Movie: If you know much about anime, you'll know that in Japan it is pretty common to base a series on a successful videogame just as it used to be pretty common for videogames to be made out of movies and television shows over here a few platforms ago. The reasoning is clearly relating to the excellent marketing strategies devised by those who claim to know how cross markets work. The problem is that those geniuses often found that the games would be rushed and no one would want to play them; leading to the advent of the so-called discount bin. Regardless, there have been some successful franchises in this genre over the years with the first coming to mind being the Sakura Wars releases and a second being the Zone of the Enders: Complete Collection.
The television version of the show began with an OVA released alongside a Playstation 2 game way back when the system was new. The title of the show was Z.O.E. 2167: IDOLO and it detailed a future where mankind had successfully colonized Mars and the asteroid belt. Technological advances aside, human nature has yet to advance all that much and the colonists find the people from Earth to be nasty, full of themselves, and possessive of a mindset that they are better than the rest of the human race simply by virtue of their birthplace. In their favor is the fact that people living in space or on Mars have less gravity so their strength is lesser and they're easier to smack around at leisure. As far as politics are concerned, the Earthers have a patronizing attitude towards the provisional Mars government, particularly since the colonies are not fully self sustaining. This leads to heavy taxes with minimal representation (much like the conditions that sparked the American Revolution in 1776) and political intrigue as factions on the red planet seek ways to prepare for the inevitable war between the two planets.
The OVA centers much of story on a young pilot and the love of his life as they develop a large mechanized robot in secret, using some material found in relative abundance on Mars called Metatron. The pilot is one Radium Lavans and his main squeeze is a brilliant scientist called Dolores with the generic term for the weapons being Orbital Frames. As he pilots the new robot though, certain facts are discovered; primarily that the link between the robot and the pilot becomes increasingly intuitive as well as the fact that the link works both ways. This has the effect of making the weapon far more deadly and powerful but also destabilizing to the pilot's sanity. The Earth forces (the UNSF) have a vested interest in preventing uprisings so they use any means at their disposal to capture the weapon, leading to a tragic ending for the couple but also setting the stage for the videogame and follow up season of Z.O.E.: Dolores, i.
This series picks up years later with the advanced technology intact and various factions wanting to obtain it to advance their respective causes. The lead protagonist this time is a freight hauler by the name of James Links. He has a history in the military and a broken relationship with a reported dead scientist from Mars, Rachel, but as an Earther, others considered he married beneath his station in life. As the series begins, he's beaten silly by some punks and left in a heap due to the fact that his ex-girlfriend is now hanging with a local mobster. He's the modern equivalent of a space trucker barely making ends meet and after initially refusing a special load (due to the shady manner of the middle man), he takes the job. Like most such jobs in the history of science fiction (remember a guy named Han Solo in the original Star Wars?), things don't go as planned and soon enough, the authorities are after him. He hasn't done anything wrong but both sides of the struggle to gain the technology couldn't care less about that; he's insignificant to their needs.
What starts out as a routine run between Mars and Earth then switches to intrigue as his ship is boarded by government officials with one of them killing the others and trying to do the same to James. His cargo, in the form of a feminine frame called Dolores, saves him but the chase is on as he's now on the run for murdering the 3 officials. This leads to negative consequences to his estranged children (all grown up and established in careers on Earth) who are then forced to run with him from the pursuing authorities. Even though they can barely stand one another, the trio, along with Dolores, try to unravel the hidden message stored in her otherwise blank memory that seems to lead them to the conclusion that Dolores might actually be Rachel and far too dangerous to fall into the hands of anyone, certainly the two groups bent on destroying the fragile balance between Earth and Mars.
Okay, this is your standard chase anime series with the mech-robot as the central theme. We've seen all the elements before, from the nature of the advances making the robot superior, to the chase aspects of the cast, to the warring factions between planets. The characters are mostly two dimensional stereotypes with a couple of exceptions mind you but still manage to fall into the archetypal standards of the genre. Even the pursuing authorities in the form of an obsessed nut and the later enemies that pop up are cookie cutter from the start so why did I like this set so much? Well, there's no easy answer for that question. The anime style itself shows its age (it's about 5 years old) and almost all the building blocks of the show are retreads yet the way they were combined with the tongue in cheek fashion of the story won me over. I'd seen the latter half of the show and reviewed it years ago; finding a fair amount to appreciate once I figured out what was going on so I guess the whole set in a single sitting made for better drama. In that sense, I thought the new price point made it well worth a rating of Recommended without hesitation. In short, the folks at ADV Films have made a decent release even better by including the OVA with the entire series in the value packed thin case set here. If you like science fiction, large robots skillfully battling it out, and political intrigue, you'll probably like this unpolished gem too.
Picture: Zone of the Enders: Complete Collection was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as shot by Japanese director Tetsuya Watanabe (you might remember him from an earlier series of noteworthy status called Neon Genesis Evangelion). The anime style used was pretty basic with frames panned to indicate movement a little too often for my tastes but otherwise consisting of clean lines and minimal issues worth mentioning. The cover art is a good indicator here of the level of detail the show had to offer with. I recall reading something online about issues with the original releases but never saw it then, nor did I see it here, so in general it was a decent looking show to watch.
Sound: The audio was slightly different on the OVA than on the series itself so I'll address that first by saying that the OVA had a choice of the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese track with English subtitles while the full series had each track in a 2.0 version. The dub on the OVA actually showed some decent separation between the channels and was enhanced during the musical and battle sequences while the series had each track sounding fairly similar with only a slightly increased bass level worth noting. In general, I thought the dub track stood up well to the original track but the xenophile in me still preferred the original vocals of the Japanese track. The subtitles seemed to follow very closely with the dub and I never thought they were off as some of them can be but I don't speak Japanese so suffice it to say they came across as relatively identical dub-titles to the English language track. The music and special effects weren't as good as I'm used to with newer shows but each seemed fairly good and as if some effort went into them.
Extras: I'd love to tell you about the tons of extras this one had but the reality was it fell into the new pricing strategy where all the extras were stripped off to offer fans an affordable alternative to the original disc releases. If you want more than trailers with the OVA and original series; buy the original releases.
Final Thoughts: Zone of the Enders: Complete Collection took elements of classic science fiction anime and wove them into a coherent pattern that will find many of you pointing out similar stories, characters, and situations from other series but the truth of the matter is that it was all done so well that you probably won't mind much, especially given the value oriented boxed set ADV Films was nice enough (and smart enough) to release. I've never played the games the shows were derived from and no knowledge of them is needed to enjoy the boxed set although I could see elements where scenes could be easily translated into levels of a game. Perhaps if you like the boxed set, you'll want to pick up the games to interact with your favorite characters too but the set was fine on its own too.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.