MEGALOBOX Ep. 5: Skeleton in the closet

Nanbu’s past catches up to him, and this might even result in Joe’s death. 

— The episode opens with a scene that feels like it is from an entirely different anime.

— Can a butterfly thrive in this environment? Or is this a figment of someone’s imagination?

— Nanbu’s former student’s name is Aragaki, and he is a war veteran. Sadly, this alternate universe doesn’t appreciate its veterans either. Is he stuck with boxing or is he only sticking with it to prove a point? Maybe Megalo Boxing is the only way he can derive meaning from his life. Maybe he has something to prove, and this can only be done in the boxing ring.

— Aragaki says that he won’t show Joe any mercy. In fact, he blames Nanbu for his troubles. He’s out for revenge. He feels wronged by his former coach.

— The unsettling encounter with Aragaki has left Nanbu shaken, and he now wants to pull Joe out of the match. Is he afraid that Joe will die? Does he feel guilty about Aragaki? Maybe a little bit of both, but what’s clear is that the old man is unwilling to share his complete past with the team. Naturally, without a proper explanation, Joe won’t and can’t understand what’s really going on. Would it really matter, though? Joe must feel as though they’ve come so far. He’s 3-0, and he’s riding a huge wave of momentum off of the “Gearless Joe” gimmick. One more victory — especially over the 17th ranked fighter — would certainly propel him directly to Megalonia. After all, he’s not just fighting for his own sake. Both Nanbu and Sachio are depending on him as well. Even if the old man had been forthcoming about the drama between him and Aragaki, I don’t think it’d change Joe’s mind.

— Nanbu warns that Aragaki has learned everything from him, but Joe believes in himself too much to be intimidated by this bit of knowledge.

— It turns out that our war veteran lost his legs in that massive explosion at the start of the episode. Forget boxing — the fact that he’s still alive is remarkable enough. It is also perhaps a cruel twist of fate. Unless you’re rich, life doesn’t seem very enjoyable in this fictional universe. Plus, money isn’t everything. These men seem very lonely. Aragaki is bitter, because Nanbu was all he had. He feels as though his own family member abandoned him. But what about his actual family? What about anyone’s actual family? After five whole episodes, we have yet to see a single family anywhere in this show.

— By the way, Yukiko’s counterpart in the original Ashita no Joe ended up falling in love with the main character. I don’t suppose that’ll happen here, huh?

— The piano track during this scene is really good.

— As we had suspected, Joe won’t back down from the fight. This shouldn’t be surprising to Nanbu either.

— Sure, the fight is risky, but is there any other way for Joe to reach Megalonia? They’re quickly running out of time.

— The jogging animation here looks kinda awkward.

— There appears to be a healthy amount of food on the table; it looks as though Joe’s recent success has paid off somewhat. What about Sachio’s friends, though? Do they get any help?

— Aragaki seems to have lost all sense of restraint ever since he’s returned to boxing.

— As an aside, I can’t help but wonder what the war was about. I suppose it doesn’t matter, but since they’ve gone to such lengths to craft this fictional universe, the writers must have these miscellaneous background information jotted down somewhere.

— Lots of veterans end up committing suicide. Others suffer from PTSD. That part hasn’t changed.

— Nanbu heard that Aragaki had died, but he never tried to confirm it. As a result, when the guy returned from the war, he had no place to go to and no one to support him.

— Aragaki appears to take his anger and bitterness out on his opponents in the ring. Boxing isn’t quite his therapy; rather, it’s more like a dangerous sedative. By pounding opponents to near death, Aragaki gets to feel a little better at the end of the day. This is clearly unhealthy, but for now, it’s the only way he knows how to cope.

— Even Aragaki’s own coach wants him to back out of the upcoming match. I feel like it’s a bit too late now. This guy sat idly by as Aragaki destroyed all of his other opponents. He has no chance now that it’s personal.

— The boxer argues that a victory against “Gearless Joe” will bring in a lot of sponsors. A lot of sponsors translate to a lot of money, which he can then use to repay his team for sticking by him. I don’t this… but at the same time, his desire to provide for his “family” and his desire for revenge are not mutually exclusive.

— We get another flashback in which Aragaki nearly committed suicide until this piece of paper slipped out of his boxing gloves. We later see him roll up to Nanbu’s old gym in a wheelchair. The place looks like it’s been closed for quite some time. He’s haunted by former reassurances from Nanbu that the gym would always be his home. On the one hand, he’s clearly suffering with depression and PTSD from the war. He’s not quite right in the head. On the other, why didn’t he try harder to contact his former coach? Could he have tried to ring Nanbu up? Email him?

— Interestingly enough, Joe goes to meet with Aragaki by himself.

— Elsewhere, we see Sachio do some expert scouting, and as a result, he notices that Aragaki uses a lightweight Gear. Makes sense. Even if the guy has mastered the use of his artificial legs, it can’t bear a lot of weight. Even though Joe will continue to roll with his Gearless gimmick, his opponent won’t have such a huge advantage. Nevertheless, Nanbu has been reaching over and over that you can’t win with brute strength alone. If Aragaki has taken his former coach’s lessons to heart, then it doesn’t look good for Joe either way.

— Still, Sachio makes a great point: why didn’t the old man notice his former student sooner? 17th in the world is no easy task. At the very least, Nanbu is guilty of forgetting all about Aragaki. It appears as though he deliberately tried to run away from the his former student’s tragedy, though.

— Aragaki tries to warn Joe that Nanbu will eventually abandon him as well. Maybe. Or maybe Nanbu has learned his lesson. We can’t really say since we still don’t know the old man that well. Nevertheless, Joe says that he believes in Nanbu, and likewise, Nanbu believes in him. This is like rubbing salt into Aragaki’s wounds.

— In a way, the kids playing basketball in the background are acting out the the verbal duel between Joe and Aragaki. It’s all pre-match intimidation.

— Of course, Joe thinks it’s unfair for Aragaki to blame everything on Nanbu, but at the same time, he doesn’t know the whole story either. I feel like it’s a bit presumptuous for our hero to weigh in on this drama without understanding where both sides are coming from.

— Obviously, Aragaki needs a scapegoat, but you can understand why he feels that way. War messes with you. Not only that, you rarely want to attribute your misfortunes to sheer luck. You want some semblance of control over your fate. As a result, it’s easy to blame your former coach for abandoning you. To a certain extent, Nanbu shares some responsibility, but so does Aragaki. Good luck convincing him otherwise, though.

— Nanbu doesn’t believe Joe can win, but it’s interesting to see Joe say that he’s not getting the right support from his coach. This contradicts what he said earlier to Aragaki. Basically, Joe thinks that the old man should only warn him if he actually cares. But since the kid believes that Nanbu has never really given a shit about him, then why not continue lying? At least give Joe the moral support that he needs. The problem is that Nanbu will feel guilty no matter what happens.

— Later that night, Aragaki has a nightmare that directly blames Nanbu for the loss of his legs. If you really want to ensure that Megalo Boxing is safe, then the authorities should probably do psychological examinations of their contestants on a regular basis. Someone like Aragaki is not mentally fit to be in the ring.

— Aragaki even has a butterfly tattooed to his chest. The metaphor is a bit obvious, but oh well.

— Nanbu goes alone to meet with Aragaki. Nanbu doesn’t want Joe to die, so he tries to accept responsibility for abandoning Aragaki. But again, it’s a bit too late for that. The old man probably does care about Joe to some extent. It’s hard to be on the same team with someone for this long without forming some sort of attachment to them. At the same time, however, he doesn’t want to fully confront his past. He still wants to run away when the going gets really tough, and that’s why he doesn’t want this fight to play out. ‘Cause no matter who wins, he’ll be in a tough spot. If Joe loses, the kid might die. If Joe wins, however, then it’s a reminder that Nanbu’s done his former student wrong. But like I said, it’s too late to change any of this now. Nanbu needs to accept that all he can do now is reap what he has sown. He doesn’t deserve all of the blame, but there’s no running away anymore.

— The fight begins, and Aragaki takes advantage after Joe gets a bit too cocky. Joe is still being brash and immature. He’s a bit of a showman. Meanwhile, Aragaki is all business. If Joe loses here, it’s doubtful he’ll even get into Megalonia. So can he lose here?  This is the only part that I have an issue with. Even though the stakes are higher than ever, I don’t feel as though Joe can actually lose here. He can’t afford to without the story grinding to a halt.

— Nevertheless, this is the series’ best episode yet. The story beats aren’t entirely original, but I enjoyed the high level of execution. Then again, I tend to live for these character-driven episodes.

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