Here's a riddle for you: When is a sports anime not a sports anime? I'll be honest and tell you that I've never been able to get particularly invested in the anime that would probably count as the staples of the genre – your Haikyuu!!'s and your Hajime no Ippo's and whatnot. Still, I feel like the general tropes and archetypes are easy enough to codify, and the burning question I had going into Megalobox 2's finale was whether or not this series really counted as a sports anime anymore. Once the end credits finished, I felt less assured than ever, especially since whether or not you went into Nomad expecting a sports anime will likely determine what you think of this finale, and likely the series as a whole.
The biggest reason for this is the fact that, even though this finale is ostensibly focused on the big Joe vs. Mac exhibition that the series has been building up to for thirteen episodes, the fight itself is maybe the least interesting part of the whole ordeal. I've seen criticisms of the way this franchise handles its action cinematography, and while I think that the excellent sound design and storyboarding has made the Megalo-boxing very entertaining for the most part, I can understand how dyed-in-the-wool aficionados might find the boxing to be a bit pedestrian. Already, Megalobox 2 placed a much smaller emphasis on the action compared to the first series, and though the brief matches we have seen have been pretty entertaining and engaging, I'd argue that Joe and Mac's bout ranks among the weakest in the entire series. Both Joe and Mac end up knocked down before the end of Round 2 for reasons that are more personal than anything — Joe seems to be suffering from some mix of panic attack and physical exhaustion brought on by his generally crappy physical condition, and Mac almost finds himself lost in the throes of BES-induced Mac Time. There's one powerful exchange of blows between the two after that, but that's when Sachio throws in the towel and calls the fight. Mac wins via concession, while he and his opponent are still on their feet.
If this were a more traditional sports drama, like Megalobox was, I would likely be walking away from this finale feeling disappointed; and yet, I don't think this anticlimax is a failure on Nomad's part. Rather, given how the rest of the finale is constructed, along with the themes and stylistic choices that this whole season has embraced, this shockingly low-key ending feels absolutely right. All throughout the fight, the finale cuts to present-day and flashback scenes that focus on the many different characters that have a stake in the show, and each of them has time for their stories to pay off in a clear and satisfying way. Their stories aren't just equally important to Megalobox 2 as the outcome of Joe and Mac's match – they're clearly the series' priority over anything else.
What we learn is this: Before the match, Mac and Maya approached Yukiko to ask for her help in making sure that they can hold on to their dignity while bringing Sakuma and ROSCO to justice. Likewise, Sakuma's assistant Yoshimura had a change of heart and came to Mikio with the real BES data that ROSCO wanted to keep hidden. With the smoking gun in hand, Yukiko spends the fight engaging with Sakuma in an ethical battle of sorts. She reveals her plans to go public with BES' failings, no matter how badly it may harm Shirato's profit margins, but she also tells him the deal that Mac's family is willing to cut: She'll keep a lid on the worst of Sakuma's dirty dealings if he releases BES' license to the general public, so its faults can be properly addressed without having to exploit other people in the process. Sakuma gives his usual spiel about needing to fight for the hope of humanity, but Yukiko won't have any of it. In the end, she argues, the only thing that matters is that the people in power take responsibility for the lives they have tarnished.
This, more than Joe and Mac's faceoff, is the real climax of Megalobox 2. The whole season has been chiefly concerned with how men can often feel forced to express their pride and masculinity in harmful and toxic ways, and how the powers-that-be will exploit that desperation for entertainment and profit. Chief found a way to take back his agency and use his skills as a fighter to rebuild his community and give hope to a disenfranchised population, but he lost his life in the process. Joe and Mac have both learned from the suffering of their predecessors, and from their own failings as fathers and partners. The effort and love of their friends and family are what made them into complete men, not their ability to pummel each other with robot arms. It's all right there in the title, which roughly translates to "Those with wings carry the wingless, Those without wings bless those with wings". In other words, if Nomad had reduced its climax to another knock-down-drag-out beatdown between two bloody and broken men, it would have meant that our heroes learned nothing. Even as rivals in the ring, they must carry one another to succeed.
So, as a piece of action-driven spectacle, this finale might not live up to the many fights of the past two seasons, but it isn't even trying to outdo them in the first place. When Sachio feels Nanbu's hand on his, and he throws in the towel for Joe, it isn't really a defeat, because Joe already won before he even stepped in the ring. He got his family back. He got his life back. He has what remains of his health, and he's going to spend his time focusing on all of the things that he might once have tossed aside for another shot at the championship title. Mac, too, didn't need to win to validate his worth as a father and husband, but he was also able to prove that he can stand on his own two feet against one of the best Megalo-boxers around. When Miguel, Maria, and the rest of the immigrants at Casa see him as the champion, they're seeing one of their own people, who managed to break free of parasitic capitalist ties that would have chewed him up and spit him out once he was no longer useful.
It's such a perfect unity of theme, intent, and execution that I can't help but walk away from this finale feeling completely satisfied. The last we see of Joe is when he gives Sachio his bike and sees his protégé race off into a future full of possibility. As he heads out on his own way, there's no question this time about whether or not Joe will have friends and family waiting for him when he finally makes it back home again. Nanbu rides along in the back, sipping on a beer and smiling, since the kids are going to be alright after all. In the end, Joe didn't just defy the fate of his own namesake. Is Megalobox 2 still a sports anime, after all? I don't know. It probably doesn't matter. It tells a story about a washed-up fighter's rise back to fame and glory, sure, but it also serves as a vision of a world where the problems mirror our own in so many ways, except it doesn't have to end in tragedy. Joe's journey reminds us that there's always hope to cling to and a life worth fighting for, so long as we can learn to be good to one another, and to never lose sight of the light ahead of us.