Review for Megalobox - Collector's Edition
One of the most enduring and oft used visual tropes in anime is that of the defeated boxer. After losing the fight, the screen will focus on the loser, slumped on a stool in his corner, shoulders hunched, all the colour drained until the still image is little more than a pencil sketch, the echo of a bell ringing in the background. In anime it’s become shorthand for a devastating defeat, one I first recognised in The Adventures of Mini-Goddess (although I had seen it before in shows like AD Police), and I’ve spotted it in a couple dozen other anime since. The image itself is iconic of the best known boxing manga and anime, Ashita no Joe, the tale of an orphan boy with a talent for fighting who makes it big as a boxer. The manga dates from 1968, the subsequent anime was made in 1970, years before Stallone hit it big with Rocky. For Ashita no Joe’s 50th anniversary, the studio made Megalobox, taking the noble art of fisticuffs into a dystopian future. This 2018 series was released in the US by Viz Entertainment, and subsequently All The Anime released it here in the UK. It was popular enough to justify a sequel, Megalobox: Nomad, but this second season, like everything else is owned by Crunchyroll. Don’t hold your breath.
Junk Dog is an underground Megaloboxer, who with his coach Gansaku Nanbu make their money by strategically throwing fights to maximise their sponsor’s betting receipts. It’s the future, where the ultimate in pugilism is Megaloboxing, where fighters throw punches augmented in force by powered exoskeletons on their arms and shoulders.
A chance encounter with Yukiko Shirato, and the Megalabox champion Yuri changes Junk Dog’s outlook. Now he wants to enter the Megalonia tournament to fight Yuri for real. But only citizens can enter Megalonia, and an underground street fighter is no citizen. A bit of hackery and fakery later, and Junk Dog is reborn as Gearless Joe, but he’s only got three months to make his name, and get good enough to face Yuri in the Megalonia final.
13 episodes of Megalobox are presented across two Blu-rays from All the Anime. The Collector’s Edition comes with a third disc, a DVD with a couple of bonus audio dramas.
1. Buy or Die?
2. The Man Only Dies Once
3. Gear is Dead
4. Let’s Dance With Death
5. The Man From Death
6. Until the Last Dog Dies
7. The Road to Death
8. Deadline of the Dream
9. A Dead Flower Shall Never Bloom
10. The Die is Cast
11. A Deadmarch
12. Leap Over the Edge of Death
13. Born to Die
Megalobox gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer and it feels pretty retro. Certainly when you’re inspired by a 50 year old show, then the art style and character designs aren’t necessarily going to conform to the current fashions in anime, but the level of detail and impact of the backgrounds does impress, and the characters do fit into that well. Now having said all that, the image, odd as it is to say in a 2018 show, looks and feels like an SD up-scale. The rough and ready feel is reminiscent of the original Trigun in some ways, but the absence of well defined edges in the line-art does make the show feel older than it actually is. The thing is that it’s impossible to tell if it is a creative choice, or actually a problem in the transfer. The animation is good enough for the story though, and while rare, the flourishes are all in the right places when it comes to selling the action.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional English subtitles and a signs only track. The audio is fine, a nice stereo effect bringing across the action and music well enough, important in a show about boxing. The dialogue is clear, and the subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos. I really do like the theme songs to the show, and the actors (I watched the Japanese version) are well suited to their characters.
You get three discs in a BD Amaray style case, one on one inner panel, two overlapping opposite. The sleeve is reversible, and the case fits in a rigid slipcase, along with a foldout poster, and a 120 page booklet, replete with episode synopses, info about the characters, and the world, plenty of interviews with the crew, supplements and more. There is also room for the blurb-sheet you’ll find in the cellophane at the back of the box. The discs boot to static menus.
The video extras are on disc 2.
There are three Interviews...
Production Team (28:59)
You get the textless credits, and Madman trailers for Made in Abyss S1, Granblue Fantasy, Tales of Zestiria the X, and Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions.
Disc 3 is a DVD, which contains the two audio dramas. These are presented as image slideshows, with the Japanese dialogue subtitled in English (hence the DVD, in Japan they would have been released on CD). They are 8:17 and 7:08 in length respectively, hardly using any DVD real estate, and brief enough to fit onto the Blu-ray if anyone had been of a mind to do so.
Back when MyReviewer used to send out random review discs for us reviewers to attack, I got the boxing drama The Midnight Sting to review. That’s the only boxing story that I have in my collection to my knowledge. I don’t even like the Rocky movies! Megalobox was one of those anime that I buy primarily to fill a genre gap on my shelves (I kind of want one of every genre), rather than a show that I desperately wanted to watch. Now that I’ve seen Megalobox, I’m lukewarm on it. It tells its story well enough, the characters are interesting, and it has a good pace to it. It still isn’t exactly my cup of tea though.
Megalobox does wear its heritage on its sleeve, as a 50th anniversary project based on Ashita no Joe. Ostensibly a remake, its art style definitely speaks of a bygone age, even if the animation is up to modern standards. More of a problem is the writing style, which might have been compelling back in the seventies, but seems archaic and simplistic now. Still, having an anime that avoids the modern anime tropes is a plus. Personally I’d have taken the tropes if it meant a little more depth to the characters, and layering to the story.
The action shifts to an unspecified future, although pretty much the only futuristic development is the ‘Gear’ that boxers use. It’s a cybernetic exoskeleton that boxers wear on their torsos to give them more power to their punches. That lies at the heart of the sport of Megaloboxing. Junk Dog fights in the underground, and with the help of his trainer Nanbu, rigs fights to make their sponsor money on bets. He’s become skilled in taking dives, but naturally that rubs the boxer the wrong way.
At the other end of the sport is the Megalonia tournament, where the best boxers in the world compete. An encounter with the sponsor of the tournament, Yukiko Shirato, and her champion Yuri (no conflict of interests at all here), convinces Junk Dog that he can fight for real. But only citizens can take part. One fake ID later, Gearless Joe is born (when his old Gear breaks down and they can’t afford a replacement). He’s fighting old-school style, just pure fists and power and at first it even helps him make his name in the tournament.
Along the way, Joe and Nanbu encounter a street-kid named Sachio, who knows more than you’d expect a kid to know about Gears, and it isn’t long before Sachio is helping them, a constant presence is Joe’s corner during his fights. The story follows Joe as he escapes from his underground life, and fights his way through the rankings to enter the tournament, and set up a fight against Yuri. There are plenty of interesting opponents he has to face, many with compelling back stories of their own. And of course, Joe and Nanbu’s past comes back to haunt them, when their sponsor shows up, demanding that they throw another fight, this time in the tournament.
The story unfolds in an entertaining way, but at the last hurdle, the creators/writers exhibit the same kind of reluctance/cowardice that I have seen in a few other shows. They’ve written a story, created characters that they apparently feel that they just can’t do justice to. We see the start of the final fight, but we don’t see how it ends. Instead, the action leaps forward a year, to catch up with the characters in the aftermath of the tournament, and we learn who wins that final fight, almost as an afterthought. The story also reveals Sachio’s tragic past, which is intertwined with the Shirato Corporation which Yukiko leads, and Yuri fights for. But the story skimps on the resolution of that plot arc, which is unsatisfying to say the least.
This being an anniversary show, being familiar with the original Ashita no Joe might be a plus. Naturally, being appreciative of the noble art of pugilism will be a requirement for Megalobox. I don’t fall into either category. The show doesn’t look as good as it might on Blu-ray, although that might be a creative choice. Megalobox is watchable enough, and it fills the one, sole, boxing show slot in my anime collection. But I don’t think I’ll be salivating after Season 2 any time soon.
Megalobox’s Collector’s Edition is available directly from Anime Limited, from Anime Online, from United Publications, and mainstream retailers. It is a Limited Edition, and there is also a standard release to be had if you can’t find the Collector’s.