Many of us have fond memories of staring at our CRT monitors while watching a grainy and blurry fansub of the hottest anime of the time. For a generation this was how we managed in the days before streaming proliferated and we could afford physical media. There was a charm to these shows, where some of the details couldn’t quite be made out with the limitations of file types and monitors. Then there were DVDs, oftentimes suffering from poor transfers that robbed the anime of its original look. And of course TVs in those days often were unable to display anime in all its vibrancy either. Needless to say a certain look is present in our memories about this era. The minds behind Megalobox are well aware of these memories. They have taken them and run with them. In the process they’ve created one of the real highlights so far in this spring season.
Megalobox was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landmark boxing manga Tomorrow’s Joe (Ashita no Joe, Champion Joe, and also simply Joe). It is a bleak, futuristic reimagining of its inspiration. My first thought upon hearing this was a sense of relief that they weren’t simply going to recreate the manga, and its later anime adaptations, for a new generation. Instead they’re trying something completely new by taking a big chance on this reinvention of sorts. Through three episodes this risk has been rewarded, as Megalobox has catapulted to the very top of my weekly watch list. And if social media is any indication, I am far from alone.
There’s a lot Megalobox is trying to do without even getting to the substance of the anime itself. It’s deliberately downscaled in video production. This means don’t fiddle with the remote or e-mail Crunchyroll support. It is meant to look like you’re watching it in 2003. It has beautiful art and animation, don’t let this deter you from thinking that way. But nonetheless, it has a vintage aura to it. For me that was the first thing that grabbed my attention, how it looked like something from a day and a time firmly in the rearview mirror. From a pure production standpoint it would be on a must-watch list. But fortunately, the anime’s storyline itself has set itself up wonderfully.
Junk Dog is a boxer who fights in underground rings. Boxing in these days is mechanized, complete with metal frames that help make their punches more powerful. With the dangerous nature of this sport, it’s a shock anyone takes part in it. While Junk Dog does, he participates in the shadier practice of throwing his fights. His manager, Gansaku Nanbu, tells him when to take the fall and he does. But, like many things, it comes to an end upon a chance meeting with Yuri, the reigning champion of boxing. His background has been slowly elaborated on in the first three episodes, but as champion of the highly lucrative sport of boxing Yuri is treated like a prize racehorse by Yukiko Shirato—a businesswoman whose Shirato Group runs the Megalonia tournament. Seeking the chance to fight Yuri once again, Junk Dog, now using the name Joe, enters his name in the Megalonia tournament. His goal is singular, to fight Yuri.
Of note, all of these characters have counterparts in the original Ashita no Joe manga. Megalobox has taken some of their traits and some of their relationships with Joe and gives them a totally new coat of paint. The names are changed, though in some cases only slightly. Again, it’s a really interesting and exciting way to do a 50th anniversary project. Too often producers rest on their laurels and just recreate the past. Megalobox is trying to take part of the past, part of the future, and pushing it all straight into the present; forcing you to notice. It’s brimming with confidence about itself, as if telling you from the very first scene of the show with Junk Dog riding on his bike that the creators know they’re going to make a great show.
Now is the right time for an anime like Megalobox, with or without the ties to a venerated title like Ashita no Joe. We have a deluge of clean and polished sports anime, and very little to the contrary. But this is a world big enough for both kinds of titles, and Megalobox has stepped into the ring to fill that void. 15 years ago it might have been visually and thematically lost in the shuffle, only to resurface a few years later as a cult classic. But today it has the stage all to itself, there’s nothing else out there like Megalobox right now. It’s a title that you owe yourself to check out, even if the idea of a boxing anime might sound out of your wheelhouse.
Megalobox is currently being simulcast on Crunchyroll.