place. But it was also about the ever-cocksure Joe learning how to accept his own fear, along with the guidance and friendship of Nanbu and Sachio. The show is heavy on classic tropes and cliches, but those are just a convenient shorthand that lets it hone in on important character moments and knock them out of the park.
It's a really strong setup, but I appreciate how Megalobox decided to take the next match. Save for Yuri, Joe's opponents were just nameless dudes for him to punch or be punched by, but then enters a ghost from Nanbu's past to suddenly give us a whole new host of emotions to juggle while the punches fly.
Aragaki's arc blew away even my high expectations for the show. Like, I knew I was in for bloody, brutal, and thrilling boxing times, but Aragaki's story gave us a somber and unflinching look at how PTSD and other veterans' issues shaped this boxer into a sympathetic but ruthless adversary.
It totally blindsided me. Boxing stories and sports fiction in general love comeback stories and overcoming adversity, but I'm hard-pressed to think of another one that tackled post-war trauma or a wounded veteran trying to reclaim their old life.
And in any of those stories, Aragaki would be the protagonist! Even within the context of Megalobox, he seems to have the nobler reason for boxing, both helping his fellow veterans and closing an important but painful chapter of his life with Nanbu. Joe just really wants to punch Yuri again.
Of course, it's not that black-and-white, and in the ring both Joe and Aragaki recognize in each other the eternally burning desire to improve and win.
It's smart writing, letting both fighters spill out their desire (and blood) onto the mat and fight for all they're worth. But what I love most is how it resolves. It could easily have just been Joe winning to show Aragaki that he's stronger, but instead we get an anticlimax. Aragaki's injuries catch up with him and he forfeits before the fight can wreck him any further. And in the aftermath, he's left to try and find some kind of closure in all this.
It's not an easy or clean ending to his struggle, and it exemplifies Megalobox's best instincts for taking familiar dynamics and imbuing them with more thought than expected.
Yeah, Aragaki wasn't some single-minded villain out for revenge. He wanted to find some closure on his history with Nanbu, and he didn't need to win the fight to do that.
Speaking of which, one of the most surprising things about Megalobox is how much Nanbu has turned into a compelling character in his own right. He spends most of the first two episodes as a bumbling, adversarial coach who only seems to get in Joe's way. But over the course of the season, we've gotten to see new depths to him, and on multiple occasions he's been the anchor keeping Joe on his feet.
Nanbu wins Most Improved hands down. He's still a flaky pessimist, but the show has gone to great lengths both to show us why he's like that and that he can still stand his ground in a pinch.
also he's a pretty good dad when he wants to be
even if sometimes it's tough love
A family can be a dad, a son, and a smaller son all dedicated to helping the first son getting slugged in the face for money.
Sachio hasn't been as fully developed yet, but he's a cute and earnest presence that adds more color to what could easily be an oppressively grim story.
He's another pretty prototypical character - cheeky street rat who looks up to Joe and helps support him with his street smarts. But I do like how he helps anchor these two self-destructive dudes and gives them perspective.
And hey, when everyone else is a grizzled adult, somebody has to make the hotblooded shonen sports declarations.
And now that Joe has finally beaten the half-man, half-computer menace that was Mikio Shirato, he's finally in Megalonia.
Speaking of this asshole...
Totally not an '80s action movie villain, no sir.
I'm really happy with how MEGALOBOX ended up tackling his match with Joe. The setup was pretty typical going in - "Gearless" everyman Joe vs Technology-Obsessed Rich Asshole Mikio in a grudge match, after Mikio exploited his connections and power to rig a fight against Joe. And going into that, I expected a pretty typical John Henry-style narrative about the Human Spirit defeating technology because that's what makes us human etc.
But instead, the reason Joe wins is because Mikio's technology was ultimately just an extension of himself, flaws and all.
I was pleased with that too! It was a much more nuanced and interesting way to conclude the fight than I expected at first. And outside the fight, I was also impressed by how quickly the show made me care about the familial infighting at the Shirato corporation. It's all painted with familiar tropes, but it still does a good job of laying out Mikio and Yukiko's relationship and contrasting points of view. Mikio leaves the stage not as a villain, but as yet another complex character tied up in the world of Megaloboxing.
Plus I'm impressed that he was able to fight Joe at all, because I would have needed weeks to recover from the stone-cold stunner Yukiko threw at him on live TV.
I'm still not sure what to make of Yukiko, but that was definitely a highlight. Only family can tell you to sit down and shut up that directly.
I imagine we'll learn more about her deal as we move into this final arc. As with Yuri, who once again looks up at Joe in the ring after all this time.
I cannot wait to see these two dudes slug it out. There's still technically one match separating them, but all I care about is seeing where the show will go with Yuri's constant jabs about being "genuine" after it's handled Joe's other fights so well.
Yeah, and we've also gotten all these little moments teasing at Yuri's animalistic kinship with Joe. They are ready to pounce at each other's throats, and I can hardly wait for the beautiful bloodbath that's going to ensue.
I just hope that, no matter who wins, they're both able to punch Anime Vince McMahon in the face.