Short answer: because it doesn’t need it in order to be the best looking show currently airing. Long answer: … it’s a little complicated
When we talk about themes in media, we usually focus on what’s in the writing and what’s reflected in an overarching story, but it is also possible for a theme to be demonstrated through production values and technical design as well. There are movies that strive to have cinematography that captures a certain time period and feeling (such as Edward Lachman’s oscar-nominated work in Carol and Dark Waters), but when it comes to “technical stuff” that’s utilized to emphasis a piece’s idea, I’d say game design is a great way to see this in action. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a weapon degradation system that does make the game more frustrating to play, but is there to drive home the feeling of the world being more fragile than it looks. Halo 4’s visuals constantly make you feel small and almost insignificant, which is paired well with a game trying to tell a story where the Master Chief isn’t unstoppable for a change. Even the original Forza Horizon has a gloriously saturated color palette, in order to sell the idea of it being a driver’s fantasy removed from reality.
“So how does this relate to an anime series looking worse on purpose?” I’ll admit I’ve wondered this to myself for years, despite being a massive fan of Megalobox. Not that the show’s aesthetic has ever really bothered me in the slightest, but it is a question I’ve wanted an answer to. The simplest and most widely accepted one is that the show, not unlike the movies I mentioned, wants to look and feel like a show we don’t get anymore, something from before high definition resolution became the norm. Along with its character designs, color palette/grading, and how its backgrounds are detailed, Megalobox does evoke the works we used to see in the 90s, before digital production methods forever changed how anime looked. It’s a simple and good answer, but… that somehow feels too easy, especially for a show that goes all out in how it’s made.
When Megalobox returned earlier this year, it once again kept its trademark aesthetic, and the question of “but why though?” came back along with it. Again, I didn’t mind; it might now be the most criminally overlooked show of the season, but it still looks great. However, halfway through the season when I was watching Nomad’s best scene so far, I made a remark to myself while watching it: “this show looks so good that it doesn’t need 4K”
The scene in question is when “Gearless Joe” truly returns, delivering his trademark counter after taking a flurry of blows, and then taking off his safety gear to face his opponent mano a mano, with neither of them wearing any gear. It’s a spectacular scene, with the direction, sound design, music, and animation all working to their fullest to deliver on something incredible to watch. But here, it finally clicked: just as Joe chooses not to wear an exoskeleton like everyone else does in order to prove he’s the best boxer, this show chooses not to be shown in high definition to prove that it is the best looking series out there.
I know “best looking” is a subjective title, especially as this season just on its own has quite a few good looking shows (Vivy, 86, To Your Eternity just to name a few). But I’ve never seen a show choose to literally degrade itself like this just to tie into its central idea of choosing to doing more with less, and just like Joe it absolutely succeeds in spite of its self-imposed handicap. You could also argue that its intentionally grungy look could turn away newcomers (like that Zelda mechanic I mentioned earlier, which I will say did turn me off from that game for long periods of time), or that it might even be hard on the eyes of some, but for me personally... I wouldn’t have it any other way. Would I like a Blu-ray set that comes with a 4K option? Sure. But again, this series clearly demonstrates that it doesn’t need it in the slightest.
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