If you’re an anime fan with a New Year’s resolution to get in shape, boy do I have a series for you. 2018’s Megalobox, directed by Yo Moriyama, will give you all the inspiration and motivation of the Rocky films without making you think you need to drink raw eggs in the morning. It has the makings of a regular anime, but the artfully crafted and grounded story sinks its teeth into viewers like the scarred wolf from the opening credits. The narrative combined with an animation style that both makes you feeling like you’re attending a real boxing match and inside the ring, taking punches from the point of view of the character you’re watching.
Megalobox is a futuristic reimagining of the boxing manga series ”Ashita no Joe,” written by Asao Takamori and illustrated by Tetsuya Chiba, which ran in Japan’s Weekly Shonen Magazine from 1968 to 1973 and was very popular with college students and working-class readers. “Ashita no Joe” translates roughly to “Joe of Tomorrow” or “Tomorrow’s Joe,” so it’s fitting that the anime commemorating the manga’s 50th anniversary should bring the central character into the 21st century with the high-tech successor to boxing, Megaloboxing. The new sport brings computer-driven hydraulic enhancements, referred to simply as Gear, into the ring, giving fighters more power and spectators more entertainment as combatants slug it out in limitless rounds of action.
Season one of this (so far) two-part series introduces audiences to a nameless underground Megaloboxer who makes money throwing fights for the mob and is known only by his ring name: JNK Dog. After a chance encounter with the Megaloboxing champion, Yuri, JNK Dog falsifies his identity, giving himself the name Joe, in order to earn the chance to fight Yuri in the grand tournament, Megalonia. As an underground fighter, our protagonist must now make a name for himself with a gimmick and chooses to fight without Gear, giving him a reputation as Gearless Joe, making him an unforgettable legend while fighting his way to the top.
The following installment takes a much more melancholy tone, showing the effects that Megaloboxing stardom has taken on Joe’s life, as well as his body. Joe has left his home and his friends behind, back to underground fighting, using Gear, and going by the name Nomad so he will not be recognized. This season mentions several topics that could be seen as a little heavy for an anime series, such as xenophobia and brain damage from sports.
Although the first season of Megalobox follows a somewhat cookie-cutter plotline, the dialogue and animation of the overall series place it firmly ahead of similar anime series. With the shift in tone from season one to two, there is a concerted effort to take the series from “run-of-the-mill” to extraordinary. The smooth, stylized fight scenes made this one of the most enjoyable viewing experiences that I’ve had with an anime in a long time and I highly recommend it; only season one is currently streaming on Netflix, but both seasons are streaming on Hulu.
Kahlil Johnson traces his nerdy roots back to stumbling upon an episode of Dragon Ball Z one day after school in the fifth grade, and the rest was history. He was encouraged to write at an early age by his parents and learned from his artist uncle that you’re never too old for cartoons. Kahlil currently lives in Buffalo, NY with his loving fiancée and their two dogs, Lola and Phoebe.