Merry Days of Anime 2020: Megalo Box

Many words were written about anime this season. A lot more than written over the course of the year, as my interest in the anime medium has slowly dwindled. Whether that says more about me as a person or the medium itself is debatable, but one thing’s for sure: I’m not much of an anime man anymore. More of a recommendation dispenser. I’ve seen so many that I’m able to take a quick browse through my list and give about three or four recommendations per genre. Like an old sage with a Word document. Where am I going with this?

I’m beaten down and worn. I’ve seen so many anime that my eyes feel like they were ensnared by sandpaper. And while I’m being far more dramatic than it really is, I did feel that same sense of mental exhaustion as the characters in this series—broken and bloodied after each subsequent fight. In that way, I, too, am a boxer. Except with anime. And watching it. And writing about it. Same thing. Let’s talk about it now.

There was a time around the time of its airing where I heard a lot of good things about this, and I did intend to watch it while it was airing (I think). But I didn’t, because that’s how life goes. Boxing is also something that’s always interested me; maybe because I’m American and it’s ingrained in our culture? Probably. Thus, my interest in Megalo Box bore fruit, and I decided to make it my last anime for the 2020 Merry Days of Anime on a total whim. And in the end, I went out with a…

Shrug.

Even Joe looks bored.

There are quite a few things about this series that I don’t really see eye-to-eye with. The writing, the tone, the characters, the progression; all sorts of things I wish it had executed better. This is ripe for another 1000+ word write-up, but I’ll just stick to the base details and montage any “unimportant” info, kind of like the series did. (Edit: I went over 1,000 words anyway—d’oh!) Iconic as the sports montage may be for film, it feels almost arrogant to skip around in the timeline for a full 13-episode series. I suppose the ambition was simply too grand.

After all, this is kind of a re-telling of the Ashita no Joe story, a 1968 manga with 171 chapters / 1970 anime series spanning 79 episodes. Not exact in its nature, but gets the core sequence down to an underdog named Joe fighting his way to the top, with a modern spin. Boxers in this series have “gear,” which amplify their speed and power through mechanical doohickeys and what-not. Kind of like Jax from Mortal Kombat, except removable (usually). They don’t particularly serve much purpose in the series, nor do they seem to amplify them all that much; that is, if some scrawny dude who doesn’t know when to quit and doesn’t wear any gear can continuously beat them. Forget about being realistic, Megalo Box is a full-blown fairy tale.

Ah yes, the infamous “untitled war.”

Among the few things I will address, the previous point is one of them. It’s not all that realistic, even when 85% of the events that occur appeal to real-life circumstances. Class disparity, being owned by underground mobsters, following your dreams, the effects of war and PTSD, loss of family, the brutality of huge corporations; all that jazz. Lots of different angles one could take here, and among those I’ve listed, the series only delves into part of these themes—mostly for plot-related reasons. This might be the biggest missed opportunity for the series, as while these things are obviously bad/traumatic and are treated so, it doesn’t really do anything with them. “Hey, this guy almost killed himself because almost dying from an explosive while at war haunts him… now he’s fine after he got beat up by some dude. Fabuloso!” It throws all of these different things for the viewer to chew on, but never strays too far away from base “underdog fights his way to the top” storyline. If you’re not gonna do anything with them, why bother?

In this sense, a lot of the story to Megalo Box felt either underwhelming or anticlimactic. With the semi-frequent recurrence of montages, skipping ahead, or focusing on some plot fluctuations that ultimately don’t pay off, many episodes simply tread a straight line. It certainly tries, and there are times when I was very immersed in things. By the end though, I couldn’t be more ready to just get it over with. Between the superficial themes of “dogs” and “death” and “honor” or whatever else, and the constant spinning of attention, it got to be pretty easy to disconnect. It may have helped if any character was interesting at all.

He wanted to be the very best, like no one ever was.

Don’t get me wrong, though: I like the overall look of this anime. I like the “gear” stuff. I like the subtle hints of a rotten, corporate-owned dystopia in conjunction with a desert-like area of poverty. I like that the main characters are, GASP, slightly darker in skin tone!!! Topping it all off with a hip-hop/rap style soundtrack and a “cool” array of aloof, confident characters did a lot to make this appealing from the outset. Like mixing Ashita no Joe with Samurai Champloo. The style and aura it exudes is really distinct and great… I just wish they did something with it.

In all, pretty bare-boned and moderately cliché as a narrative, somewhat surface value with its themes and presentation, and the characters… yeah, whatever, they fill their roles. I will give some props to the relationship between Joe and Yuri, as that remained consistently entertaining until the end—which, like much else, felt kind of underwhelming. Probably the best portion of the series came in the middle, upon the reveal of Aragaki, whom received ample backstory, build-up to the fight, and resolved themselves… er… decently. It fluctuates pretty wildly, much like my interest in this series. Once all was said and done, it’s okay. Not bad, per se, though definitely far below the potential it could have if allowed more time to progress things. I guess that’s what the original Ashita no Joe is for, eh?

Thank you to everyone who joined me this year for this impromptu event! I hope everyone has a solid end-of-2020 mindset to go into 2021 with some good energy!

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

For more anime reviews, check out the associated archive.

Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

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