Zaion Vol. #1 (also w/box) - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: C

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 24.98/29.98
  • Running time: 60
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Zaion

Zaion Vol. #1 (also w/box)

By Chris Beveridge     September 23, 2003
Release Date: September 30, 2003


Zaion Vol. #1 (also w/box)
© ADV Films


What They Say
ADV's release of Zaion will be available in two versions: as a DVD in its standard case, or as a collector's edition including the DVD and a custom series art box, sized to hold both volumes of the series.

A meteorite crashes to Earth, bringing with it a deadly virus known as M34 that infects humans, turning them into lethal beast-like monsters. The world's top organizations gather to form the organization CURE to combat the infectious disease. One organization, NOA, stands in the virus' destructive path by using solders implanted with super nanotechnology to fight the vicious disease. But as the virus continues to spread and mutate into different strains, mankind's only hope may be a sixteen-year-old girl...



The Review!
It’s the near future and a virus is spreading across the world. Can a group of nanotech enhanced soldiers save the day as well as find time for true love?

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The Japanese track is presented in its original stereo mix 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 which mostly gives a cleaner definition of the dialogue placement as opposed to really beefing up the sound effects.

Video:
Presented in its original aspect ration of 1.85:1 and not enhanced for anamorphic playback (nor is the Japanese release), the transfer here simply looks gorgeous. Colors are lush and vibrant, very strong looking colors. Cross coloration and aliasing are pretty much non-existent here, giving this a really clean look to it. If there’s anything to really complain about, it’s 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.

Packaging:
Going with a clear keepcase, this is a great looking package. The front cover has a nicely done layout of a black background with the red pencil sketch of the lead character Yuuji over it while over him is the full color shot of a slightly sad Ai. The back cover provides two strips of collaged images from the show and a summary of the show itself as well as a summary for each of the two episodes here. The discs features, production and technical information are all nicely laid out along the bottom. The cover is also fully reversible; the reverse side front cover has a nice blue hued shot of Yuuji halfway transformed in the foreground while Ai slides to the background here. The reverse side back cover is the same in layout but provides a different set of collaged images. Adding even more to the impressive feel of the packaging is the booklet included. With the simple and elegant looking cover design of the series name in white against black, we’re treated to a full color piece inside that has some round table talks with the staff, photographs of them, character illustrations and full color pieces that harkens back to the old movie books you used to get at the theaters for Hollywood movies.

For those who really love this show, even though it’s only a four episode OVA series across two discs, a special box has been made for it as well. The box isn’t terribly thick, which is almost understandable considering it’s only holding two discs, uses the special silver style look that brings a new look to the artwork. One of the main panels has a nice shot of Ai inside her chamber while the other has her reaching down to Yuuji on the battlefield. The spine is a nice simple piece with the series logo across it.

Menu:
The main menu has a nice layout utilizing pieces of animation and style from the promotional clip that’s static once it’s loaded and has the nice haunting theme from the show playing along. Selections are quick and easy to access and submenus load quickly even though there are transitional animations to it.

Extras:
There is a nice selection of extras included here with this release. 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. The production sketches section is a video gallery that runs just over three minutes in length and has a good number of interesting conceptual designs and rough pieces to it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the intent of taking a classic sad love story and combining it with nanotechnology and an alien virus, Zaion, or more commonly referred to as I Wish You Were Here, is a four episode OVA series that attempts to bring something new to the mix but instead feels like it’s been done already.

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’s 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.

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.

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.

For fans of this series, ADV has done up a great release here. This release mirrors the Japanese release nicely and has a number of good extras and a great looking transfer at a fraction of the cost. For those not familiar with the show, it’s a minimal commitment and nicely priced at the same time. Depending on what other sad little love stories you may have seen recently though, that may affect how well you connect with this particular one.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Japanese promotional clip,Interviews with director Seiji Mizushima and with the president of Gonzo Digimation,Production sketches

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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