This week, Nomad brings us another very plot-heavy episode of Megalobox, as the series begins to hew even closer to the feel and the rhythms of its first season. Once again, this is hardly a bad thing, because even though folks like me might miss the much more character-centric approach of the first half of the season, it’s impossible to deny how goddamn entertaining Megalobox is when it’s committing to the sports melodrama shtick. Unlike last week, Episode 8 doesn’t focus much at all on Joe, pivoting instead to the big match between Liu and Mac. In addition to giving some much-needed insight as to how Yuri is doing all of these years after his fateful bout with Joe, we also get to learn why Mac’s nickname is “Mac Time”, and that’s a lesson that Liu might end up taking to his grave.
I have to applaud Megalobox for finally addressing one of the lingering complaints some folks had with its first season, and really with its entire premise: Despite all of the style and sci-fi glitz that comes with the titular sport of Megalo Boxing, the show never quite managed to explain what made the fancy robot arms so important. Oh, sure, we all got their theoretical benefits, but then there’s the fact that Joe could take and dish out beatings against Megalo Boxers without any Gear. Yeah, Joe was our really tough and inspirational underdog and all, but it also begged the question: Beyond simply looking cool, was there any point to the Gear?
Not really, no. And that was fine! But Nomad has been all about taking that first season’s world and characters and adding depth and nuance to all of it. With Mac’s BES-enhanced Gear, we finally have a nice, chewy sci-fi conundrum to mull over. When we learned about Mac’s backstory last week, I had a sneaking suspicion that the brain enhancement thing would have potentially nefarious consequences for his fight against Liu, and lo and behold! It turns out that the signature “Mac Time” is a state that Mac enters in moments of high stress, or being “in the zone”, and in addition to causing the animation to get all warped and slow-mo, it also helps Mac hit his opponents really fucking hard. One really has to ask, especially given that everyone knows about the BES chip and how the phenomenon has a fan nickname, whether anyone has stopped to point out how this is all, you know? Shady as hell?
Well, we know of at least one person who wants to know what the hell is going on: Mac’s wife, who is just a teensy bit concerned that her husband is having increasingly frequent bouts of “Mac Time”, and when he’s not in the ring that basically amounts to Mac losing all of his verbal faculties and becoming fiercely territorial of food and his son’s toys. Yukiko, to her credit, immediately recognizes how bad this is, and her brother Mikio is going one step further by putting together a thesis on the fundamental flaw of the BES system that may or may not be scrambling its users’ brains.
So, in addition to a killer central fight, “Mac Time” is also exploring the ramifications of the Gear in a big, bad way. With the BES, we’re not just dealing with a bunch of glorified Jax knock-offs that go around LARPing Rock’em Sock’em Robots — we’re exploring the fraught line that divides technology from the bodies and minds that wield it, that favorite mainstay of cyberpunk adjacent fiction. With Joe largely out of the picture this week, there’s not a whole lot to explore in regards to ongoing character arcs, but I’m happy to substitute that for some more time spent dealing with these classic sci-fi themes.
Another classic theme in cyberpunk is the dystopian influence of the vastly wealthy on the less fortunate, and this is where ol’ Ryugo and his ROSCO corp come in. Though he isn’t portrayed as an out-and-out villain in his interactions with Mrs. Rosario, he is noticeably aloof about the potentially disastrous side effects of his BES system, brushing it off as a mere byproduct of stress. Later, as the Nowhere Kids ponder what is next for Liu, Joe, and Mac, we catch a new report that warns of an oncoming typhoon, one that might well surpass the storm that destroyed Joe’s home, along with the rest of the slums.
I was wondering if Megalobox was trying to give Ryugo the benefit of the doubt last week, but the final image of Episode 8 is of Ryugo tap-dancing gleefully around his empty office, as the skies darken above the city. I’m going to go ahead and put Megalobox in the “There Are No Good Billionaires” camp, since I cannot imagine a more fitting statement of purpose than this exceedingly powerful man, alone in his tower, dancing a jig with a smile on his face as the apocalypse bears down on his city.
• Joe and Yuri do get a nice scene where they catch up in Liu’s hospital room, with Joe bristling over the lost rematch with Liu, while Yuri chides Joe for continuing to stubbornly cling to childish hopes instead of facing reality head-on. There’s not quite enough there to know whether Joe is backsliding, or if his newfound perspective is giving a better and more constructive purpose behind his anger over Liu’s condition, but I’m interested to see where things go in future episodes.
• The Liu Vs. Mac fight is another example of how Megalobox‘s pedestrian fight choreography can be elevated by a surplus of style. Great camera work and sound design all around; you really feel those hits, in a way that you sometimes don’t in anime action scenes. I don’t know how I feel about the CGI hummingbird in Mac’s vision, though.
• Speaking of aesthetics, goddamn if mabanua isn’t killing it with the music this week. The score is always good, but some of the cuts we get here are exceptionally strong.
• The title of this episode is “Al principio del fin, la trayectoria del arcoíris dibuja un soportal” which translates to “At the beginning of the end, the path of the rainbow draws an arcade” (with “arcade” in this instance meaning an arch, or a series of arches). Your guess is as good as mine.