Warning: Some spoilers ahead.
2018’s “Megalo Box” came out at a time when I felt personally unfulfilled and desperate to reach out for my true potential.
My passions in both writing and martial arts felt stagnated by a working life that was very much a dead end and the anime’s message of fighting for your better tomorrow, to reach your personal mountain top truly resonated with me. Combined with its throwback hand-drawn aesthetics, electric soundtrack by Mabanua, and impressive voice acting performances by the entire cast of characters, “Megalo Box” instantly became one of my all-time favorites.
When “Nomad” was announced I wasn’t sure what if anything it could improve upon. The anime made its point effectively well and didn’t know what more it could have to say. Fast forward to now and “Nomad” is somehow an improvement on virtually everything the first series did and had to say.
“Nomad” takes place five years after the events of “Megalo Box” where Joe has lost his way from Team Nowhere, his surrogate family back home, and is traveling the country boxing to make ends meet, while being hooked on painkillers. When he comes across a Mexican Megalo Boxer named Chief he becomes inspired to get clean and return home to redeem himself over a tragic error in judgment he made with those he loved.
If “Megalo Box” was about reaching for your true potential at any cost, “Nomad” reminds us what that cost might be and that you can’t do it alone and to not lose sight of those who love and support you. While the first series indeed makes this point as well, as Joe only makes his leap to champion after his coach Nanbu makes his selfless sacrifice for him to stay in the ring, “Nomad” puts this all into much sharper characterization.
Throughout this series, “Nomad” shows us how family and friends center us all in the harshest of times. Where Joe spent the first series largely fighting for his own dream and his own catharsis of meeting his true potential, he finds a new perspective through Chief as he helps their community of migrants navigate a harsh and racist power structure against them that is of course, very relevant to today’s world.
Joe despised the idea of just surviving in the first series as it put a cap on how far he could go as a Megalo boxer but Chief, who has much more to lose, emphasizes that there is “no shame” in just surviving because of who he is fighting to protect. He shows Joe that there is love and beauty in just being able to provide for friends and family because they are, in the end, all you have.
From here we get the central theme of the series as Joe reconciles with the decisions he made in the past that sent him so far from those he loves back home. His journey across the country to fight endlessly in underground boxing matches was as much to numb his pain as it was his desperate attempt to feel the high of victory again in the first series.
But what Joe realizes is that the catharsis he got from becoming champion wasn’t about simply winning but through the support of those around him who finally believed in him. What held him back in series one was not just the oppressive structures in place but also the lack of support until he finally found those who shared his dream. He only finally achieves his goals once his coach stopped thinking selfishly about survival and dreamed this same dream Joe had.
It’s a powerful message that only gets sharper with each episode as Joe journeys through the more expanded world of the first. “Nomad” does this by throwing in the immigrant stories of both Chief and later in series rival Mac Rosario who both fight for those closest to them more than themselves. Their journeys as migrants expand the world of “Megalo Box” while also reminding us of the stakes of their dreams. It’s an uplifting theme that runs strongly along the darker tone of this story.
“Nomad” is much moodier somehow than the already emotionally charged tone of the first series because of this. Where the first had its own heavy moments, virtually each episode of “Nomad” is vicious gut punch. Joe deals with substances abuse, depression, and mental health issues while characters from the first series all deal with similar trauma from their own actions. Again, with characters such as Chief and Mac, we get to see immigrant story play out in often distressful ways as well. Where the first series emphasizes the outsized odds and underdog nature of the heroes by starting them in the lowest rungs of society, “Nomad” shows us there is yet a lower level below that as Joe hits rock bottom to start the new story and Chief and Mac both are outcasts themselves.
It’s what makes the journey even more cathartic than the first, somehow though. Where we rooted for Joe in his journey from the bottom to the top, here we get to see him earn his redemption from falling from that very peak. “Nomad” shows us new shades of an already striking character through this, we find out what’s really important to him beyond his passion for boxing. We get to see his remorse, his love, and his care for those who helped reach that point in the first series and how it becomes more important to him than the thrill of fighting.
“Nomad” becomes a story about love through this, as corny as it may sound. It is about the love of family, friends, even rivals as the first series primary adversary Yuri goes through a similar arc through his protégé Liu in this story. It all leads to an ending that emphasizes there are more important things to life than a robotic need to “win” at all costs. Every decision made by the characters in “Nomad” is made through the emotional need to do what is right for those they love. Especially with the new characters of both Chief and Mac, it’s not about simply fighting to win it’s about fighting for those who love and cheer for them along the way and its beautiful to watch.
“Megalo Box” was already a very highly stylized anime before but “Nomad” goes several steps further by giving us perhaps the best fight scenes of either series. The impact of each punch in the story is felt more viciously, emphasizing the darker tone of the second story, and along with a more emotional original soundtrack by Mabanua they feel like they have higher dramatic stakes as well.
While some elements of the story I wasn’t super fond of, “Nomad” is everything fans of “Megalo Box” could want out of a sequel and more. Where the first series tells us you’re “not dead yet” so keep fighting until the bell sounds, the second tells us “hasta ver la luz” (Until I see the light) so that we are not blinded by ambition to the point we forget our way, namely our way back home to those we love.
“Nomad” is as beautiful an anime as it is raw and gut-wrenching. I didn’t think it was possible to see new shades of Joe and the characters I loved from the first but the second shows us there is more to them than just the drive to be great and certainly more they care about. “Megalo Box” was a surprising anime for me that delivered beyond the spectacle of its cyberpunk setup but “Nomad” is somehow even more surprising as it shows a deepening level to the story and its characters and the world they reside in. It proves that there was yet more to saga of “Gearless” Joe than I had anticipated before in the best way. I don’t think “Megalo Box” can be improved much further from here but if “Nomad” proved anything to me it’s to never underestimate this unique and redemptive underdog story.
Until then though, vaya con dios, “Megalo Box.”