Megalo Box is a 50th anniversary reimagining of the Ashita no Joe manga series written by Asao Takamori. As an ultimately commemorative piece, the show is a nostalgia trip hearkening back to the style and presentation of late 1990’s anime. For some, this will be a big draw; others may find it too simple, and simply outdated.
At its core, Megalo Box is a pretty typical “underdog” story; we follow a no-name boxer in his endeavor to survive the boxing underground, and become a legitimate fighter.
TMS Entertainment may be best known for ReLife, Detective Conan, and D.Gray-man, but the studio has previous experience with sports series, having actually produced the second Ashita no Joe anime back in 1980, and more recently, the Yowamushi Pedal franchise. The crew involved with this production, however, seems comprised of underdogs itself. Director You Moriyama makes his chief directorial debut, joined by series composers Katsuhiko Manabe (Fist of the North Star: Raoh Sided Story Arc) and Kensaku Kojima (no other series to his credit). Music producer mabanua (Kids on the Slope) has experience, but primarily as a hip-hop artist. The most experienced member of the team is probably art director Jirou Kouno, but even he doesn’t have very many big-name titles on the resume—aside from Black Jack: The Movie, and Tale of Genji.
The animation is rough, gritty, and quite fitting for the cyberpunk/sports aesthetic. Most of the show carries this look and feel, but some scenes do incorporate very smooth, CGI-enhanced components. Doing so shatters a bit of the nostalgia trip, but it looks pretty damn good still so I’m willing to forgive it. Even so, by today’s standards, many would say Megalo Box looks cheap. It’s not something you can really fault the studio for, though, as there is a deliberate attempt to portray the look and feel of a mid-to-late 90’s production.
The 90’s influence is clearly depicted in the music and sound direction as well. The score utilizes strong hip-hop elements, and even includes one scene with a freestyle rap. The aforementioned scene is, again, one of those things that may be out of place in the anime of today, but feels fitting for a throwback—particularly here in the United States where the success of groups like N.W.A precipitated the rap genre’s widespread popularity throughout the 1980’s and 90’s.
The narrative also takes a very 90’s approach to storytelling in that some of our characters are fairly one-dimensional. However, that isn’t to say that the series is void of twists, turns, development and emotional impact. Rather, there is oftentimes one trait or thematic element that defines a given character (pride, honor, empathy, etc.). If I was in a more nit-picky mood, I’d say there are some minor pacing issues early on, and that the conclusion feels a little forced. Really, though, neither are that big of a problem considering the self-imposed limitations of trying to capture a more classic aesthetic.
Maybe I’m going easy on it, maybe I’m just a sucker for sports series (I’m definitely a sucker for sports series), but, if you can set aside some of those narrative shortcomings, Megalo Box is a technically-sound trip back in time—complete with elements of action, sci-fi, cyberpunk, and corporate espionage. It may appear somewhat lackluster by today’s standards, but nonetheless provides an intriguing glimpse into competitive fighting all the while displaying impressive use of visual time, and solid music/sound direction. If you like sports series, or miss the “good ol’ days” of late 90’s anime, definitely consider Megalo Box.
Story/Characters – 7.5
Art/ Animation – 8.5
Music / Sound Design – 8
Enjoyment – 8.5
Overall – 8/10
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