As I briefly mentioned back when I criticized Crunchyroll for once again being out of touch with their fanbase in regards to selecting the Anime Awards nominees to the point that freaking Fireworks got on the “best film” list, Megalo Box is the most nominated anime in that selection with a total of nine categories to its name. The next biggest is Devilman Crybaby with seven categories and then a tie between Aggretsuko and Violet Evergarden with six categories. Hero Academia is downplayed compared to last year, but it’s still in five categories and all but guaranteed to win most of them because the majority of CR’s fanbase are Academia fans who have only seen one anime movie this year. Devilman Crybaby and Violet Evergarden are somewhat understandable because for the most part, they belong in categories that make sense. Aggretsuko though, I don’t understand why the majority of fans would like that opening. And as for Megalo Box…seriously?
You know, I’m still a little confused regarding whether we’re supposed to care about Megalo Box anymore or not. Pretty much everyone I know who’s seen it says it’s a good time, but when it comes to asking whether the show deserved to be a classic like it was hyped up to be whilst airing, things get really muddled. Do you remember when this anime had like an 8.4 rating or something on MAL? Well take a look at what it’s rated now.
Yeah that’s a pretty significant drop. Not as big a drop as, say, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress or Sword Art Online, and it’s still in the 8-range which is enough to be a critical acclamation according to that site’s logic. But once you look at the reasoning for why it dropped, things get more complicated. Apparently, the common consensus for its drop in score is a very underwhelming ending along with how the series just lacked memorability. There’s even a topic on the MAL forums addressing that it’s destined to be forgotten, with a vocal minority confirming that it lacked impact. And while it will be the silent majority that ultimately determines things, somehow I just can’t see Megalo Box taking home many prizes at this year’s Anime Awards.
The fact that the judges decided Megalo Box would be the anime to push hard this year is laughable in of itself. I’m aware you have to take into account that shows like A Place Further than the Universe didn’t have an antagonist or distinguishable male character to recommend, but Joe being in best protagonist and best boy is just plain stupid. What exactly is great about a character like Joe anyways? He’s an underdog who was raised in the slums and decides to compete in the world’s greatest boxing tournament without mechanical enhancements in order to build a reputation. Fair start, but is there anything else to him? What are his aspirations after the fighting is over? What does he do when he’s not fighting at all? What was his past actually like? What growth does Joe really go through throughout the entire show?
Megalo Box is such a classic example of an anime that was only fun to watch whilst it was airing and now that it’s over, it’s more something you watch to pass the time. It’s very well-made, it appeals to a certain kind of nostalgia, and when you watch it with friends wondering whether Joe is going to defeat his next opponent, it can be somewhat exhilarating. But when I binged the anime, divorced of the fanbase and the weekly anticipation that is now impossible to recreate, what I got was baby’s first boxing story with one gimmick that mostly just exists to add some stakes rather than make it a core part of the narrative. Maybe I would think somewhat differently if I had watched it weekly like a normal anime fan, but definitely not if I had ever rewatched the show.
The anime is an anniversary spin-off/nostalgic celebration of Ashita no Joe, a classic manga/anime series from more than fifty years ago about a runaway orphan who tries to make it in the boxing world despite his lack of education and overall credentials, which is basically the same plot as Megalo Box when you get down to it. In fact, you can pretty much consider Megalo Box to be a truncated version of the Ashita no Joe except with 90s animation rather than 70s. And before people ask, no I’ve never actually seen any of the Ashita no Joe series. It’s not legally available to stream from what I can see and the only Western blu-ray release is of one movie according to Amazon. I could try to watch it illegally as long as I don’t actually write about it, but the thing is, I don’t want to. Too much of a pain when there are other more convenient things fighting for my time.
That said, while the Wikipedia summary doesn’t tell me if I’ll like the series, it does tell me that Megalo Box is very similar to it in terms of plot points and such. The Joe in that series is an underdog from the slums. He fights strong opponents at disadvantages to face his rival. And I’m sure if I actually watched Ashita no Joe, I’d get a much more interesting protagonist than 2018 Joe. I know everyone and their grandma has already said this, but Megalo Box’s plot is incredibly predicable. There are literally no surprises when it comes to Joe’s progression as a boxer. He fights a guy twice his size and beats him. He fights a guy his trainer once coached and beats him. He fights his rival and they make peace. He’s forced to participate in rigged fights, but he rebels and his trainer has to compromise in order to keep Joe alive.
As such, you’re going to need strong characterization and good visual storytelling in order to make this formula worth watching. While Megalo Box’s grainy 90s look and impressive visual direction have been discussed to death at this point, I notice there are very few analyses that actually discuss the show’s characters, and the one that do just highlight how classic of an underdog Joe is. Forgive me, but I’m failing to see what’s so interesting about an underdog that we never get to really know outside of his passion for boxing. I can see people enjoying Joe’s cheeky personality, but my god can we talk about something besides boxing for a moment?
Throughout the entire 13-episode run, it’s just boxing with all of these characters, even if you ignore Joe. Getting better at boxing. Upgrading the latest gear to win the championship. Earning money on bets. And not once does the show tell me anything interesting about boxing in the process or do anything to give these cliches life. Remember when I said in the “why anime fans hate politics” mini-essay that the reason I tend to hate it is because they don’t really give a good insight on the politics they try to incorporate to the point that everything seems forced? Megalo Box’s vision of futuristic boxing may be more naturalistic than today’s politics-driven entertainment, but it’s still nothing more than just aesthetics and smokescreens for a poor insight into boxing. What exactly does the Gear add other than a handicap for Joe? Why exactly is boxing such a regarded sport in this universe besides the obvious “competition” reasons? Are there G Gundam-like foreign relationships involved?
And don’t get me wrong, I have read a lot of comments and videos regarding Megalo Box and how it absolutely deserves to be recognized amongst the greats. I understand that there’s something to be said about good execution and all that. I know it’s not just the old-school anime fans who love this show, because I’ve seen people who hate that crowd singing praises for this series too. I even know that there are some people who marathoned the show that sing praises for it. So my generalizations around the beginning of this review aren’t entirely accurate.
To which I respond: so what? There’s a bit of a backlash going on right now regarding Goblin Slayer not making it onto the Anime Awards this year. I know a lot of people enjoy that show to this very day. And I agree it should have been on at least one of the categories, but it wasn’t because the judges mostly consist of people who hated it for not so great reasons, and it seems like Shield Hero might get the same fate next year if they don’t revamp the selection process. But that doesn’t change the fact that I and a lot of vocal people who stuck with it to the end found Goblin Slayer to lack impact. Although in my case, it had nothing to do with changes to the source material, because I never read it. Honestly, I can count the number of episodes that truly “went there” on Captain Hook’s hand. And not the one with the actual fingers.
Also, maybe it would have helped if TMS Entertainment didn’t release a much better nostalgic celebration of an old franchise in the exact same season. The new iteration of Lupin the Third. Not only did it also have unique style whilst being a tribute to an old property, but it had variety. It had Lupin dealing with the effects of modern technology in a way that was actually important to the story. It had a new female lead who we actually got to know. It explored some aspects of Lupin and Fujiko’s relationship that were sort of hinted at in the past but never really dealt with until now. It had tribute episodes to the old series that didn’t really work a good chunk of the time, but I at least appreciated the effort.
It’s just a good series in general, far better than the last iteration (which is probably on the same level of quality that I see Megalo Box as), even if the villains still aren’t all that memorable. If I had allowed it on my top anime series list for 2018, it’d be #2 easily. That’s the kind of “revival” anime I want to see: one that plays with the formula in a way that both respects the source material whilst acknowledging some modern trends. And when I say “acknowledge”, I don’t mind “well guess we’re fighting with this now…oh wait no we’re not”.
I think the best comparison to Megalo Box is Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”. We all fell in love with that music video when it first arrived, analyzed the shit out of it, and it was topping the popularity charts for quite some time. However, once we realized that without the actual video, the song is just a bunch of incoherent noise, said song dropped out of the public consciousness pretty quickly. Nowadays, the only people who still listen to it are the same sort of people who try to emulate Gambino’s dance moves during the song.
And that pretty much sums up everything wrong with Megalo Box as well: it has nothing interesting to it besides the nostalgic presentation, and if that was enough to carry a show, then you’re basically admitting there’s nothing special to those anime it’s building nostalgia for like Samurai Champloo and whatnot. Only people who are strictly genre fans could possibly find lasting interest in a story that has literally nothing to it but a guy we barely get to know working his way from the bottom to the top in order to face a dude who we also don’t really get to know, and that’s not the majority of anime fandom. It’s a show that people stuck to because it seemed like it could have been more rather than because it was delivering on the promise from the very beginning, and then it fell off once they realized said promise was never going to be kept.
Now that they weekly hype is gone, unless you’re watching the current dubbed version on Toonami, there is no way for Megalo Box to ever really impress audiences again. How many people who walked out of the show with a positive impression are actually going to rewatch it in the future? How many people amongst that demographic binge-watched the thing after it came out? I have no actual statistics to back up my claim besides a bunch of forums and anime sites that are less trustworthy than Twitter hashtags, but for better or worse, I just can’t see Megalo Box winning much of anything in this year’s Crunchyroll Anime Awards despite being nominated for so many categories. Violet Evergarden maybe. I obviously don’t think it should, but “best animation” is something that show should claim without question.
Megalo Box just doesn’t succeed at anything. Not in a great protagonist. Not in a great villain. Not in a great story. Soundtrack maybe, but the same could be said for After the Rain. I’ve forgotten practically everything about that noitamina show besides the ending theme, and I can’t even remember that from Megalo Box anymore. The show is just fading in my mind the more time passes, and after the awards are over, I expect it to be put in the same rarely opened safe we store anime like Valvrave the Liberator, Amagi Brilliant Park, Osomatsu-san, and Bamboo Blade.
- I wonder if the Crunchyroll audience would love or hate me if they ever knew I existed?
- Who here remembers that a Legend of the Galactic Heroes remake also aired at the same time this did?
- I love Christopher Sabat and all, but his All-Might voice is just not good.
- I notice Grand Blue Dreaming, Cells at Work, and Asobi Asobase aren’t amongst the nominations either despite being well-liked hits. Anyone going to raise a fuss over that?