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.