Fighting back against the infections caused by the Meteor Virus, everything spills over as the danger is about to go global.
What They Say
Earth's populations have been decimated by the M34 virus. Mutants and monsters lurk in the shadows, waiting to take down the survivors. A panicked government has chosen to throw its dwindling resources behind a secret weapon --- a young psychic named Ai.
Zaion has a pair of decent audio tracks to it for its bilingual presentation and highlights what ADV Films used to do for almost all of its shows several years ago. The Japanese track is presented in its original stereo mix encoded at 224kbps which comes across quite well during the action sequences and fills the soundstage nicely. Dialogue is crisp and clear with no noticeable dropouts or distortions during regular playback. The English track has been remixed into 5.1 sound at 448kbps and it mostly gives a cleaner definition of the dialogue placement as opposed to really beefing up the sound effects. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track, though we mostly spot-checked the English language mix.
Originally released in 2004, this four part OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is not enhanced for anamorphic playback (nor is the Japanese release), The transfer here looks quite good when we first saw it in the two disc form it was originally released as but it’s not quite as good looking now and here with the distance of time and equipment. The colors in general look good and the CG comes across as the best, but there is a fair bit of noticeable line noise during the various panning sequences which is distracting. We also noted more noise in the character animation this time around as well which proved to be distracting. The main complaint we had back during its original release is still here as well, and that is that I wish the spacing of the subtitles, which go both in the picture and into the letterbox section, was done so that it didn’t go over both as it leads to some slight difficulty in reading in a few areas.
Compared to the single disc editions, this is a fantastic cover for the series. Even without those, this one stands out pretty nicely as it features a big shot of Yuuji walking on top of the rubble towards Ai as she puts her hand out towards him. The setting is what makes it work all the better as you have the city and moon behind them but also her “special weapon form” looking over them. That it’s not yet another close-up of the characters in action poses helps but it’s also the style used which doesn’t have the feeling where it’s just pieces from the show itself, but something more original. The back cover has a clean layout to it with some of the mechanical aspects making up the background with a shot of Ai in her egg in the middle which reaches out to a series of very small shots from the show itself. The summary keeps to the very basic ideas of the series and the bottom has the production and technical information. Interestingly, they don’t really push the extras all that hard as they list just the three pieces though there’s much more here overall in terms of depth. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for Zaion is very simple as it adopts the layout from the next episode previews segment but in blues with the gray background. The lines zip here and there for a few places but it’s mostly given over to the navigation which has the individual episode selection along the top and the other menus near the bottom. It’s a basic but nicely done in-theme kind of menu that sets the mood appropriately enough. Submenus load quickly and navigating is a breeze as everything is logical and makes sense. The disc also read our players’ language presets and played accordingly.
The original editions had a lot of extras and they’ve all made an appearance here as well which is very welcome. The first is the promotional clip that does a better job of explaining the show than the show does for certain areas. There’s an interesting if somewhat repetitive interview with director Mizushima and writer Takahashi that runs about fifteen minutes in length (each of them repeat themselves frequently about the concept of the show). Running just under five minutes in length is an interview with Gonzo president Murahama, who I tend to find interesting as he’s done a number of these clips in the past. There are the production sketches which showcases a lot of material from the show as well. There are more interviews with various members of the production, ranging from three to seven minutes or so. There are some interesting bits throughout, though enough of it is standard fluff as well. The main disappointment with this section is the lack of a play-all for the interviews considering their length..
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When Zaion first came out, it was during a time when there was a bit of a land rush to grab Gonzo titles since they were the big thing. Gonzo’s had their hits and misses over the years and one persons hit is certainly another’s miss. Being only four episodes, I was curious as to what they would do with this title since it could provide some fun in the form of how old OVAs used to squeeze in big things with some heart in the decades prior. Unfortunately, Zaion tended to be a bit more of a mess with nothing really original and a lot of really bad CG animation mixed in.
Taking place in the near future, we’re thrown right into the mix as we watch a number of men in oversized mechanized armor suits fighting against something humanoid looking but more blocky, almost as if made of rock formations. They’re having little luck, so it shifts to the crew that’s about to drop in and take over. The group, NOA, is varied in its age range from the typical teenagers to the gruff older men who exude confidence about themselves and their abilities. Within the mix of experienced combatants there are new people to it as well.
Given the power to essentially transform their skin into a form of armor via nanotechnology, the NOA folks leap into battle and quickly dispatch the creatures that they were sent to fight. This isn’t without losses though as members of the time get killed off during the exercise. The creatures they’re fighting are actually former members of humanity, people who have been infected by the M34 virus. A meter that had come into contact with humanity recently, the 34th strain of the virus causes peoples bodies to mutate into these strange masses.
To combat it and keep it from public knowledge, a group known as CURE is created to oversee the operations. Using their power and political might, they’ve created branches around the world and explore various avenues to deal with the M34 threat. The main one continues to be NOA and the nanotechnology that allows them to send highly powered men and women to fight off the creatures. Then they work to cover it up and keep what’s really happening from the people.
The series ends up focusing on Yuuji, a younger member of the NOA group who hates fighting and doesn’t like doing what he has to do. They don’t go into the why of him being there, which makes it difficult to really understand his hesitance to fighting something like this. To complement his angst and disconnect from the team, we’re also introduced to a young woman named Ai. She’s kept separate from the NOA folks and is under the constant watch of a group of scientists. She represents another avenue of weapon technology to fight against the virus.
As she’s kept from everyone else, when she and Yuuji eventually connect briefly in a hallway, something flashes between them and they become something more. So during a subsequent battle when Yuuji finds himself injured and the NOA team almost completely destroyed, Ai is brought in to unleash her special abilities to try and take down the creature. With both of them now on the battlefield and realizing what each has done for each other, especially after meeting elsewhere before that, they connect even more strongly. With both of them unsure about what they’re doing, they end up not being as compliant as those in command over them want them to be.
From a storytelling standpoint, the show doesn’t really reach me at all. Yuuji comes across as little more than a blank sheet for the most part with just the scribble of “angst” on him. Ai fares a bit better since we get to touch on her past and the fact she’s been in containment most of her life due to her abilities, but this doesn’t help translate into the connection and relationship that you expect to grow out of here. During one of the interviews, Natsuko goes on about how this is a sad little love story. All I can figure is that she had gotten her scripts confused with Saishu Heiki Kanojo instead. The love story aspect of the show simply doesn’t connect with me at all during these first two episodes. And with there being only four episodes, it’s something that needs to connect and be strong almost from the start due to the shortness of time to tell the tale here. It simply falls flat.
There are definitely some intriguing aspects to the story. The nanotechnology is written in an interesting way and given a nice visual flair that’s almost amusingly reminiscent of Vandread’s second season and the aspect of the entire virus that’s being kept hidden from the world by the CURE organization has some nice “illuminati” style moments. The pacing of the story doesn’t help it get told though. I even found that playing the promotional clip helps enlighten the viewer in certain areas more than the show itself, which helped clear up a few things after we finished the episodes.
The series is something of an experimental one for Gonzo, but then when you really think about it, almost all their shows seem experimental in some way. This was originally done both for broadcast and internet broadcast, though we get the “cleaned up” higher quality broadcast version here. In the experimental sense, there’s an attempt with the CG animation here in the mechanized armor that simply doesn’t fit well at all. It’s so completely jarring, more so than I thought Blue Submarine ever was, that when these things show up on the screen you’re thrown out of the moment completely. Most of the other CG is typical material that’s in Gonzo shows and comes across well, such as Ai’s weapon-effect. But the other CG and some of the layering to the scenes when they’re in it just look highly fake and out of place.
It’s interesting to go back to a series like this after several years and take it all in again. Some of what Gonzo did here they re-used later on in other series, notably Blassreiter, and expanded upon it with a different kind of hook. Zaion doesn’t have a strong first half when it jerkily explains the situation and the second half is no better as it raises the threat level while still keeping it to the whole idea of one young girl who can save everyone. It provides little plot in the second half, a few explanations and intrigue before it shifts into the big action sequences as the infected raze the landscape. Having this in a self contained collection is certainly welcome and ADV Films has put together a good release, but Zaion continues to be one of those series from Gonzo that has me shaking my head and wondering how it ever got made, never mind got licensed and released (again and again).
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Promotional Clip, Staff Interviews, Sketches
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.