As someone who has been watching anime for 20+ years now, the medium has a special place in my heart. But although I love its many unique charms, I can more than appreciate how it can be intimidating for new viewers. With many shows sporting inconsistent art styles that change with the characters’ moods and an approach to themes and focuses that are often completely different from what western audiences are used to, it’s understandable how anime can make anyone shy about giving it a try. It can be difficult to find something that can give a new viewer a taste of the uniqueness anime has to offer without scaring them off with too much of the unfamiliar. This is where I think Megalo Box lands perfectly.
The most noticeable aspect of Megalo Box that adheres to its eastern origins is the visual style. But even here, the show plays it fairly tame as you won’t find any saucer-shaped eyes or unusually proportioned bodies. The show also stays away from any other more surprising visual comedy that is often found in even the most serious anime. A character losing their temper never heralds one of the chibi transformations (a radical increase in head and limbs that become little stubs) the medium is generally known for.
Rather than going for what many would recognize as the classic “anime style” of visual presentation, Megalo Box sticks to a more realistic visual style. Bodies are kept closer to normal proportions, and the action always keeps its feet firmly grounded while still delivering great tension and excitement.
Perhaps the biggest area that anime becomes daunting for new viewers is in the storytelling itself. As anime originates from a completely different culture, many of the tried and true themes western viewers are used to are often approached quite differently, if not completely ignored. This is especially true where the classic “hero’s journey” is concerned.
Luckily, it seems no matter where you go, everyone loves an underdog story. A down on his luck underground boxer gets a chance to take a stab at the champion. Our main protagonist, a fighter known only as Joe, has to fight his way up the ranks to get the chance to take a swing at the title. The concept is instantly endearing. Seeing the man everyone underestimated rising through the ranks through hard work, perseverance, and sheer will is something everyone loves. Plus, there is an added disadvantage Joe is put into early on in the series. This one revolves around money.
The sport of Megalo Boxing differs from the sport of boxing in one key way. Athletes who participate wear a form of exoskeleton over their arms and shoulders called gears. These gears increase the punching power of the athletes. However, on the eve of Joe’s first bout, his gear breaks. With no money and no time to cobble something together, Joe’s manager, Pops, comes up with the only thing that can save them. Joe becomes Gearless Joe. The fighter with no gear. What begins as a forced gimmick for Joe becomes something far more as the story of Megalo Box unfolds.
The last major theme that gives this story its universal appeal is the found family element that comes to form throughout the series. Along with Joe and his manager Pops comes a scrappy orphan named Sachio who joins their team. As the show starts, each has their motivations for doing their part to see Joe get to the top. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything, but there are some truly emotional scenes surrounding the reveal of these motivations, and in the case of Pops, some genuine heartbreak when the motives come back to haunt him.
Megalo Box’s familiar themes, endearing characters and fantastic but grounded visual style come together to make it a fantastic choice for first-time viewers of the medium. If the description above catches your fancy, whether you are a new anime viewer or an old fan who just hasn’t caught on to the journey of Joe and crew before, you should do yourself a favor and check it out.