Zaion Vol. #2 (of 2) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, July 12, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, June 22, 2004
What They Say
As the outbreaks of the M34 virus continue to worsen, the NOA soldiers face strengthening opposition. The virus continues to evolve, adapting itself against the nanotechnology, turning the very advantages of the NOA soldiers against themselves. The bond between Yuuji and Ai will be put to the test as the threat of the M34 virus brings havoc and death all around them.
Episode 3 - Notice: The NOA soldiers return to home base to begin what they think is a break from the action. One by one, they begin to show symptoms of being infected, except for Yuuji. A new strain of the M34 begins to emerge, bringing the NOA soldiers face-to-face with this new threat.
Episode 4 - Presence: As the virus outbreak grows out of control, Yuuji slowly recovers from his injuries from before. In the face of growing danger, Yuuji begins to realize how much she means to him. Yuuji races to the aid of Ai as he leads the remaining armed forces against the new mutations...
And Zaion comes strolling across the finish line with little impact in its final volume that fails to capitalise on the first.
I listened to both episodes in Japanese stereo initially, and noticed no dropouts or distortions. The stereo mix isn't really anything to shout about, but comes off as your standard stereo fare. The Japanese performances tend to be quite good, in particular Ai, though there is something missing with Yuuji that is hard to explain.
I also checked out the English 5.1 track, and while it didn't blow me away, there was a fair amount of increased directionality in this mix. I found the dub itself relatively enjoyable, but nothing so great that it would make the show itself even more enjoyable. Again, while the performance of Yuuji was in fitting with the tone of the Japanese voice, it was hard to really feel any emotion coming from him.
Presented in letterbox widescreen, as with many GONZO shows, the transfer here is very nice, and probably the best part of the package. I noticed no aliasing or cross-colouration during regular playback, and the colours were all very vibrant and in fitting with GONZO's trademark "shiny" digital touch. There's really little else to say about it, other than I wish GONZO had embraced anamorphic sooner. This is another very good transfer from ADV.
The front cover has a shot of Yuuji in a sitting pose, with some nice line-art of Ai in the background, mimicking the first cover well. The show's logo and subtitle are quite subdued, but fit nicely in, and the episode volume is clearly titled and numbered on the cover and spine. The back cover is nicely laid out, with two strips of screencaps breaking up the show synopsis, and individual episode summaries. The special features are clearly listed below, along with show credits. As always, ADV's excellent technical information boxes take up the bottom part of the back cover. Packaged in a clear keepcase, the cover is also reversible, with the other side featuring a really nice imaged of Ai with the hologram off to her side. The cover is really nice and quite striking in comparison to the regular cover. The back cover of this side is essentially the same, just with different screens.
The disc also comes with an inserted booklet, which features character art, glossaries and round tables with the creative staff. It's relatively small but quite informative and is definitely a nice extra to have.
The menu system is perhaps the most plain part of the package. The main menu is static, featuring only the show's logo on a background, and the various selections, playing to one of the pieces of background music. The submenus are all static, too, with just the text selections to liven them up, and different music for each one. This is definitely not the most glossy part of the disc.
There are several extras here to help add even more value to the short runtime. There's a short interview with the SF setting director, discussing how he came to work on the project and his approach to the show. There's also a slightly longer interview with the 3D director, the music director, and the voice actress for Ai, all of which run just between two and four minutes. The final interview is with the director again. This is about six minutes long, but is far less gushy than the one on the first volume, as here he touches on having less time to develop things. He is also very appreciative of the voice actors and their abilities.
While it's another nice set of extras, and it's interesting to hear the creators' opinions of their work, it still doesn't take away from the fact that there are only two episodes on the disc.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Despite its flaws, I quite enjoyed the first volume of Zaion, and was looking forward to seeing the resolution, even though I knew it probably wasn't going to answer most of the questions raised in the first two episodes. As it turns out, it's not quite the train-wreck that might be expected, but it's pretty disappointing all the same.
Following the events of the last episode, the NOA soldiers return to the Organization's base expecting something of a reprieve from action. It's Ai's birthday, but testing on her reveals that it's unlikely she'll ever be able to bring the hologram to life to destroy the M34 virus again, unless she has an emotional incentive ? something that someone like Yuuji can provide. He is thinking about Ai and her loneliness a lot. But everything is disturbed when they discover the captain has been infected by the M34 virus, and mutated into a new strain that the nano-machines of the NOA soldiers can't destroy.
The new strain infects the NOA soldiers one by one, with only a single exception ? Yuuji. Yuuji and the military go all out to stop the mutated soldiers, with Yuuji desperately trying not to hurt them in the process, since they're his friends. But he can't stop them, so the Organisation tries sending missiles, which Ai manages to stop because she doesn't want to see Yuuji and everyone else die. She rushes to the scene to see Yuuji, proclaiming that she finally understands what her power is for, and vows to stop the virus once and for all.
In some ways, the happy ever after ending is quite sweet, and it's kind of nice to see things turn out OK for Ai and Yuuji, even if she does lose much of her power. But on the other hand, what I pointed out in my review of the first volume is only exemplified even further here ? the whole relationship between Ai and Yuuji feels entirely forced and unnatural.
Ai and Yuuji have had such little contact that to believe her feelings for him are so strong is a little far-fetched. In some ways you can see that her loneliness might make her that way, but the same goes for Yuuji, who keeps insisting he wants to protect her and likes her so much, but has barely seen her. In fact, his feelings for her seem stronger than what he shows towards his comrades, who he's known longer and fought next to, which seems wholly forced and out of line. Add in that he's not a particularly sympathetic character, and is broody and annoying a fair amount of time, and sadly there's little here to connect with emotionally, which means the romance that is the focus of the show held little interest for me whatsoever.
More character development would have helped in this regard, but with such a short runtime the writing needs to be snappy and spot on, with just enough scenes to give us a reason to connect, and for me that just wasn't present in these last two episodes of Zaion.
With my relative lack of interest in the romance story only increasing, my other hope was for the plot resolution to be something decent. Unfortunately, since it was tied so heavily in to the Ai/Yuuji story it pretty much misfired as well. While there was a lot of death and destruction, I really found myself not caring much for it at all. The virus mutation was quite a nice little twist, but the writer never really seemed to capitalise on the twist by really showing its affect on the other characters. Ai was mostly concerned with Yuuji the whole time, while Yuuji kept going on about protecting Ai even when his friends were being infected. There was a little connection there, as it's certainly easy to imagine what sort of feelings you might have in the same situation, but I never really saw much reaction from Yuuji, other than in the big battle when he kept saying he couldn't kill his friends.
The whole ending just disappointed me, with it coming off as forced and quite clichéd. Ai uses her "feelings" for Yuuji as the driving force to save the day, and the pair then ending up together all loved up, and Ai losing her powers (to a degree, anyway). The pacing of the show is slightly improved over these two episodes but it does still plod along in places, with the final battle getting a lot of time with the same thing happening over and over again.
It's not that Zaion is completely terrible, it just lacks anything exciting and it ends up not being all that entertaining, and as a GONZO fan I can't help but be disappointing. When all is said and done, I can't imagine anyone caring enough to want to re-watch the show, as it's just not a particularly enticing thought, as the show failed to captivate me in most ways. It's a shame, as there was definitely some potential there with a half-decent premise, but instead of doing something different the creators opted to go the clichéd and expected way, and ended up with a show that misfires in most ways. For GONZO fans it's worth a watch, but for everyone else I'd recommend a rental at best.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Japanese Promotional Clip,Interview with director Seiji Mizushima,Interview with SF setting director Mitsuyasu Sakai,Interview with 3D director Yasufumi Soejimi,Interview with music director Kenji Kawai,Interview with voice actress Yukari Tamura (the voice behind Ai)
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.
Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Japan
Released By: ADV Films UK
Running time: 60
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Letterbox Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2