Zegapain Vol. #5 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, June 06, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, June 03, 2008

What They Say
The Oceanus is rife with paranoia in the aftermath of Sin's boarding
them. Now somebody has leaked the location of the Maihama server to the enemy, and Shizuno is the obvious suspect. But as more and more secrets are revealed, it's clear that there's more to Shizuno and Shima than they are willing to reveal. Unfortunately, both sides are moving toward the end game of this war, and Shima seems to be weakening with every passing hour. As the secrets of both the commander and the mysterious Shizuno are revealed, the Cerebrants are launched into a final desperate operation against the Gardsorm. If they succeed, it means the meta-bodies trapped in the servers can be made physical again. If they fail, the world will belong to the Gardsorm!

The Review!
Traps are laid out to ensnare the Gardsorm and more of the truth behind the situation is revealed to a surprised crew of the Oceanus.

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.

The fifth installment of the series is one that's really nicely done as it works the unusual trio of Kyo, Shizuno and Kaminagi together. The three have an interesting relationship going on and it's almost amusing that Kaminagi is so upbeat here considering how downcast and lifeless she is in the show now. 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 the Gardsorm ship there. 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 sixth version and clean endings for the special endings used for episodes on this volume.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As the series moves closer to its ending, it continues to impress me with some the curves it throws into the mix to keep you guessing. While enough of it is predictable, there are some moments where you just smile and enjoy the twists and turns that are introduced. Zegapain does start to suffer a bit with this volume as things feel a bit more rushed towards a conclusion, but with everyone in the midst of a war for humanities survival, nothing goes in a smooth manner so it has an edge of realism to it.

Zegapain runs through a few story ideas here along with a good bit of subplot that's woven into each piece. The subplot points are rather interesting as they continue to explore what Kaminagi is going through since her return to active duty. She's become rather lifeless at times, particularly when she's actively inside the Maihama server world, and that dispassion is affecting how she views everything. The realization of the kind of relationship that Shizuno and Kyo had previously doesn't actively affect her, even though she knows it should, and she just sort of lets it wash over her. The only time she seems alive and like her old self is when she's in the Altair with Kyo and fighting or on patrol. She's bonded with the machine in an interesting way that hasn't really been explored yet. When Kaminagi rose up into the ranks of the Cerebrants earlier, I worried that it would be disruptive and uninteresting. Instead, she's grown to be a fascinating addition to the group and one that has gone through a large number of changes in a very short period of time.

The disparity of how she views things is something that's an underlying element to these episodes as the storyline is evolving quickly. The first half of the volume deals with a big action piece that has a trap set to lure in Sin and Abyss to the Maihama server so they can get the information they need on the Anti-Zega which is key to moving forward with their next operation. This is all kept secret from everyone outside of Shizuno and Shima which means that Kyo and Kaminagi defend the server with a lot of intensity. The threat posed to the place they call home is certainly a rallying cry but it's one that is stressed all the more when Kaminagi becomes much colder and impersonal about all of it when she's actually in the server. As an action piece, it's rather good as it delves nicely into showing how the outside world looks for Maihama and puts a bit more of presence to the server itself for Kyo.

This story arc does set the stage for some rather good revelations however which play out over the remainder of the episodes alongside the subplot about how everyone feels about what's going on. The battle against the Gardsorm has been fairly clear cut for awhile now but the smaller subtle parts about the main cast of characters has only been building up. The nods towards Shima and Shizuno having more to them than we've seen reaches a rather good crescendo here, particularly for Shizuno as her past and awakening is given some good screen time. The first meeting between her and Kyo alone is worthwhile as we get to see more of how he acted and lived in that particular incarnation of his life. The differences have been touched on in dialogue here and there, but getting something more detailed which explains some of why Shizuno has and will have feelings for him is very welcome at this point.

The meta story material that's brought into play, starting with the Maihama server and what's been done with it over the years, does feel like it's rushed into play here but it's solid material that expands on what has come before. Though the Maihama server and its Cerebrants do come across as being a bit more important than one would normally find in any situation of this sort, the central focus of it and those involved works well to keep it all tied together. Shima's background has been really minimal for so long that getting anything new on him helps to solidify events that he's pushing forward. As the crew of the Oceanus begin their Final Operation at the same time that the Gardsorm are preparing to turn the planet uninhabitable for humanity, realizing the ties that bind so many of these characters together clicks just right.

In Summary:
With each new volume of Zegapain, I find myself regretting the way I felt so dismissive of the show at first. The opening to the series was something that just didn't appeal and I figured I was going to be in for a mediocre and predictable ride. While there are certainly predictable plot paths to be found here, Zegapain has been a lot more interesting than I expected and deals with some good social/human issues along the way. With the potential for becoming "real" now nearly in their grasp, the realization that not everyone will want to go that route since they could really die is one that is welcome to be dealt with. Zegapain plays well between the action, relationship and philosophical aspects and it's set up for a strong epic ending with this volume. Hopefully the payoff will really be there and Sunrise can make this a solidly memorable show.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Ending (Episode 19),Textless Ending (Episode 22),Textless Ending (Version 6)

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