Megolo box and how to nail the basics

Megolo box is not the type of show that felt like it was out there to break any new ground. It went out to tell a pretty standard underdog story, but that would be selling the show short, because while the beats of the story might not be especially shocking, they more than make up for it by telling their basic story incredibly well.

I was hooked on this show, I’ve watched more anime in this past spring season than I’ve ever watched before, but Megolo box is the show that stuck out to me. The one that I looked forward to week to week, not for where the story went next, but which feast for the senses it would provide me with this week.

Made in commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ashita no Joe; a classic boxing manga from the 1960s, Megolo box follows the basic plot line in only the loosest of terms, becoming something much different than the manga the main character attributes his name to.

Taking place in a dusty, future setting in which society are split into the ultra rich, who live in bright modern cities and the poor who live in the desert wasteland in the outskirts. The character known as “Junkdog” starts life at the bottom of the barrel, working with Gansaku Nanbu; a conman and hustler, throwing fights for Fujimaki; a ruthless mob boss.

What makes Megolo boxing different are the fighters all wearing unique “gear”: a exoskeletal device that attaches to their back and arms. Junkdog is unfulfilled throwing matches and wants a real fight. His frustrations lead him to eventually have a chance meeting with Yuri, the Megolobox Champion. Yuri’s desire to fight a challenging opponent helps him see the fire in Junkdog and the two almost square off in a street fight. Eventually Yuri shows up at one of Junkdog’s underground fights, pummelling him in a single round.

Despite his defeat, Junkdog has his appetite whetted for real boxing and refuses to throw fights anymore, getting Nanbu into hot water with Fujimaki. Nanbu convincines the mob boss that Junkdog has what it takes to get into Megalonia; the final tournament for the world’s best fighters. The idea being that the money they bring in for qualifying would pay off any debt they have to him. So with nothing but a fake I.D. to their name, Nanbu takes Junkdog to compete in the city, now going under the name “Joe”.

The rest of the series chronicles Joe and Nanbu’s rise through the ranks, with Joe as the ultimate underdog in every fight. This might not sound too ambitious in scope when just reading the synopsis. And it’s not. Joe starts with nothing, but through raw talent, grit and pure stubbornness gains the success and admiration of his peers and he works his way up.

Here’s the part where I reveal the secret behind this series. Megolo box, this series is hardly about the fighting at all. While the early episodes have some impressively animated bouts, as the series progresses it actually shows less and less boxing, to the point where the final episodes skip a whole lot of it all together. This is all in favour of fleshing out the characters and the world they occupy, which turns out to be a great choice.

This show is a character study, and not just of Joe, but the people around him. As the series goes on, Nanbu, a character who initially seems like a sleazy criminal becomes more of a focus. His history as a boxing coach and the young talents he failed. At times, Nanbu feels like he could be the main character, but Megolo box gives a lot of its characters significant screen time and development, bar Joe himself.

Joe is almost a Shonen hero in that regard, while he changes very little as the series progresses, his passion and zeal to compete change those around him for the better, even Yuri. While the focus does remain on Joe and his rise through the ranks for the most part, it fleshes out every rival and every side character expertly.

By the time it comes to Joe fighting his next rival on his march to the top, we know more about them than we do about Joe. They’re never shown to be mere speed bumps on Joe’s inevitable rise to the top. They get screen time, backstories that show us exactly what they’re about and not just giving us their reason to win, but why they need to win.

It would be easy to place Joe up against a bunch of meat headed nobodies, but Megolobox takes entire episodes to give their motivations. And yet Joe miraculously wins, and it feels momentous each and every time. This is helped in no small part by the huge amounts of style this show has just seeping out of it.

Aside from the art design and visual style of the series, which are amazing, it has a fantastically diverse original soundtrack. One that runs the gamut from Latin, to rap, to smooth jazz and hard rock. Each track feels cohesive with the next, but also fits the scene, be it a dusty Mexican inspired outskirts town or the neon skyline of the city.

While there are a few twists and turns to the series, it inevitably ends up where you expect it to. The strange thing is that it could have ended an episode earlier for me. The fact that Joe makes it to the final, and is able to fight Yuri on equal terms with nothing else getting between them… It feels like that would have been a great place to stop, Joe did what he set out to do and both men finally got the fight that they desired so badly.

Ending the series just as they started fighting would have been poetic, as their fight would have gone on for eternity, no ending in sight. It felt like the emotional crescendo to the whole series. But then it did go on for one more episode, an episode that shows little actual boxing. It’s like I said, it was never really the focus of this story, rather it was one of the underdog crawling his way to the top.

Megolo Box is a fantastic show in all regards. Telling a very simple story to fantastic effect. It treats its cast incredibly well, humanising them much more than you’d think and making you care about characters that might not necessarily be the best people in the world. It looks great, it sounds great and I would recommend anyone watch this thing on Crunchyroll if you can. It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen all year.

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