During Spring 2018, Megalo Box has consistently impressed me.
It came to occupy number one spot on my list during a season which has quality oozing out of every corner. At its core, Megalo Box is an original story with a rich history of origins – being the 50th Anniversary homage and celebration of the classic underdog anime, Ashita No Joe (I haven’t actually seen Ashita no Joe – I know, I know… (it’s on my list) so I can’t make direct comparisons, but maybe that’s a good thing). Ashita, a show which no doubt inspired huge pop-culture classics we all know and love, like Rocky.
Oh, climb those stairs, baby!
Anyway, regardless of Sylvester’s recent career choices…. what makes Megalo Box the most fun and interesting bout of the season!?
Joe and ‘Junk Dog’
In its most fundamental form Megalo Box tells the age-old tale of the underdog. Joe, the supposed ‘second-rate’ underground fighter who intentionally throws fights for betting big dollahs in a ruse with his coach, Nanbu. Joe’s fighter title, ‘Junk Dog’ gives an indication of his status in the boxing community, and the reputation he has garnered amongst those in the know. This serves to set up the narrative for later episodes, and much of the conflict Joe and his team encounter as a direct result of situations and actions in the past. Because, as Megalo Box shows, the past is always looming, no matter how hard we try to get rid of it.
Joe “Junk Dog” embodies the traits of many underdog characters
He is: Resilient, strong-willed, passionate, and most importantly easy to understand. We have a clear line-of-sight towards where Joe wants to be and where he currently his. Throughout each fight on his way to Megalonia we’re able to acknowledge this progression of his character, we’re able to feel emotionally connected to his success, even during the moments where it is being questioned. This is vital, for a character like Joe to make an impression he has to be likable in many aspects of his personality, and relatable in is struggles. However, with this notion In mind, I firmly believe that not all characters have to be inherently liked, not even main characters. It is, of course, dependent on who the character is and what role they occupy in the narrative.
Joe fits firmly into the ‘underdog hero’ archetype, and this is fine, because it means we’re able to explicitly understand his motivations, and the ways in which he thinks because we have previously experienced it through other characters. It removes the need for unnecessary exposition and backstory, allowing for more time in the present narrative.
Friendship and Comradere
Despite all Joe’s strength and character, victory cannot be achieved alone. It must be an accumulation of effort from those surrounding him, the appropriately named – ‘Team Nowhere’ comprised of himself, manager/trainer, Nanbu, and all-round legend and inspirational talker, Sachio. Because Joe understands things can rarely be won alone, victories cannot be achieved without the help of others. Many of his competitors demonstrate this – the distance between themselves and those attempting to support them.
Joe’s relationship with Nanbu isn’t always positive. But as we all know, real relationships never are. Yet, these types of relationships are always the most productive. It allows issues to rise to the surface, for them to be examined, and then solved without any tensions becoming too volatile and aggressive. Something we actually see between Nanbu and his former student Aragaki. Two people have gone separate ways as a result of wildly different worldviews, and Nanbu’s alleged abandonment of him, also coinciding with his gym closure. This sets-up a natural rivalry between Joe and Aragaki, whilst also demonstrating the changes that have occurred in Nanbu’s character as a result. Changes which make themselves obvious in the latter stages of Megalonia when Nanbu and Joe are ordered to fix a bout – something which both rally against in the very last moments; characterising the change in their ethics and desire to be ‘the real thing.
Megalonia and the World Stage
Megalonia is Nirvana, the Holy Grain for all boxers. The place to become the best.The name ‘Megalonia’ is very similar to the English word ‘megalomaniac.’ It means:
“An unnaturally strong wish for power and control, or the belief that you are very much more important and powerful than you really are.”
This statement applies to all of Joe’s competitors. However, not Gearless Joe – he escapes desiring power for power’s sake.
People are crazy for power, so much so that they are consumed by the idea of it…
This is most clearly depicted in Episode 9, in which Joe fights Mikio, one of the Shirato Brothers. Subsequently beating him despite Mikio’s ‘Ace’ gear which is able to predict and calculate its opponent’s strikes, something which Joe must overcome in order to be victor. As an audience we’re able to see how the world does not always favour those with money, those with an entirely privileged heritage and upbringing. We are reminded that social mobility is possible, and very real. It gives hope, and hope in the right places is very powerful thing.
The physical stage of Megalonia is almost always framed in the back of the shot, looming over not just Joe, but his entire team, and all those who are making sure he’s able to fight under its dome, with its brightly lit exterior, and its sky-penetrating lights and lasers. Both as a constant reminder for Joe, a device in which he can visualise his goal, and for us, as a reminder of the wider narrative – linking everything together in a visible and point-to-point manner. Because at the end of the day, Megalo Box has no complex plot, nor any complex characters. This is because it simply doesn’t need them. Megalo box works the way it is, in a simplicity that is often rebuked, a simplicity that lends to beauty and sublimity.
Megalonia represents the notion that everyone can rise up and become the ‘best’ version of themselves. It constructs the idea of light at the end of everyone’s path, no matter the grey areas of their past, and the obstacles in the present. Megalonia is not so much physical as it is an image. Presenting the notion that there is always something to aspire to, no matter how far down the standing one might be.
Megalonia, in essence, is opportunity.
Yet, despite this, one must also be wary of the more unseen side of Megalonia and those who organise and profit it from it, Joe has his fair share of run-ins with the top brass. From this perspective the stage of Megalonia acts as a sort of ‘proving ground’ – a tournament of strength for the elite that compete, and a spectacle for those that do not. With this can develop the personality of egoism. The reverence of realising you are successful – at the top of your game, and bathing in the hedonistic pleasure a person derives from this. It’s not hard to understand many of Megalonia’s boxers have thrown humility out of the window, something which is clearly visible in many of their gregarious personalities. After all, where is the room for being humble when one’s success is hanging by a thread.
Not so much for Joe, for Gearless Joe…
Being human is a contentious prospect in Megalo Box.
In which everyone but ‘Gearless Joe‘ augments their bodies with ‘gear.’ Mechanical components that are either worn, or built into the body itself. In a world where boxing has evolved past its current form, into something arguably less reliant on human ability. This is why Joe stands out – something ‘pure’ amongst something ‘augmented’. Though, Joe has no deep-seated hate for gear, he used it during his Junk Dog days when he was winging fights in the underground.
Through no fault of his own, Joe had no gear in the moment everyone thought it was required. Despite this, because of who he is as a character, and his ability to never give up, Joe fought without it – winning. Something which came to be the foundation of his character going forward, established by his unique identity. It feels good to watch a person leap over all the odds in front of them. A role-model who can be admired, a vision of someone who has stepped out of the shit and into the big-leagues whilst retaining their original motivations and values.
Joe’s absence of gear came to work in his favour.
He needn’t rely on a piece of technology to win fights. If and when he wins a fight it’s because of his determination and outright ability; the same reversed if he loses. How better to stand out, than to refuse the norm? To attempt to blur ‘Junk Dog’s’ actions of the past by creating something worthy of praise and recognition in his current achievements. Achievements that are made ever the more respectable considering the physical disadvantage ‘Gearless Joe’ inherently embodies.
Because isn’t that what we all strive for? To rise above the crowd, no matter what we are doing, be it boxing or otherwise? While some may regard it as a product of egoism, wanting to be the best; each of us desires to be noticed, to be recognised either for the person we are, or the heartfelt content we produce, no matter what form that takes. People are competitive, that is the nature of humans, and I doubt we would be where we are if the opposite were true.
Gearless Joe is a personification of human resilience, of the human ability to rise towards the top, regardless of consequence.
What are your thoughts on Megalo Box, is it a worthy homage to Ashita no Joe?
Thanks for reading, as always!
-Chris (Follow me on Twitter and consider supporting me on Patreon!)