Fifty years. Half a century. A significant period of time in any person’s life. This magical number is showing up more than once this year in anime. First there’s the Go Nagai Anniversary Project, celebrating his fiftieth year of being a creator as new iterations of his classics, like Devilman Crybaby and Cutie Honey Universe, air for new and old fans alike. Now the number fifty falls on another storied franchise, Ashita no Joe, and its young protege Megalo Box.
Gracing the pages of Weekly Shonen Magazine, Ahshita no Joe entered print in 1968, and premiered as an anime two years later. The series still carries the weight of its influence on anime and manga; protagonist Joe Yabuki is instantly recognizable to Japanese fans. Its impact is so long reaching that the iconic scene of Joe slumped in his corner of the ring, awash in blue light with a serene smile upon his face, is reproduced in the medium to this day—famously so in Kamina’s death in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
With the weight of a storied history upon its shoulders, Megalo Box looks to become a worthy successor to the name Joe. Following in its predecessor footsteps, Megalo Box tells the story of the down trodden—now however, it takes place in a cyber-punk-inspired future where instead of boxing with your fists, you fight with mechanized enhancements. The plot follows Junk Dog, who later renames himself Joe, a young up-and-coming megalo boxer who unfortunately is a non-citizen living in the slums, fighting under the management of a match-fixing drunkard named Mr. Nanbu. With the announcement of Megalonia, the biggest and most prestigious megalo boxing tournament ever to be held, Joe, now sick and tired of having to throw matches to pay off Nanbu’s debt, refuses to back down and fights for a spot in this grand tournament.
While many sports anime choose to take a more lighthearted approach to their core set of values—friendship, teamwork, and determination—Megalo Box finds itself in a grittier reality. Joe wants to be the best in the world of megalo boxing, but as a new upstart with no cash, he works with what he has. Building bonds with a revitalized Mr. Nanbu and Sachio, a troubled street urchin he saved to become his mechanic/support staff, the rag tag crew must overcome their differences to make it to the top. Though respect is found between all three of them, one of the driving factors in their team is to avoid returning to the poverty out of which they are trying to rise. While shows like Free! find their motivation in the rebuilding of broken friendships while also striving for excellence, Megalo Box is set in a more dire situation. In their all-or-nothing attempt to rise to the top, Nanbu goes to a creditor and begs for one last chance to repay his debts by taking Joe all the way to the championships. Not the pure motivations found in most sports anime, to say the least.
Now for probably the most controversial part of Megalo Box: its visual design. While it does an amazing job with setting, character art, and mechanical design, you may notice that things look a bit blurry. The show’s director, Yoh Moriyama, made an intentional design decision to add this effect in order to recreate the look of older anime, reminiscent of when animation was done with cels. To achieve this, the show’s footage is first downscaled and then upscaled. Whether this effect achieves what it set out to do is still up for debate in the community, but what isn’t is the rest of its visuals. From the impact of an explosive, mechanically-enhanced left hook, to the frozen moments of tension before a ferocious series of blows is exchanged, Megalo Box triumphs in bringing the agility and violence of boxing to the world of animation.
Image Source: TMS Entertainment