The 50th Anniversary Ashita no Joe tribute anime Megalo Box managed to do something few reboots are able to do (successfully). It embodied the spirit of its predecessor while still delivering a rather unique story. Both fans of Joe and new anime fans will find something to love about this fitting send-off to one of Japan’s most iconic fighting anime series. Megalo Box doesn’t just roll with the punches, it doles out some serious blows as it ushers in a new age of fighting anime!
In the not too far off future, boxing has evolved into a new form of contact sport, Megalo boxing, in which fighters don high tech mechanical gear that enhances their attacks. Among this new generation of boxers is Junk Dog (JD for short), an underground fighter who takes part in fixed matches with the help of his alcoholic coach Nanbu. But a chance encounter with the head of the Shirato Corporation and her bodyguard, a top ranked Megalo Boxer, prompts JD to enter the exclusive Megalonia Tournament for the chance to make a name for himself in a legitimate boxing ring.
Plot & Story
Megalo Box has a simple premise; Junk Dog (JD), aka Joe, is a slumdog boxer who wants to make a name for himself as a legitimate boxer so he creates a fake persona in order to participate in the upcoming Megalonia Tournament, an international boxing competition for the best of the best. Along with his team of underdogs, he takes on fierce opponents on his climb to the top, in hopes of taking on Yuri, the Shirato Corporation’s prizefighter.
Megalo Box isn’t a complicated story and it doesn’t pretend to be. It sets out to tell a specific story with a preset cast of characters and in that regard, it does just that. Megalo Box is Ashita no Joe, just with a new coat of paint, and it works.
First up, the setting: Megalo Box opted for a futuristic setting as opposed to Joe’s (at the time) modern setting. This is most certainly a ploy to eek out some longevity from the series, as anything set in the modern era would most definitely date the series for future generations. So, they definitely get a few brownie points for that one. However, with every other series taking place in the ‘not too distant future’, Megalo Box feels like just another drop in the bucket, since there are at least 2 or 3 ‘futuristic’ anime that come out every season. But, I will give praise where praise is due. Megalo Box doesn’t feel the need to delve too deeply into the mechanisms of its futuristic setting, save when it is absolutely necessary to the plot.
The bare bones of Megalo Box is that it takes place in the future where boxers wear stylized lightweight mecha suits that enhance their fighting abilities. Don’t get me wrong, the concept of using portable mecha for anything other than big ass robot battles is a refreshing one, and definitely works in the show’s favor. We don’t really get our first taste of the futuristic setting of the series until Joe and his crew enter the Megalonia Tournament, since the slums don’t offer much in the way of advanced technological advances. We’re never really told why the world is set up the way that it is and there aren’t any ridiculous world building exposition dumps to help fill in the gaps either (unless they’re explaining something about boxing). Rather, we learn about the world not by being told about it, but by watching the characters exist within it. Let’s face it, the world around us is constantly changing and evolving and in a few years, most of the things we find commonplace will be dated. So, rather than focusing on fleshing out something that will be dated as hell in a few years, Megalo Box instead tells its story through its characters.
Joe was always a character-driven story, which is perhaps why it has retained such a high standing among fans to this day. It’s a story that can exist in literally any setting, because, contrary to what we would like to believe, people don’t really change all that much. There will always be those that feel marginalized by those in power; the haves vs. the have nots, a power struggle as old as time. And that dynamic was always at the core of the original Joe series, so it makes sense that it would be the same with Megalo Box. However, while I loved the characters from Megalo Box, I will readily admit that there were more than a few blatant similarities between the characters from Megalo Box and their Joe counterparts… and by similarities, I really mean exact replicas with a new paint job. Just about every character in Megalo Box felt like they were ripped right from the pages of Joe and pasted into the new edgier MB world with some characters indistinguishable from their Joe counterparts.
Some fared better than others, namely the protagonist, JD, who they managed to make the antithesis of Joe from the original series (thank goodness, because Joe was a wholly unlikable character in the original series). Where Joe was a brash and self-centered jerk, JD is a much more down to earth, easy-going loveable rogue, kind of like Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop, with whom he shares a striking resemblance. The rest of the core cast were either exact replicas of characters from Joe or a combination of a few lesser characters. The biggest offenders being Yuri and Danpei Nanbu, who I had to keep reminding myself to call by their real names and not Riikishi 2.0 and Danpei Lite, respectively. Sure, they changed a few things here and there to give the impression that these were wholly original characters, but, fans of Joe need not even bother to chip away at that veneer to see them for who they really are.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the things they did change, like everything they did with JD was an improvement on Joe, who’s cocky, blasé portrayal in the original series would only serve to alienate audiences from him rather than endear them towards him. But, there were quite a few times when I was watching the series that I was hit with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for Joe, and that seems to have been the main goal of the series, not so much to tell an original story per se, but to introduce new audiences to Ashita no Joe without forcing them to sit through 121 episodes of 70s/80s animation.
Art & Music
I usually have a hard time with this section, since my criticisms of animation usually boil down to ‘It looked good’ or ‘It looked bad’, with rarely much else. However, when watching Megalo Box I was immediately surprised at how visually stunning the series looked, with its stylized characters, dense gritty backgrounds, and intense boxing matches.
From the get-go, Megalo Box immerses you in its world with its rustic aesthetic, which harkens back to the anime golden age of the 80s and 90s. You know you’re watching a modern anime series, but it doesn’t feel that way, MB like its predecessor has an almost well lived in, timeless feel to it, that is unapologetic in its portrayal of the stark contrast between the rich and the poor, with its gilded cityscapes of the city and grungy worn in slums. I am a sucker for the little details that just make a series come alive and Megalo Box is filled with them, from the rundown look of the shops and people to the graffiti that adorned just about every free surface, it’s a feast for the eyes.
But, where Megalo Box really shines is in the animation of the action scenes. This was some of the most fluid animation I have seen in a long time! Not only did they do a phenomenal job of showing the viewer the intensity of the boxing matches, but with the clever use of angles, you really felt like you’re a part of the action. During the boxing match, you can see the speed lines and impact effects when the fighters hit one another, which you usually only see in print media to compensate for the lack of animation, but rather than feeling out of place, the stylistic choice adds weight to the animation giving the matches a much more tangible impact.
The music in Megalo Box kind of reminded me of the hip-hop inspired tracks of Samurai Champloo, which definitely fits with the urban feel of the series as a whole. There were even a few times during the series where characters (namely Sachio) would have these mini exposition monologue raps. Yes, you read that right, characters would just start rapping midway through the episode without any warning whatsoever, which kind of gave the series the feel of an urban folk tale.
The series’s opening theme ‘Bite’ by LEO Imai was a definite departure from the hip-hop heavy soundtrack. It had more of a rock feel, which took me a little bit to warm up to. However, it’s a solid track that definitely fits with the grungier aesthetic of the series proper. The ending theme is ‘Kakatte Koi yo’ (かかってこいよ Come at Me) by NakamuraEmi saw a return to the chill hip-hop vibes (a bit more rapping), but with some noticeable rock influences (ie. scratchy acoustic guitar opening).
Themes & Trivia
Man v. Machine: It’s practically the whole premise of the series. With the introduction of Gear in boxing, the question is raised if it is the quality of one’s gear that wins matches or the boxer’s own innate abilities that make the gear more effective. Both Yuri and Joe (JD) embody both ends of the spectrum on this one, with Yuri and his high tech integrated Gear fulfilling the role of the machine and Joe with his refusal to wear Gear serving as the man.
Not too distant future: The world of Megalo Box has a unique blend of modern and futuristic technology. On one hand, they have super high-tech boxing gear and training mechanisms, but they still have modern-looking cars and appliances. Just enough future tech to make the show interesting, but not enough to be outside of the scope of believability and alienate audiences.
Animal Name Motif: Most of the boxers competing in the Megalonia Tournament have adopted animal themed ring names. There’s Shark, Hippopotamus, Boar, Leopard, and Sea otter, just to name a few. While some of the names correspond with the name of the fighter’s home gym, for others the use of an animal epithet is completely random. This also goes along with the likening of certain characters (Joe and Yuri especially) to dogs, with Joe being likened to a stray dog and Yuri being likened to a kept dog.
Callbacks to Joe: Megalo Box has more than a few Ashita no Joe references and callbacks, most of which will probably go completely over your head if you haven’t seen Ashita no Joe. But, the not so subtle hints and easter eggs are a fun way to pay homage to the iconic fighting series without alienating new viewers or beating fans of Joe over the head with nostalgia.
I’m going to take off my nostalgia glasses for a bit and keep it real with you guys. Despite all my gripping, I loved Megalo Box. Each episode had me on the edge of my seat and that last episode… let’s just say my roommates were pretty pissed at me for all the yelling I did. As a standalone anime, Megalo Box is everything I look for in my fighting anime: a dynamic cast, well-animated fight scenes, and a kickass soundtrack! I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to the legacy of Ashita no Joe!
This wasn’t just a modernized retelling of Joe, Megalo Box more than stands on its own two feet and a lot of that is thanks to JD! I absolutely loved JD, he was the perfect protagonist and there were times when he single-handedly carries the series. You want JD to win, not because he is the protagonist, but because he earned it! Nothing comes easy for him and watching him scratch his way out of the gutter is oddly endearing. But, what really made this series for me was the way JD throws himself into all of his matches. It’s never really about winning or being the best like it was with Joe in Ashita no Joe, instead, JD is in it for the promise of a good fight. Not once does he get caught up in the glitz and glam of the Megalonia Tournament, his only concern is proving that he deserves to fight on the world stage… and of course to challenge Yuri.
The Legacy Continues
While fans of Ashita no Joe will be able to find more than a few parallels between the iconic boxing anime and this one, Megalo Box is anything but a paint by the numbers reboot. Instead, Megalo Box manages to take the foundation laid by its predecessor and create a richly stylized story that embodies the spirit of the original Ashita no Joe, while still retaining its own unique voice, a sentiment I as a fan of Joe greatly appreciated while watching the series.
The overall goal of the series seems to be in preserving the legacy of Joe while also telling a story that today’s fans will enjoy and in that respect, they succeeded. In the span of just 13 episodes, Megalo Box tells a really good story, albeit rushed at times, but, nonetheless enjoyable. There is a set beginning, middle, and end, with characters that do a fine job of fulfilling the roles they were meant to within the context of the story the animators are trying to tell: an underdog story. And in that sense, Megalo Box hits the mark. This is JD’s story, not Joe’s and yet, I feel it gets bogged down by the not so subtle references and callbacks to Ashita no Joe, especially in the latter half of the series.
Underneath the nostalgia, Megalo Box has a lot of heart and has more than proven itself to be worthy of the mantle left by Joe!
- JD is a likable protagonist who audiences will enjoy rooting for, he isn’t perfect, but he has a lot of heart and that’s really all that counts.
- THE BOXING IS ON POINT!! Each and every one of the boxing matches showcased in this anime are visually stunning! You don’t just feel like you’re watching an anime, you feel like you’re right there in the thick of it!
- The music is phenomenal, the hip-hop style is a fitting accompaniment to the gritty underdog story that is Megalo Box.
- The ending, while satisfying felt rushed, perhaps a few more episodes would have helped round the series out a bit more.
- The references to Ashita no Joe, while enjoyable, really kind of bogged the series down a bit.
- We don’t really spend too much time with Yuri, despite him being the series’s main ‘antagonist’