Megalo Box: The Art of Nostalgia

Over the past few years, Western culture, particularly in the entertainment industry, has experienced a surge of nostalgia unlike any before. Television, books, movies, and even clothing have all made a change leaning towards the styles of the 80’s and 90’s, all to a mostly positive response from the public. Stranger Things, the 2017 remake of Stephen King’s “It”, and most recently in the film industry, the movie Ready Player One, which was roughly 90% nostalgia and 10% film, were all massive successes, breaking records and changing the face of pop culture as we know it. Even music has been returning to some of its roots to incredible success, most notably bands like Greta Van Fleet, who adopted a sound so close to that of rock titans Led Zeppelin that it blurs the line between tribute and plagiarism, but still they manage to sell out every show they play in seconds.

So, with all this happening in the West, it only makes sense that the anime community might undergo the same kind of movement. And it’s a show like this season’s Megalo Box that proves that point.

I just finished watching episode 3 of Megalo Box, and I will admit that these opening episodes have been the strongest I’ve seen in a while. The animation is rough, but beautiful. The music has an undeniable charm that sticks in your mind long after each episode has ended, and the setup is perfect. I mean, the whole damn thing is essentially a retro-punk sci-fi boxing tournament arc. How can that not be cool? But it is very obvious that this show is doing its best to replicate the style of 90’s classics that people of my generation have been longing for for years. Shows like Cowboy Bebop and Trigun, which, might I add, were both huge in Western anime culture during the 90’s, have their trademark styles stamped all over this show, and, though I love this show, at times it seems to be trying just a bit too hard to capture that classic charm. The classic “See You, Space Cowboy” title card at the end of almost every Cowboy Bebop episode is now replaced with a graffiti-scribbled “Not Dead Yet . . .”. The desert slum Junk Dog calls home is a spot-on recreation of the landscapes of Trigun. As original as the anime seems compared to the other big players of the season, it sometimes borrows more than it can give back. But in spite of all of this, it’s still one of my favorites of the season, ranking up there with Hinamatsuri and Steins;Gate 0. And I think that might be because I’m one of the people who longs for that classic style to make a comeback.

For those of you who don’t know, Megalo Box is a retelling of the all-time classic boxing manga Ashita no Joe, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Though it’s obviously taking some liberties with the style, Megalo Box is very much a classic-style sports anime. It’s rough, and doesn’t beat around the bush by throwing pretty boys and teen melodrama at you. It’s as straightforward as a sports anime can be, which is something that we haven’t seen in a while. The 90’s-style animation fits this kind of story to a capital T, and I think that’s part of the reason why it’s been working so well so far. But I asked myself during the third episode, would this show be as good as it is without the nostalgic aspect?

When people first started talking about Megalo Box, a couple words were being thrown around more than any others; those being “animation” and “art-style”. In all honesty, that was what got me interested in this show in the first place. The teaser poster was so intriguing, that many people found themselves adding the show to their plan-to-watch list without even knowing what it was about, or that it was another adaptation of Ashita no Joe. Had the teaser poster been more generic, or the animation and art-style of the show itself been more modern with sanded-edges and a pretty, digital feel, would people care as much as they do? Even with all the nostalgic elements thrown in, Megalo Box is far from being one of the top contenders of the season. Is it rising in popularity? Sure, but I think it’s safe to say it will never reach the level of success of shows like My Hero Academia, GGO, or Tokyo Ghoul. If it had been a modern-looking show, people would never have talked about that teaser poster or the first few episodes as much as they have been. Sure, the story is still classic, but how many sports anime have come and gone recently that tell the same underdog story without ever reaching the success of shows like Haikyuu or Kuroko no Basket? It’s hard to say for sure that Megalo Box wouldn’t have the same level of success it does if it wasn’t for nostalgia, because after all, the fresh aspects of its plot and the incredible pacing alone would keep many people interested, but would they have given it a shot in the first place?

I enjoy Megalo Box very much, and yes, it’s because of the style of the show that I got interested in the first place. I’m staying because the show is legitimately great, with fast-paced storytelling, likable characters, a soundtrack to die for, and one of the best first episodes I’ve seen in a long time, but it’s very clear that this show is cashing in on the nostalgia wave that has hit Western culture recently. If this show manages to finish as one of the top contenders this season (which very well might happen, considering the almost ridiculous level of success Yuru Camp managed to achieve last season), would other studios try to recapture that success and bring back a more classic style? And if they did, would that be a good thing? I know I’ve been praising 90’s anime and saying how I want that style to make a comeback, but that may not be what’s best for the industry today. I think it really is just the nostalgia of the way things were that’s driving so many anime fans to want that. In ten or twenty years, when animation techniques are different and styles change, today’s new anime fans may long for shows to be made like they were in their childhood. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a show like Megalo Box actually work, but I think it would be best for the industry and the community if “diamonds-in-the-rough” like Megalo Box remain just that.

But you can bet your buns I’ll be glued to my screen every Thursday for the next couple months.

-Daniam

Don’t drop Darling in the Franxx after Episode 14. Drop it after Episode 15.

Saying that Episode 14 of Darling in the Franxx was controversial is like saying Hitler was controversial. I haven’t seen a reaction to a single episode of an anime quite on this level in a long, long time. I found myself in the dead center of World War III on the subreddit, and the shit-slinging became so ridiculously over-the-top in such a short time that the subreddit was essentially shut down for a short period of time. Not only did the western community lose their collective minds, but the Japanese community seemed just as divided, if not more so, going so far as to send death threats to the cast and crew behind the show (I thought this part was a meme, but this actually happened).

I’m going to be completely transparent here, I’m following this show more out of morbid curiosity than out of an actual investment. I think the characters are pretty run-of-the-mill, save for Zero Two, who even then seems to me to be the classic tragic heroine onto whom the protag throws himself because he hasn’t seen any other remotely interesting women. The story this far is shaky at best, only occasionally riling up enough intrigue to keep its core audience interested for another couple weeks, and the action, though good when it happens, rarely rears its head for long enough to keep me interested in this kind of show. With all that being said, I find myself wondering why I haven’t dropped the show yet, and I think the reason is that I knew with Trigger behind the wheel we were bound to get an episode like 14, but I had no clue how huge of an episode it would be.

I wanted to discuss something that I had seen a lot during the 24 hours after the episode aired, aside from the massive Zero Two fanboy circle-jerk happening on Reddit and 4chan; that something being a rather large amount of people claiming that they would be dropping the series after this episode. And between all the memes showing up and shitposts being thrown around like armies exchanging musket volleys in the middle of the Civil War, I had to ask myself, do people wanting to drop this show after this point even really enjoy anime?

Think about it for a second. We’ve been sitting around for three months now waiting for something big to happen in the story or to the characters. Every week I would read comments begging Trigger or A1 to do something to spice the show up. Now that they have done something, people are losing their minds, and not in a good way. I’m not going to go into very much detail on episode 14 or any others, because if you’re reading this that means you must have already seen it. But I will say that it was the most intriguing episode of the series by far, and left me with a feeling that maybe, just maybe, this show can pick up where it’s been lacking.

But fans don’t seem to think the same.

Why, after all this time, are people wanting to drop? Obviously the main culprits are those in the “my Best Girl is sad, so this show is bad” mindset. Yes, I made a rhyme. Fuck you. Zero Two has been the main driving force in this show since episode one. She has gotten more backstory and screen time than anyone, save for our generic protag, Hiro, who wants to pilot a Franxx more than anything. Or wants to bang Zero Two more than anything. Or wants to die more than anything, as made clear by my previous statement. Anyway, in episode 14, Zero Two is kept from seeing Hiro by Ichigo, the childhood friend, and the rest of the squad. In the end, she ends up getting sent away to work with her previous squad, the Nines (9’s?). Ichigo kisses Hiro, Hiro is sad, Goro is sad, the community collectively shits itself, and now we’re in the middle of a blog that no one gives a shit about.

So why in the FUCK would you want to drop this show now? Is conflict something foreign to you? Do you not like your characters to have any semblance of depth or internal turmoil? Do you only care about whoever you think Best Girl is until someone better comes along next season to take that spot? This is a problem with the anime community today. We seem to have forgotten that anime is a medium in which emotions and ideas can be expressed in new, exciting ways. Just because this show did something off-the-wall for once in its 14-episode runtime doesn’t make it a suddenly unwatchable show. That’s like riding a bike because it’s faster than walking, but getting off to push it because you think pedaling is too much work. People who seriously consider dropping a show for that reason are idiots, period. And this doesn’t just go for DitF. Plenty of times people have dropped shows en masse for equally dumb reasons, and people like this confuse me on so many levels. If you are a fan of anime, you are a fan of conflict and emotion. If you aren’t, then why do you watch anime? For the art? For the music? If that’s the reason, fine, but you can find similar quality in other mediums as well. Only anime evokes the feelings and ideas that it does in the way that it does. DitF is far from the most thought-provoking anime out there, but still, people are losing their minds over some real conflict.

I suppose this leads into the title of this blog. I’ve been ranting about the idiotic nature of this show’s fans over the past couple days, and I should say here that I DO NOT HATE THIS SHOW. I am still watching it, so that means something. However, if you or someone you know is considering dropping it because of this last episode, please, stay for just one more, and depending on how episode 15 goes, decide then if you should drop it.

But don’t drop it if Zero Two and Hiro don’t get back together.

Drop it if they do.

Trigger and A1 have managed to finally incorporate some real emotional stakes into this show after the constant teasing that they’ve been putting their viewers through. The community is split, and fans are demanding that the writers bring the MC’s back together. But I will say this right now; if Zero Two and Hiro get back together in the next episode, Darling in the Franxx will become one of the worst shows of the season, and I will be dropping it.

Why should we care about a show that after 14 episodes finally decides to up the emotional stakes, only to resolve them the next episode, leaving eleven more without that tension? Conflict like this is meant to stew until it boils over, i.e. Steins;Gate, which throws its driving curve ball at us almost halfway through, and doesn’t resolve it until the very end. We, as anime fans, deserve more than a stupid, cheap, one-off attempt at making us give a shit. I appreciate that episode 14 happened directly after the previous episode’s character-building between the MC’s, but if that’s all for nothing, then why did it matter at all?

The main characters need time apart to really show us who they are as people. We’ve seen them together, and seen glimpses into their past. We’ve seen them work together and experience trauma together. Now we need to see how they act when they are really, truly apart. We need Hiro to try to ride with someone else. We need to see Zero Two go through more stamens and lose her mind. We need to see how the situation between Ichigo and Goro plays out. If we don’t see this, then this show will immediately drop off into mediocrity. Ending the episode on a cliffhanger like they did was a great way to wrap it up, and set up a lot of questions and interesting discussion points that people who want to now drop the show are completely ignoring. And they aren’t the only problem. Another huge problematic faction that formed out of the ashes of the community are the ones who claim that the show now sucks because of this. I mentioned before that this show was never great, but they think it sucks now? People like that are people that need to be avoided when trying to have an objective, analytical argument, because they are incapable of doing so. And also probably smell bad.

I guess the point to all this rambling isn’t so much to shit on the show as it is to shit on the community’s ridiculous behavior over these past couple of days. I understand that it may not have went the direction you wanted, but if you liked this show as much as you claim you did, dropping it wouldn’t cross your mind for even a second. I am disappointed in the community right now, to say the least, and I am hoping beyond hope that Trigger and A1 don’t give a shit. I want nothing more than for this to be a major turning point in the show, and not just a little speed bump like so many people are demanding. I want DEPTH, people. DEPTH. But I suppose for now I’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out how this will all play out. Hopefully people get their heads screwed on tight and open their eyes.

Conflict in anime is good.

Always getting what you want in anime is not good.

-Daniam