The production quality of the show is electric. From the grainy, rugged art style, to the distinct set of character designs, and to the hype-inducing rap sections: every visual and audio aspect of the show seems fine-tuned to strap the viewer to their seat.

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Now, I haven’t watched any boxing-related anime (and as far as movies go, I’ve only seen Scorsese’s Raging Bull) so I might sound a bit too excited when I’m talking about the visual aspects of the show. The show’s art style and animation have a retro feel and it takes full advantage of that to turn it into its own beast of aesthetic. Almost everything looks hard and gritty, which fits the aesthetic of the anime. I was, at first, put-off with the 480p graininess of the outlines, but my eyes grew accustomed to it quickly enough and I soon got that it actually had a benevolent effect to the look the show seemed to be going for. The world design doesn’t actually much of a story other than that the place where Joe is from is a ghetto- where people gamble on boxing matches to get a stand-in society, but ultimately most of them can’t because the boxing matches are controlled by the hosts themselves.

 

The boxing matches themselves aren’t that sakuga-intensive: for good reason, I guess fluid animation might not have suited the anime. But they almost make it up with some good visual techniques. Of course, there’s the blurring effect for speed and heat waves to indicate exertion and exhaustion; in addition to that- the show makes the fight seem more up-close and intimate thanks to the eye close-ups. The gloves are given emphasis in terms of screen presence and color – which helps to add weight to the punches.

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I want to get back to the eye-closeups because they are timed and placed so well, and some of them are more exciting than the punches. The look of sheer excitement in Joe’s eyes when he first encountered Yuuri was definitely one of the best shots of the show- and the show repeats that shot a few more times to the same effect, thankfully, without overusing it. Basically, the eyes are drawn really well- and I see eyes as an integral part of any sports and shounen anime (or any animation piece for that matter) since they are a better indicator of emotions than words are.

The sound design packs an assorted flurry of punches. A good portion of the tracklisting borrow some elements from hard rock, hip-hop, and industrial music, with occasional flourishes of soft guitar lines and string sections- all distinctly categorized by the characters. One of my tracks from there is “Enter the Arena”- it sounds like a hard-hitting punk anthem with some bursts of noise samples inspired by industrial music. The opening sequence is one of my favorites of the year so far – I loved how they avoided using the actual characters and used a stray dog and a set of symbolic representations to match the energy of the song. The song (“Bite” by LEO Imai) features grimy, gritty guitar and bass, especially the bass – it’s the growling engine of the track, and Imai’s voice bites.

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The ending theme (“Kakatte Koi yo” by NakamuraEmi) is great too. Her guitar-driven pop rap sets itself apart from the ‘conventional’ nonchalant flow that most Jpop rap rides on – she sounds like she’s actually sending a challenge. The rap interludes in the show serve as entertaining ways to give background information on the story, some of them give the state of the city the characters live in, and others are hyped-up advertisements for an upcoming match.

Overall, it would be hard for me to not call the visual and audio aspects of the show fine-tuned. Now it’s time to beacon my ‘criticisms’ to the ring…

It’s obvious that the plotline of Megalo Box is well-planned – it’s so well-planned out that it feels, ironically, mechanical. The characters don’t get the breathing room to bloom into real ones, or at least real enough to actually get invested in them. It’s not bad character writing per se, rather it’s the opposite – the diverse set of personalities are presented well in a short time. I just wish the show took the time to flesh them out, instead of giving short, vague flashbacks so that the characters seem ‘nuanced’ – which is ok if it was a film, but I was watching the show expecting to get much more out of the characters.

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Joe never goes through much of a character arc, he rarely learns anything from his battles except gaining confidence – he fights and then fights again, his testosterone-fueled stray-dog attitude is alluring and exciting but not worth caring about outside the ring. I think Yuuri is the worst of the two – his transformation from being a loyal robot boxer to a sincere fighter could have been handled less awkwardly. Perhaps, Yukiko Shirato had the ‘meatiest’ character arc in the end, but then again, her presence in the series is weirdly not strong and the last two episodes needed a few more minutes in my opinion – you gain some, you lose some I guess.

Without character arcs driving the show, dramatic twists are omnipresent in the show – where Joe and his crew get out of tough situations by the skin of their teeth in Kaiji-style: which is entertaining as hell. I love how even the episode titles raise the stakes by having some form of “death” in them – a bit overdramatic, but it fits the show’s aesthetic like a glove… a boxing glove. So even though the character cast didn’t end up being as well rounded as I expected it to, the drama-aspect of the anime delivered beyond my expectations – thanks to the concise script and the tight pacing, episode by episode.

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The story itself is good enough, I liked how they ended the thematic narrative of the stray dog’s journey before the last match even began – which is just clever writing. So, I have nothing but praise for how the show ended. I thought the gears were just used as a weird plot device and added nothing to the characters – the designs are intriguing but the show tells almost nothing about them, just that they enhance the boxer’s abilities. Then again, there are only so many eggs you can put in a basket – especially when the basket just has 13 episodes of space.

There, I just devalued all my criticisms of the show with just that sentence. Sometimes, I just scroll through my posts and just get an impulse to erase all of it – but I don’t because, I know deep down, I don’t really hate myself. Ok, I’ll also leave this tangent up.

All in all, Megalo Box’s production packs more punch than its story & characters… and that’s completely okay, because the story and characters aren’t bad at all – the characters & story and the production aren’t on opposite sides of the ‘goodness’ spectrum, I would have no reservations saying that all the aspects of the anime are on the ‘good’ side (I should stop typing at this point). I strongly recommend this show if you want to throw on something hype that delivers on that hype really well.