Zaion Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B-

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  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Japan
  • Released By: ADV Films UK
  • MSRP: £19.99
  • Running time: 60
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Letterbox Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Zaion

Zaion Vol. #1

By Dani Moure     June 09, 2004
Release Date: April 19, 2004

Zaion Vol. #1
© ADV Films UK

What They Say
A meteorite crashes into Earth, bringing with it a deadly virus known as 'M34' that turns humans into savage beast-like monsters. The world's top organizations gather to form a body known as C.U.R.E. to combat the rampantly infectious disease. One of the organizations, NOA, stands in the virus' destructive path by using soldiers implanted with super nanotechnology. As the virus continues to spread and mutate into ever more deadly strains, mankind's only hope may be a sixteen year-old girl...

Episode 1 - Encounter: The NOA soldiers stand as the best, last and only line of defense against the new virus strains that keep emerging. One soldier, Yuuji, is torn between duty and his place in the world until a chance meeting with a shy girl named Ai, the agency's latest weapon and mankind's newest hope..

Episode 2 - Farewell: Yuuji is hospitalized due to injuries from the last battle as the rest of the NOA team heads off into battle. In the heat of the battle, Ai discovers the horror of the M34 virus as Yuuji confronts her fears and his own insecurities.

Directed by Seiji Muzushima ('Dai Guard', 'Generator Gawl') and produced by Gonzo Digimation ('Full Metal Panic', 'Hellsing'), 'Zaion' has been praised for its plot, character designs and successful integration of CG and traditional cel animation.

The Review!
Another Studio GONZO work makes it over to these shores, this time a short OVA series that originally aired over the internet.

I listened to both episodes in Japanese stereo initially, and noticed no dropouts or distortions. The stereo mix isn't really anything to shout about, but comes off as your standard stereo fare. The Japanese performances tend to be quite good, in particular Ai, though there is something missing with Yuuji that is hard to explain.

I also checked out the English 5.1 mix for the second episode, and while it didn't blow me away, there was a fair amount of increased directionality in this mix. I found the dub itself relatively enjoyable, but nothing so great that it would make the show itself even more enjoyable. Again, while the performance of Yuuji was in fitting with the tone of the Japanese voice, it was hard to really feel any emotion coming from him.

Presented in letterbox widescreen, as with many GONZO shows, the transfer here is very nice, and probably the best part of the package. I noticed no aliasing or cross-colouration during regular playback, and the colours were all very vibrant and in fitting with GONZO's trademark "shiny" digital touch. There's really little else to say about it, other than I wish GONZO had embraced anamorphic sooner. This is another very good transfer from ADV.

The front cover has a nice shot of Ai kind of floating in the centre, with an line-drawing of Yuuji in the background. The show's logo, including the subtitle, take up the centre of the cover, while the volume number and title are clearly listed at the bottom (and also on the spine). The back cover is nicely laid out, with two strips of screencaps breaking up the show synopsis, and individual episode summaries. The special feature are clearly listed below, along with show credits. As always, ADV's excellent technical information boxes take up the bottom part of the back cover. Packaged in a clear keepcase, the cover is also reversible, with the other side featuring a different, proper image of Yuuji along with a similar one of Ai. The back cover of this side is essentially the same, just with different screens.

The disc also comes with an inserted booklet, which features character art, glossaries and round tables with the creative staff. It's relatively small but quite informative and is definitely a nice extra to have.

The menu system is perhaps the most plain part of the package. The main menu is static, featuring only the show's logo on a background, and the various selections, playing to one of the pieces of background music. The submenus are all static, too, with just the text selections to liven them up, and different music for each one. This is definitely not the most glossy part of the disc.

There are several extras here to help add value to the short runtime. The first is a three-minute promotional clip that was made for the Japanese release, that introduces the characters, and manages to show surprisingly little of the show itself.

The next piece is an interview with the writer and director, again from the Japanese release. They are very enthusiastic about the show which is nice to see, but you can't help but feel they think far more highly of their work than everyone else probably does. We also get a shorter interview with the GONZO President who talks in part about the way the show was originally broadcast and how the internet is changing the way we watch shows. To round things out we get a set of art stills in music video style.

This is certainly a nice set of extras, and it's interesting to hear the creators' opinions of their work, but it doesn't take away from the fact that there are only two episodes on the disc.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Before I saw Zaion, I'd heard a lot of mixed thoughts about it. It'd been quite heavily panned by a number of people during the release period, and so I hadn't really been looking forward to it too much. As it turns out, it's not all that bad, it just suffers, as so often is the case, due to the lack of runtime and uneven writing.

The story of Zaion revolves around a group of soldier types from the organisation NOA, who are working to combat the M34 virus, which infects humans and turns them into monsters. NOA is just one member group of the larger organisation C.U.R.E., and implants its soldiers with nanotechnology that becomes a form of armour, in order to defeat the infected. Yuuji is one of the men who makes up the NOA team that we follow, but in each battle more and more NOA soldiers are lost, and this only pushes up the costs and reduces the effectiveness of the teams as they begin to lose hope.

This is where the young girl named Ai comes in. She has the ability to command a strange creature that manages to destroy the infected monsters extremely quickly with minimal loss. But relying on a young girl proves problematic, as she has her own insecurities. Ai and Yuuji eventually meet, and he seems to take a liking to her, as they're similar in some ways. In the next major battle, Ai is attempting to fight the virus but can't kill the infected as she sees human faces in the monster. She doesn't want to fight, and indeed during her time of shock is unable to fight, but the organisations can only push for her involvement as the M34 virus mutates into a new strain that the nano-soldiers are unable to destroy, and she becomes humanities only hope for survival. Yuuji recognizes her feelings, and he and his team run away with her and their commander, but they're soon being followed by C.U.R.E. And thus the battle for Ai begins.

One of the biggest problems I had with the show was the uneven writing which left the pace of the show extremely uneven. Presumably because of the lack of runtime, the writer seemed to feel the need to add exposition throughout the show, but when she did so, she did it at the expense of all else. So one minute we'll be following a character, and the next we'll switch scenes and get a whole lump of exposition and nothing but for a while. Then we'll switch back to the characters, then onto action and so on. It's the exposition that tends to jar as it just doesn't flow too well. Several technical terms and abbreviations are used (which are generally explained in an additional subtitle track), and the characters such as the scientist just tend to spew them off in amongst the explanation of something about the world (such as the armour the NOA soldiers have), at a time when it doesn't really fit into the flow of the story. There are always ways to fit in such exposition during incidental conversations and such where it doesn't feel so forced, but unfortunately it's shoved down the our throats here.

The other area where Zaion falters is with the characters. It's quite difficult to really relate to any of the characters here, though it's hard to really explain why. There just isn't really anything about Yuuji that is particularly captivating, and his relationship with Ai hasn't really developed all that much at the point in episode two when we're supposed to care. They just seemed to get together so quickly with little build-up after their first meeting, and there's no real explanation or reason why it seems that Yuuji cares about what happens to her so much. It's not entirely emotionless because Ai is involved, since she's so young and being used seemingly against her will, and she's so lonely, but there's just something between them that is missing to make it really feel gut-wrenching at the end of the episode.

As you would expect, there is also a lot of backstory that is unclear (though the out-of-place exposition does help in that regard), but despite it's problems I still found Zaion strangely compelling. The world that is presented is quite interesting, as are some of the conflicts within a few of the characters. Ai comes off best in this regard, as it's easy to see why she would feel like she's being used and would want to get away. Particularly when we see her back off at the sight of people in amongst the virus, you can really feel why she wouldn't want to attack. There are also the obnoxious NOA staff thrown in there who are easy to dislike, especially given the actions they take to get Ai back by fighting the NOA agents, though it's actually understandable in the sense that Ai is seemingly the only one who can stop the new strain of M34.

The production values on the series are pretty decent, with all the usual GONZO trademarks. Character designs are quite attractive, it has the shiny, digital look that all the studio's shows tend to, and the animation fairs quite well. The biggest disappointment is, also in line with several shows from the studio, the CG, which isn't particularly well integrated and tends to stand out, particularly with the mecha that appear throughout the two episodes. Nevertheless, it looks pretty nice on the whole, especially given its roots.

In Summary:
Zaion is an oddball in that it has numerous obvious flaws, in particular in the writing, and yet there's an oddly compelling side to it that is hard to put into words. It has most of the shortcomings that you'd expect from a short OVA series, and it certainly won't appeal to everyone, but I am quite looking forward to the next volume to see how it's resolved, which is never a bad thing (whether I have high hopes for that resolution is another question, though). It's certainly something I'd recommend to rent, but I'm not so sure I'd recommend it to buy, given the price tag for the amount of content you'd get.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Japanese Promotional Clip,Interview with Director Seiji Mizushima and Writer Natsuko Takahashi,Interview with GONZO President Showji Murahama

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.


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