Megazone Complete Collection (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Ben Leary
Review Date: Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, December 11, 2007



What They Say
Megazone 23 is a classic example of 80s action-adventure and a must-have for any serious mecha fan. Teenager Shougo and his friends just want to have fun, but one day one of Shougo’s older friends show up with what looks like a motorcycle but turns out to be much more. Now ruthless men will stop at nothing to retrieve the strange machine. Sucked into a secret world of danger and mystery, Shougo must fight for his survival – and his sanity.

The Review!
A legendary OVA series that proves to be the almost good, the almost bad, and the very, very ugly, all collected into one package. Not quite in that order, though.

Audio:
This being one of the landmarks of anime, I decided to watch it in the original language of Japanese. That means in this case a pretty basic stereo mix with almost no directionality until the third part, and even then, very little. For the most part it sounds like a wider mono track, with the center channel taking almost the entire load and the left and right speaker pitching in occasionally to help with the music and larger sound effects. The materials seem to be in good shape though, so there are no hissings or dropouts or any other problems. I also did a fair bit of spot checking for each disc on the English track; not only out of the sense of responsiblilty that comes with being a highly-trained reviewing professional, but also because I was curious to see what kind of a surround mix could be made with materials of this age. I must say I was impressed. I expected the voices to be thrown to different speakers more actively - what I didn't expect was for the sound effects to be so much wider and clearer. The big scenes really sound as big as they were supposed to, and even the smaller scenes get a piece of the action with improved ambient noises and higher quality music. As old as it is, this sounds excellent.

Video:
Megazone has the usual problems of a production of its age: nicks and dirt on the cels, inconsistent colouring, and frame jitter; but otherwise it seems to have been taken care of very well and escaped many of the ravages of time. I'd really have a hard time faulting the transfer here. Apart from a couple of very nitpicky instances of aliasing prompted by pans, this looks fantastic. Colours are sharp and bright, with no bleeding, and clarity is exceptional. Part one in particular, having the rare luxury of being filmed in 35mm, looks gorgeous. A really great job on this front by ADV.

Packaging:
Here's where I get to start picking on things. Like a few other shows we've been getting from ADV lately, this one goes the super-slim route with a normal size keepcase, the kind that has a double-sided flippy holder that lets you get three discs in there instead of one. Just like the Yugo collection I had a hard time getting the discs out of the flippy. The cover uses for its main element the ugliest cover from the worst show of the original release. The two leads in their second incarnation stare blankly out at you as Eiji from part 3 strikes a stiff pose in front of his Garland, all with a film negative style of look. The back is cluttered with text, partly due to having to list three separate sets of production credits. There are also the usual screenshots and a problem-free technical grid. It doesn't look all that good but at least it saves some space.

Menu:
Bland but functional. The standard features for a page are a black and white line drawing, with some green bordering and plain text. It's not pretty, but access times are downright sudden, and everything is laid out clearly and logically. There are also a good number of chapter stops for repeat viewings.

Extras:
The good news is that this is another ADV collection that has come through with the extras unscathed. The bad news is that there weren't a whole lot of extras to scathe in the first place. The only recurring extras are the image galleries, which pop up on each of the three discs. These are your basic production art pieces; and, since this is ADV, they come in the form of slideshows set to music. While the music is a nice touch, I prefer to be in control of how long I look at the pictures.

And since there aren't even any opening or closing sequences to do clean versions of, the only real standout extra is an audio commentary from the production crew at ADV. Audio commentaries are usually hit or miss, even for people who like the idea to begin with. Individual response to this one will probably vary widely. The bulk of the information I enjoyed was included in the comments on the historical context of the show, both in terms of general conditions in Japan and the state of the anime industry at the time. Most of these came early on. The second half contained a few tidbits that helped me understand the show a little better and get in on a few of the hidden jokes and references, but mostly the commentators confine themselves to insights such as "What's that about?" or "Here comes a gratuitous motorcycle chase" or "Umm...yeah". They also have the infuriating tendency of most ADV commentators to profess that they love the show and then mock it all the way through. It's very much a mixed bag, and therefore pretty representative of the show, I guess. Long time fans will probably eat this up, though.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Let's cut to the chase. These OVAs contain splatter violence, lots of motorbikes, gratuitous sex and nudity, and '80s fashion. If your reaction to that is anything other than "Awesome!" hit the back button. NOW.

No, seriously. The 15+ rating this got the first time around is as laughable as the TV-PG rating on the Fullmetal Alchemist DVDs, if not moreso. If you don't want to see people's eyeballs bursting out of their exploding heads, don't watch this.

This set also relies heavily on nostalgia, or at the very least curiosity, about the '80s anime scene. This is usually a good thing: a good show can be enjoyed even more when it has an extra interest outside its own merits. The trouble is that for the first OVA, the one that got the whole ball rolling, the merits are almost entirely technical. Its place in history, its breakout popularity, and its legendary status, are are entirely accidental. It's almost equivalent to The Jazz Singer in the world of film. It became a smash hit and changed the face of its industry through sheer dumb luck. It didn't do anything new, particularly, and it wasn't good according to the conventions of the medium in its own day. It was just in the right place at the right time. And you watch it now and wonder what anybody saw in it.

The technical merits are certainly impressive. The animation is, almost without exception, super slick, and detailed down to drops of sweat flecking off dancers' faces and tiny shards of debris when robots smash into walls. But, as the old commercial asks, "Where's the beef?" It's almost like the animation staff was in charge of the whole show, and just did whatever scenes it felt like doing. Dance scenes jog together with motorcycle chases. The hero finds out his entire world is being manipulated by a computer and the program that can protect everyone is about to be disabled by the bad guys who murdered his friend and have been trying to kill him. His next move is to, literally, screw around. In case you're interested in his pickup routine, it goes like this.

HIM: I wanna sleep with you.
HER: This is sudden. Can't you be a little more romantic?
HIM: Nevermind. It's okay if you don't want to.
(They go to a love hotel.)

The rape of Lucrece was more romantic than that.

That world-manipulating computer is an interesting idea, and there's a good sense of mystery early on. But it never really amounts to much. It's not the kind of thing that gets explained thoroughly, so you can't pick it up very well on a first viewing. And it doesn't catch your interest quite enough to make you want to watch it again.

Oh, but it gets so much worse. Part 2 is like seeing the worst moments of part 1 edited together and supplemented by scenes that were cut from the Evil Dead films for being too sick. Only it makes less sense than that, because not only has the plot almost completely disappeared, the characters who survived the first part are back but look and act completely different. I literally did not realize one character was the same guy from part 1 until it was explained to me on the audio commentary. It ends with everybody dying except Shogo and his motorcycle gang, who are inexplicably chosen to repopulate the dying earth. With the future in the hands of creeps like that, you don't even get a Noah's ark feel of humanity returning to a devastated but purified world. My thoughts were more like "There goes the neighborhood".

And turning to the third part, I found I was right. The descendents of all the crazy, messed-up people from part 2 have built a crazy, messed-up city called Eden. And, you guessed it, it's controlled by a big computer. Yep, we're right back to square one. Only this time we have a story, and it's in at least semi-competent hands. We at last get a hero who isn't afraid to do things when they need to be done, and the sudden infusion of characterization is invigorating for a while, especially when we realise this guy is finally going to do something about Eve. There's so much technobabble I'm not sure I followed the plot, but I was content just having an actual plot this time. The funny thing is, the story managed to work for me at all the important points, even when I didn't understand what was going on. Our old chum senseless carnage makes a cameo appearance, and staying clean is a big priority in Eden, going by the amount of time the girls spend in the shower; but that sort of thing stays at acceptable levels, and almost feels innocent after all the dreck we've had up to now.

Whenever I try to step back and think of these OVAs as a whole series, I find them immediately breaking up again into their constituent parts. If I talk about them together, I have to describe them almost entirely in negative terms - by what they are not. They are not an "OVA series", where the parts work together to tell a complete story. They're more like an anthology of stories set in the same universe, loosely linked by a sort of semi-continuity. They are not coherent, even on these terms. They are not done with good taste. Neither are they effective dramatically in any consistent fashion (though the third part comes close at times).

If I want to explain them in positive terms, I would have to do it like this. Imagine a high-school creative writing class where the students are divided into groups of three and told to write a short novel with each student taking a third of the story. In one group, the first student has one good idea to work with, but it's an idea suited to a much longer form, and he can't think of a way to end it. In the process of editing it down to the proper length, he cuts too much essential material away. Somewhere along the line he half-realizes this, and adds in some sexual content and bloodshed to distract his readers from noticing the gaps. He almost succeeds due to his ability to write like the dickens, as far as pure style goes, but his work is ultimately too fragmented and tasteless, and too bad at characterization, to really come off. The second writer has no real interest in the project, or any stories at all, for that matter; nor does he understand what the first writer was trying to get at. What he likes best about the first part is the sex and the blood - which were originally put in to draw attention away from the flaws of the first part, but only worsened them - so he gives those center stage, makes them even more explicit, and forgets everything else. Mostly he just wants to write stuff he couldn't get away with in the school paper. He has a vague idea from somewhere that a finish of some sort is required, and he tacks on the first sci-fi film ending he remembers. The third writer is the most inventive of the lot. Unfortunately, he finds himself written into a corner by his predecessors. He makes the best of the situation by taking the good idea of the first part and going in his own direction with it. But his inventiveness is a double-edged sword, at least under these constraints - it is his weakness as well as his strength. His creative powers far exceed his ability to explain or describe his ideas. He is also too easily influenced. He realizes the sex and violence from the earlier parts are a liability, but as much as he dilutes them, he can't bring himself to do away with them altogether. But he does at least have an idea of what a story is like and how to put one together, and even how to make it move quickly. It doesn't often make sense; but every now and again it works, and at least in his hands it arrives somewhere, and somewhere worth going. By itself it would be unremarkable, but in comparison with what has come before it is an improvement.

In Summary:
Watching these OVAs is a strange experience. It's almost like digging through an old desk drawer. You find a few really valuable things and a smattering of odds and ends and a lot of outright rubbish, all jumbled together every which way. I can only make the useless gesture of recommending it people who are already fans. Which is easy to do: the technical presentation of this set impresses at all points. I don't think a series like this will make an appeal to anyone not interested in the time capsule or exploding head aspects of it. This evoked a lot of different feelings from me: historical curiosity, excitement, confusion, embarrassment, revulsion. But the overriding one was a desire to forget about the whole rotten thing. As I write this a day after seeing the third part, I can already feel the memory blessedly fading.

In brief, the first two parts are what people who hate anime think anime is: incomprehensible stories with non-endings, peppered with sex and drenched in blood. In their own day they may have dripped with cool. Now they just drip. The third part is a little better than average, and the only one really worth a look on its own terms. But no one can deny the excellent presentation the show gets here. Those who are already fans and preparing to flame me in the forums will find this an excellent value.

There's no doubt this is one of the roots of modern anime - but roots are sometimes grimy things, and better off buried. Megazone might be able to win itself some new converts with this collection, but it's not something I'd bet my own money on. I recommend saving yours.

Note: The title is pronounced "Megazone two-three" and not "twenty-three." But since Megazone 23 is never actually referenced in the show, this isn't as important as you might think.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Production Sketches,Commentary Track

Review Equipment
Sony 35" KvV-35XBR88 SDTV, Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player (via generic component video and coaxial audio cables), Yamaha RX-V550 DD/DTS Receiver, Infinity Primus C25 and 150 speakers.



Mania Grade: C-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: C+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: C
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 225
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Megazone 23