Zegapain Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, April 11, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What They Say
Joy turns to anguish for Kyo and the Oceanus crew as their world
literally comes to an end. While it looks like Ryoko can be resurrected, her data is too damaged to allow her to fully awaken in Maihama. But just as bad, the Maihama server is reaching the point where it cannot maintain the simulation of Maihama and its people. It will have to be reset, as it has been every 149 days for the past 40 years. Everyone except the Cerebrants will lose their memories of the past five months, and all personal progress will be lost. As Kyo and his friends fight for survival, he begins to doubt that their existence can really be called "life" at all.

The Review!
When humanity resides on servers, the last thing you want to hear is that there are server problems...

The series sports a fairly solid stereo mix as both tracks that are included are done at 224 kbps. Zegapain is a show that really would benefit from a strong 5.1 mix as it features a good deal of mecha action. The stereo mix that we do get however is quite good as it has plenty of placement across the forward soundstage and smooth directionality. There isn't a lot of depth required here though but what we have in total is a clean and solid sounding release. Dialogue is problem free and we had no issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Featuring five episodes on this volume, the transfer in general is pretty solid but not without a few problems. The opening episode is where it's the most problematic as some of the initial scenes with heavy blacks have gradients that display a good deal of blocking during it. This eases off in later episodes, especially when you see similar gradients in the blue water but without the same level of noise and blocking. Colors in general are solid and smooth looking with very little noise to them. Aliasing and cross coloration are essentially minimal to non-existent here which leaves the bulk of the show looking good, especially in outdoor city scenes.

Using the Japanese cover artwork once more, the cover art moves away from the general pairings that we've had to provide a bit more of a cast shot. In a rather good move, they've provided a cast shot of the hologram characters that exist on board the Oceanus as its crew which works out nicely here as there's a bit of lightness to them. The designs are crisp in its line work and the coloring is similar to previous volumes which gives it a good feel. The back cover uses a similar color layout but with various hues of purple that come across rather gaudily with the red and purple of Sin's Anti-Zega. The cover is a fairly standard layout for Bandai as it provides a brief summary of the premise and a rundown of the discs extras, episodes and titles. The shots from the show are a good mix of character moments and mecha action. The bottom portion of the cover contains the usual minimal and unhelpful technical specs and production information.

When it comes to mecha shows, Bandai typically has some good in-theme menus with them and Zegapain is no exception. Menu items are located along the top and bottom while a strip of clips plays through the middle with various action sequences and some key character moments. Interestingly, the menu runs for 48 seconds but they do the audio in 22 second segments so that it rises and falls once before repeating again. The layout is nicely done, though the white text on the purple is a bit awkward at first, but it's a solid piece that fits the show well. Access times are nice and fast but the disc did not properly read our players' language presets and default to English with sign/song subtitles.

The extras for this volume are nice in that they provide the clean ending sequences for the fifth version and clean endings for the special endings used for episodes seventeen and eighteen. There's also the inclusion of the fourth opening sequence with its changes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The fourth installment of Zegapain moves us through the second half of the series as things are a bit more introspective after the events that have gone on. The rise and fall of Ryoko in the previous volume was truly one of the best moments of a very solid show as she brought in a lot of new dynamics to the character relationships once she woke up as a Cerebrant. With her now little more than corrupted data, everyone has had to refocus on going on with the mission that's becoming less clear every day.

The situation with Ryoko is essentially the defining moments of this set of episodes as so much happens because of her data integrity issues. Shizuno's discovery of portions of her in the Zegapain has at least given her a partial lease on life though as she can now exist within just the Altair itself. That has Kyo very excited by also concerned because her Maihama server representation has her in a hospital bed in a coma due to a traffic accident. When he's with her in the Altair, he's overcompensating by being incredibly positive about everything since he's happy just to have her in some form. Ryoko's dealing with it as best as she can but there are so many conflicting elements to it that it's very easy to see that she's becoming more and more confused about who she is. When everyone is made up of quantum energy and you begin to doubt that you really truly exist, how long until that belief takes root in a fundamental and detrimental way?

In the midst of all of this, two very distinct events occur that throws a lot more confusion into the mix. The first is that Kyo learns another big dark secret about how this world works. Unsurprisingly, the quantum servers that house the remainder of humanity have only so much space on them. The Maihama server covers a five kilometer radius for several hundred people and it can maintain that integrity for only so long before everything starts to break down. That breakdown period is just beginning in earnest and the city is adjusting in the ways that it can, as is the population. Having the skies turn green and the rain turn red, everyone sort of accepts it for what it is and don't realize that it's suddenly wrong. Only those who are truly awake realize it and it's a difficult challenge for Kyo to go through.

Upon discovering that this happens every five months and that he himself has gone through some one hundred resets in his past life, Kyo's ability to cope with the fakeness of it all is pushed to the breaking point. With Ryoko, his one real strong link to who he thought he was, dealing with her own reality issues, Kyo lashes out at just about anyone who comes near him. After working so hard in this life to fix things with his friends and those on the swim team, to learn that it's all about to be reset and he has to start from scratch is incredibly demoralizing. Most everyone else on board the Oceanus has come to accept it since they've known and experienced it for much longer in this phase and all they can do is just look on and occasionally offer a bit of unwelcome advice.

As much psychological material as there is in the show, the action continues on as well. Both Sin and Abyss make their moves with their Anti-Zega weapons which have made a lot of what the Oceanus has on board fairly useless. This forces the command crew to start coming up with some new ideas and battle plans in order to make progress which is pretty much a typical element in any kind of war. Where the show takes an intriguing turn is when Sin starts to question why the "lightless ones" she's fighting against do what they do. The battles have gone on for awhile now and she's craving understanding of what's driving them. That craving drives her to actually gain access to the Oceanus and get some one on one time with several members of the crew. The scenes practically scream out for someone to say, "let's just sit down and talk for a few minutes" and you could expect the show to be effectively over as they discuss that the real issues are. But that wouldn't be fun so we get a lot of good tense moments where the bad guys are humanized more than the good guys would prefer.

In Summary:
With each new volume of Zegapain I find myself wanting to go back to that first volume to see how badly I misread it. Those first episodes left me pretty uninterested in the show which has quickly become one of my favorite mecha shows in the last few years. The previous volume focused on a lot of events and issues so this set feels a bit more mellow than that one did. This is a good thing as it establishes more of the rules of how the world works and puts more into place for the upcoming finale which will hopefully have a solid payoff. With eight more episodes to go, Zegapain can easily become one of the better intelligent mecha shows out there with how it handles everything. While it is filled with teenagers who have to save the world, it's done in a very engaging way that has me eagerly anticipating each new volume and episode. Very recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean/Special Closings

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Zegapain