“The pure white ashes are indeed beautiful. But I also feel that it is too beautiful, at the age of thirty-eight. I also feel that a life with embers and a smoldering life of incomplete combustion is not all that bad” (Shigematsu Kiyoshi, The Second Line)
“Megalobox” and its sequel “NOMAD Megalobox 2” are based on the manga “Ashita no Joe”. The word “original” is used here in the sense of the original song in “Honkatori” (an adaption or excerpt from an old poem). It is true that there are characters reminiscent of Yabuki Joe, Tange Danpei, Rikiishi Toru, and Shiraki Yoko from Ashita no Joe. But the setting is a futuristic city. The sport is also not boxing, but “Megalobox,” which is boxing with gears.

In fact, there are even bigger differences than the setting. First of all, the volume of the story is different. The original story is 20 volumes in the size. If it were to be made into a TV anime, it would be about six cours long (one and a half years). On the other hand, “Megalobox” has only 26 episodes in the two series. The historical background of the story is also very different. (To begin with, “Megalobox” was broadcasted in 2018 as part of the 50th anniversary of “Ashita no Joe”).
How was “Honkatori” performed in such a different environment?

When “Megalobox” started, the first thing that struck me as interesting was the introduction of the worldview of a future world with disparity. The world is divided into “authorized areas” where ultra-modern buildings stand in a forest, and “unauthorized areas” where poor people without citizen IDs live in the wilderness, and there are many immigrants from across the sea. By preparing such a worldview, the existence of the protagonist with a hungry spirit, who does not know where he is from (the real name of the protagonist, called Joe, is not depicted in this film), was made more convincing.

In the original story, Yabuki Joe is a character with the feel of a myth about him in that his background is not clearly described, but it is difficult to replace it with the present. By using a fictional world in the future as the subject, the film has been able to do this

In addition, the visuals that show the setting are a kind of retro-futurism, with period customs and props that look like American movies from around 1970. By doing so, the film creates a sense of continuity with the atmosphere of the original work (and the era in which it was depicted).

While the world view and characters were created with such a perfect distance from the original idea, it was difficult to decide how to settle the story.

“Ashita no Joe” ends with the panel where Joe fights the world champion Jose Mendoza and “blazes white” after a fight to the death. This final scene gave the reader the impression that the previous episodes had been arranged for this point. It can be said that it was this legendary last scene that turned the manga from “a very interesting manga” to “a work that will remain in history”. In other words, when later generations think about “Ashita no Joe,” the big question is how to handle this last scene.

But that’s the thing. What makes “Ashita no Joe” difficult is that there are several necessary elements that lead up to this last scene. The biggest of these is the episode in which Joe has a fight with his lifelong rival, Rikiishi Toru, which results in Rikiishi’s death.

After Joe loses Rikishi, the one person he can completely devote himself to, he goes through a period of mental and physical wandering that leads him to that last scene. In other words, the “battle with his lifelong rival” is not directly connected to the final scene. However, there is too much volume to show this as a single episode.

Therefore, the movie “Ashita no Joe,” a re-edited version of the TV series, ended with Rikishi’s death. The 2011 live-action movie also had the Rikishi battle as its climax. The anime then focused on the story “after the battle against Rikishi”, and the TV series and movie “Ashita no Joe 2” were produced, completing the story to match the ending of the original, but it would not have been possible to reach the “blazing white” end otherwise.

“Megalobox” also climaxed with a fight between Yuri, the strongest megalo boxer equivalent to Rikishi, and Joe, in which both fight for their pride. The story ends with a final scene where Yuri doesn’t die, which was in a sense the way it was supposed to be, probably in order to wrap up the story as a single work.

It’s not the goal of the film to make Joe burn up completely, so that was very satisfying, but at the same time, I personally thought that it would be hard to draw that ending in this day and age.

I had the same impression as the previous series in 2018, so when “NOMAD Megalobox 2” started this time, my main interest was still “how will they face that last scene?” What made me think “I’ve been betrayed” was the fact that this film was created with values that were completely opposite to what the last film showed. It was a very clear statement, and it had the impact of turning the meaning of the original upside down while doing “Honkatori”.

In a nutshell, “NOMAD” is a story about “coming home”. In the opening scene, we see a stone grave with the word “NOMAD” written on it, and this is the story of a wanderer who stops wandering.

The first half of “NOMAD” is the story of Joe and an underground megaloboxer named Chief. Chief is a man who lives in a community of immigrants called “Casa” and fights to protect them. After meeting and saying goodbye to him, Joe returns to the city and tries to revive his home, the “Team Outpost,” which he destroyed. Joe eventually finds himself in a match with the man who defeated the Megalobox Champion, Mack, who is also someone who fights for his family.

The episode where he meets Chief may be a continuation of the episode in “Ashita no Joe” where he goes wandering after the Rikishi match, but it has a completely different meaning. Jose, the last opponent in “Ashita no Joe,” is also a man who loves his family, but they are not among his motivations for fighting.

Due to this, the story does not naturally go in the direction of “blazing white”.

In “Ashita no Joe”, Jose fights Joe and talks about his fears, “Isn’t Yabuki Joe afraid of being crippled …… or dying ……? Doesn’t he have a single human being to grieve ……?”. The “blazing white” of the last scene was a result of Joe’s way of life, as he pushed himself to the very edge. In a sense, it is natural that there is a debate over the last scene of the manga, “Is Joe dead?

In “Ashita no Joe 2”, after the blazing white Joe, there is a short insert of him walking through the city at sunset. A man who came to the world as a “NOMAD”, who found fulfillment in boxing, has returned to the world as a “NOMAD”.

To reach a certain extreme point, to pass it, and to go on a journey again. That’s how Joe is portrayed in the original story and the anime, but that’s not how Joe is portrayed in “NOMAD”.

The ending of his fight with Mack was a shocking one, with Joe having the towel thrown at him. I couldn’t help but go back and re-watch the video to see if that was possible. The person who threw the towel was Sachio, an old acquaintance of Joe’s who had hated Joe and rebelled against him when he left town. In other words, Sachio is an important person who makes up part of Joe’s home. He threw the towel because he didn’t want Joe to burn out after he made peace with him.

This is how Joe comes back from the ring. It’s not cool. When I saw him, I was reminded of the passage in the essay by Shigematsu Kiyoshi, the freelance writer I quoted at the beginning of this article.

This essay deals with Mammoth Nishi from “Ashita no Joe”.

Once the boss of a juvenile detention center, he gave up his unsuccessful life as a boxer to become the son-in-law of the owner of a downtown dry-goods store, and was quietly forgotten in the story.
(Ibid.) However, Shigematsu-san is deeply moved by the way Mammoth Nishi left.

“In a corner of my heart, I yearn for the white ashes of Joe, but I also support the lives of Nishi and the bad kids who are covered in cinders. I recognize their daily lives, which are still full of smoldering smoke.
In fact, what is depicted in “NOMAD” is the Mammoth Nishi way of life that Shigematsu-san dared to focus on. It could be said that this is the exact opposite of the “blazing white” aesthetic. However, many people living in the world do live that way. At this point, the life of Yuri, who did not die like Rikishi after his fight to the death with Joe at the end of the previous film, is also neatly placed in the theme of the story. Yuri is now in a wheelchair, living as the leader of Megalobox.

He lives with regrets, but he lives on. That is the life of an adult. The story ends with a scene where Joe sees Sachio off on his journey. The young man becomes a wanderer and returns home. And at home, there is an adult who is living with a buried fire in his heart. The film thus concludes with the end of Joe’s youth. 

“Ashita no Joe” is a work of such purity that if you touch it, blood will spurt out. “NOMAD”, on the other hand, is a work that leaves a warmth behind after it has burned.

“NOMAD” is a critical reading of “Ashita no Joe”.