Move over, Rocky Balboa! Here comes a new challenger for Anime of The Year!
The following is a transcript of the video review version, which you may view here.
For the uninitiated, Megalo Box is a re-telling of the classic manga series “Ashita no Joe” (translated in English as Tomorrow’s Joe) by Ikki Kajiwara, with art by Tetsuya Chiba. The manga is of an aspiring young boxer who rises up from the slums of Tokyo to world champion, despite overwhelming odds. It was first published in 1968 and was popular enough to have an anime series that came out 2 years later, and has since found a place in Japanese pop culture to this day. Megalo Box is made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ashita no Joe manga. Fortunately for all of us, reading the original series is not a requirement as you can dive into Megalo Box’s narrative as is.
Megalo Box is set in a cyberpunk-like future of Japan, where the series’s title refers to a new kind of boxing where the participants wear “Gears”, mechanized outfits that enhance a boxer’s abilities. We then meet our hero, a nameless boxer given the nickname “Junk Dog” or “JD” for short. Living in the slums, he makes ends meet via participating in underground boxing where he intentionally throws the fights for money, despite his natural talent for the sport.
A chance encounter with the Megalo Box world champion Yuri leads to an unsanctioned match between the two. Yuri, who also possesses the most advanced Gear in the world, defeats JD. This only burns the fire in JD even hotter, as he is determined to face Yuri again – by participating in the Megalonia tournament. But this is the start of the many challenges JD has to face.
First off, only registered citizens are allowed to enter the tournament. And since JD was born and living in the slums all his life, there is no way to prove he is a legal citizen. A series of circumstances resulted in JD losing his Gear, with no means of acquiring a new one. JD also has only 3 months to make to the top rankings in order to be eligible for making it to the final four of the tournament.
So what’s JD gonna do? Well, he enters the tournament with a fake ID under the alias simply as “Joe”. He then enters the tournament WITHOUT a Gear, thus giving him the name “Gearless Joe”. And Joe must fight the highest ranked fighters allowed and win those fights to get to the final four, with very little time for rest and recovery. What this results to is one of the most insane underdog scenarios ever. And it’s a bloody good one, at that because you see Joe face these incredible odds and somehow, some way, he pulls it off. And you cannot help but cheer.
I hate to use Dragon Ball again as an analogy for this, but bear with me. Imagine if Goku never learned any of his powered- up forms (Kaioh-ken, Super Saiyan, Ultra Instinct) and has to face all his opponents who, in this scenario are tens, to hundreds, to even thousands of times stronger than him. And yet, without ever attempting to match power levels at all, Goku manages to pull the win notwithstanding. Wouldn’t you be jumping out of your seat and cheer for joy when that happens? Of course you do! And that’s how Megalo Box does it and does it so well!
Some people have also said Megalo Box is an “ode to Cowboy Bebop”, or the “Cowboy Bebop of the new generation”. I can see why. Megalo Box incorporates many elements that made Cowboy Bebop a beloved classic. But it also incorporates elements of other anime from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. You got animation design and movement that is detailed, fluid, and as far as I can tell, are mostly hand-drawn than with the use of software; a cast that are diverse in their personas that makes them likeable; cool backdrops of cyberpunk Japan; great use of hip-hop music that’s fitting of the show’s narrative (and this is coming from a guy who’s NOT a fan of hip-hop!); And one of the best writing I’ve seen this year that make Megalo Box a contender for Anime of The Year.
Although Megalo Box is one of the best underdog works out there now, the anime is by itself also an underdog from both the critic and fan perspective, because of the competition its facing. You’ve got My Hero Academia; Tokyo Ghoul Re:; Darling in The FranXX; Devilman Crybaby; Dragon Ball Super; Golden Kamuy; and just around the corner, we’re getting new seasons of One Punch Man, Attack on Titan, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, among many others. Will Megalo Box still be remembered and revered, and maybe still make it to the top by the time 2019 comes in? I honestly do not know. But if you haven’t seen Megalo Box yet, I HIGHLY recommend you check it out. I personally put it alongside Devilman Crybaby as contenders for Anime of The Year, and I assure you, you will place Megalo Box in the same regard after going through all 13 rounds.
Megalo Box gets my score of 10 out of 10.
Megalo Box is available in subtitle format on Crunchyroll.
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