I’m not typically a big fan of sports anime, but ever since diving into the deep end of Hajime no Ippo, I’ve found that boxing/MMA anime has reliably caught my attention. A few years ago, Megalobox aired and everything from the aesthetic to the soundtrack led me to thoroughly enjoy the series from start to finish, though there were a few moments here and there that dragged slightly.
As I commented in my review of the finale, it felt as though things were just a little too “clean”. Uncharacteristically chipper for a series based on Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow’s Joe), which saw its title character essentially die of exhaustion after losing a title match. Still, I walked away from the series feeling pretty good about it, and honestly the idea of a sequel didn’t cross my mind at all until I heard one was coming. I began to wonder what the sequel would look at – another championship? Some more drama around the Shirato group or the mafia?
Instead, as Megalobox NOMAD opens, we see a very different Joe – grizzled, beating the crap out of amateurs in an underground boxing ring and taking pills to try and control the residual effects of, well, getting into underground boxing rings and getting punched in the head.
We don’t know the details, but Nanbu, endearingly referred to as “Pops”, is dead. Sachio has fully embraced his angsty teenager phase, and the other kids that Joe was tending to in the finale have been scattered to the winds.
Joe’s life is on a fast-track to self destruction when he encounters a boxer named Chief. Caught off guard by his skill, Joe finds himself interested in his background, and after a nasty attack brought on by his addiction to the pain meds, Chief helps him rehabilitate and end his dependency on drugs.
From here, Joe ends up mentoring Chief and helping him win his own, much smaller version of Megalonia in an attempt to secure a proper home for his community.
The pacing of the series overall is phenomenal, but looking back I’m honestly impressed at how efficient the writers were in setting up the series so well with this first mini-arc of 4 episodes. The struggles that Joe overcomes in these first few episodes prepares him for the true challenge that lay ahead: making amends with the life he left behind.
The next arc of the story wonderfully illustrates just how things went south for the legendary “Gearless Joe”, and the people that were hurt as a result of his poor decisions.
So often in anime, redemption arcs are fairly flat. The main character does something stupid that causes harm or death, wallows in self pity for a bit, then gets a pep talk from a friend before deciding that they don’t need to feel guilty anymore – problem solved!
Megalobox NOMAD does a beautiful job of showcasing the hard work that goes into earning people’s forgiveness, and owning up to the mistakes of your past.
One great example of this in action is when some of the kids are reflecting on Joe leaving them 5 years prior and the circumstances surrounding his departure. It’s revealed that Sachio had actually yelled at Joe and told him to leave – information that wasn’t available before. Rather than absolving Joe of responsibility, Oicho comments something to the effect of “Any adult who takes a kids emotional outburst so seriously doesn’t deserve to be trusted.”
This helps snap the picture into focus for the viewer as well, who might instinctively be inclined to forgive Joe, or understand where he was coming from. Oicho complicates that by saying “Nah, he was an adult that overreacted to a kid in pain after they lost someone close to them.”
The forgiveness is slow-earned, and in the process Joe comes across another fighter who was inspired by his fight with Yuri nearly half a decade prior. The story of Mac Rosario and Joe takes up the latter half of the series, with some corporate espionage shenanigans thrown in for good measure as Yukiko is attempting to fend off pressure from the Board following her decision to abandon the military contracts she was exploring at the close of season 1. The Shirato group has instead partnered with Rosco – a medical corporation that is heavily investing in a new technology known as BES, which claims to offer miraculous healing via a chip implant in the brain. Mac Rosario, the up-and-coming Megalobox champion, is the poster child for this project.
The story finds its way to a highly satisfying conclusion – with a handful of bouts along the way. I will say that if there was anything that could’ve made the show just that much better, it would be more fight scenes. However, while season 1 took on more of a traditional shonen storytelling style, season 2 is much more contemplative in nature, focusing instead on giving each and every character some time to shine and develop. The time is well spent, as the closing scene left me feeling more satisfied than I have been in a long time when it comes to anime conclusions.
In short, Megalobox NOMAD is a superb series. If you enjoyed the first season and its characters, you owe it to yourself to take this journey.