Back when Joe’s initial journey with Chief and the immigrant community came to an end, I expressed some trepidation about whether or not Megalobox 2 would do the characters and the storyline justice in the long run, or if it would continue the muddy tradition of using the real-world struggles of oppressed communities as window dressing for a protagonist’s personal journey. Here, in Nomad‘s final push to the finish line, I think the series has done a remarkable job of threading that needle by weaving the immigrant storyline into the larger tapestry of Joe’s redemption; he’s never forgotten what brought him to this place, but his personal fight is just as compelling and thematically rich as the plight of the characters he’s met along the way.
I love it when shows have the patience and trust in their audience to take a pause from the action and drama so their characters can simply talk to one another, and that’s what this eleventh episode is all about. After his sudden collapse at the end of Episode 10, Joe is rushed to the hospital, and though there is nothing “critical” happening to Joe, the doctor is the first to vocalize an idea that I’m sure many fans of Megalobox have had running in the back of their minds ever since Chief died: “There’s not a boxer alive that doesn’t have some form of brain damage.” It’s a red flag that has been waving for anybody that is familiar with what happened to the original Joe of Ashita no Joe – which would mean most anyone in Japan who is watching Nomad, given how insanely popular its progenitor has been over the decades. You don’t spend your life getting beaten over the head with robot arms and expect to walk out of your career in one piece, and Joe’s crippling painkiller dependency sure hasn’t helped any. Joe might not strictly be suffering from “Punch-Drunk Syndrome”, but that doesn’t mean he is okay.
If this was your typical sports drama from decades ago – hell, if this was Megalobox the First – Joe’s pain and struggle to stay healthy might have been romanticized. The underdog with a broken body and a breaking brain, standing tall one last time to take on the champ (isn’t that the plot of, like, half of the Rocky movies?). Megalobox 2 is about growing up, though, and finding a reason to live that doesn’t fully hinge on destroying your own body and mind in the process. So, after decorating the rebuilt gym with some flowers in honor of both Nanbu and the immigrant festival Joe is taking a cue from, our fighter does something he should have done five years ago: He talks with his family, and lays everything out on the line. Not so he can fight for them, or to spite his own demons, but so he can finish his journey with them.
What really got me choked up is how clear and direct Joe is with his family, and how his honesty reinforces how much he has truly grown and matured since he first walked out on Team Nowhere all those years ago. He tells them of the pain he was suffering when he turned to the painkillers as a cheap and destructive solution, and of how many times he genuinely believed he was going to go back home to them, only to find himself wandering further away again. He tells them of Chief, and his son, and the fight for the Casa community that showed him what it means to find true pride, not just in fighting and winning, but in living for a cause bigger than yourself. When Sachio bristles at Joe’s attempts to bring him back into the fold, even though it’s clear that the boy is at least willing to be a part of the team again, Joe admits that what he wants is to give Mac the fight of a lifetime, but he isn’t harboring any foolish or suicidal notions of what it means to “win”. Joe wants Sachio to help him, and he wants to wear Chief’s gear, because it was originally designed by a father and son so the father would be safe, and could come back home when the fight was done. Sachio agrees. No bullshit; he’ll throw in the towel if things get too rough.
It’s such a small gesture, in the grand scheme of things, when Sachio starts to tinker on Chief’s gear, but goddamn does it hit like a truck when you’ve followed these characters through these trials and tribulations from the beginning. I don’t know what fate waits for Joe on the other side of the comeback bout, but I think this episode is a sign that the cycle doesn’t have to repeat itself. Joe can win the fight and live to be with his family, both.
Then there’s Mac, whose own struggles offer a powerful parallel to Chief and Joe’s journeys this season. After another violent outburst, Mac confronts Maya, who admits that the BES procedure wasn’t actually the vital, life-saving gift that the media has made it out to be. Even though Mac may have been able to overcome his paralysis with enough time and physical therapy, their son needed a donor for a heart transplant, and ROSCO came a’ calling with an offer Maya couldn’t refuse: Sign away Mac’s rights and offer him up as a test subject for the BES implants, and they’ll pull the strings to make Miguel’s organ transplant happen.
Sakuma is the perfect antagonist for Megalobox 2, since the series has gone so far out of its way to twist its cyberpunk trappings into conflicts that ring all-too-clearly for a 21st-century audience. He’s the ultimate hyper-capitalist-dudebro-savior, an Elon Musk-type who presents himself as a loveable rascal that tap-dances and crashes expensive parties when he isn’t developing world-shaking wonder-tech. Of course, that kind of radical technological expansion is always built on the backs of an expendable workforce and the exploitation of the less powerful, which is a lesson the Shirato siblings have both taken to heart. Sakuma can spout his talking points about building a better world all he wants, but he has shown absolutely no reservations about abusing the people he feels he needs to abuse to get results.
It’s no accident that Mac and Maya both seem to be part of the same Latine-mishmash cultural community that Chief and the other immigrants belong to, especially in light of what Mac learns this week. This is what makes me feel more comfortable with how the show handled the Chief-centric prologue, because it isn’t just that Joe has taken on Chief’s legacy as an individual. The society as a whole is all too willing to glamorize the shiny parts of Mac’s story, even as Sakuma and the other rich goblins of his ilk bury the parts that don’t make for great press.
I don’t expect the finale of Megalobox 2 to be fully concerned with all of this social commentary, but the fact that it has taken so much time and care to give even a little bit of allegorical voice to the downtrodden means so much in this day and age. If the show can stick the landing over the next couple of weeks – and I have little reason to fear that it won’t – Nomad may end up standing alongside the other anime champions of this generation. At the very least, you’ll know who I’m putting my money on.
• This week’s title is a doozy: “Cuando te quitas la armadura que no te podías quitar, brotan las semillas de la miseria y de la dicha”. Roughly translated, I got: “When you take off the armor that could not be removed, the seeds of misery and bliss will sprout”. How apropos.