2018 is a killer year for revivals of classic anime franchises. Devilman Crybaby in January and Cutie Honey Universe this season are at the forefront of everyone’s minds, but Megalo Box slipped in under many people’s radars. Unlike those series, it doesn’t take the name of it’s predecessor, Ashita no Joe, and is less of a remake as it is a futuristic re-imagining. That being said, with several excellent shows already vying for “anime of the year” (barely in the second season!), Megalo Box has shown that, just like its main scrappy main character, it will be a worthy contender by the end.
In a not-too-distant future, Megalo Boxing is the sport and entertainment of choice. Boxing matches, augmented with the strength-enhancing “Gear,” has allowed the Shirato Group, a megacorporation that controls the Megalonia premier tournament, a place in the upper class of society, with the current champion, Yuri, being on their payroll. For the lower classes, however, Megalo Boxing represents something else, a way to fight their way up into greatness, capturing whatever glory they can. It is this fight that our main character, Junk Dog, is reaching for, hoping to prove himself more than just another stray dog seeking out scraps from the owners of this artificial city, but he cannot register in the tournament, as he does not have registered citizenship, Alongside his coach, Nanbu, he makes ends meet by throwing matches, but secretly resents this arrangement; this comes to a head when he meets Yuri and the Shirato Group owner, Yukiko, and almost fights the champion right in the street. The episode ends with Yuri challenging Junk Dog in the latter’s home turf.
The second episode begins with this fight and, despite some brutal fighting on our hero’s part, Yuri wins the match. Becoming obsessed with fighting him again, Junk Dog refuses to throw the next match, causing issues with Fujimaki, the crimelord that paid him to begin with. In order to save their skins, Nanbu convinces Fujimaki to let Junk Dog register in Megalonia, with the promise to pay him back in the prize winnings. The episode ends with the crew forging a registration for the boxer, and when it comes to choosing an actual name for the record, he goes with a simple one: “Joe.”
The story itself isn’t much to write home about—it seems pretty standard for this genre, and all the sci-fi trappings are more set pieces than vital to the plot. Where Megalo Box does excel, however, is the presentation. From the beginning of the first episode to the end of the second, this anime oozes style. The cinematography is on point; whether in showcasing Joe’s reckless driving or the tension of the fights, it feels on the level of a movie production rather than a television one.
The art style is reminiscent of an older age of anime. Contrasting with the solid lines and soft colors of modern anime, Megalo Box prefers a rougher, sketch-like design, blending character designs from the original 60’s work with a something that would feel right at home in a mid-00’s Adult Swim run. The latter comparison is not coincidental—quoting the Sakugablog: “[Director You Moriyama] also intentionally downscaled the footage and then upscaled it back – hence why many people have gotten the feeling that it feels like [standard definition] material.” Rather than relying on new methods to create the illusion of vintage, they used a simple older “filter” to provide something that is completely missed by modern series. I was getting some serious Cowboy Bebop vibes the whole first episode.
That last sentiment is echoed in the music of the series. Just like Watanabe’s masterpiece, Megalo Box‘s soundtrack pops, and is absolutely crucial in enhancing the tone. Its creator, mabanua, previously did music arrangement for Kids on the Slope, making the Watanabe comparison even more apt. The main theme is brutal, invoking the main character and his tenacious attitude, while a few rap passages add to the atmosphere. The ED song, “Kakatte koi yo” by Emi Nakamura, is excellent as well.
Spring 2018 has already surprised me, with Golden Kamuy being a personal disappointment, and Megalo Box coming out of nowhere, giving me a thirst for sports anime, of all things. The series is an absolute treat—the visuals capture a gritty style not often seen in modern anime, and the music causes the series to punch higher than its weight class. From beginning to end, you’ll be captured by its style and find yourself rooting for Joe, even if you can see where the story is predictably going.
Megalo Box is simulcast on Crunchyroll on Thursdays.