"Can a person become happy through striping evil?"
Okay, so even before the opening titles are out of the way in Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City:
A middle-aged teacher dressed up as a zebra-themed superhero does a headplant on some random badnik
A dwarven Japanese super-scientist jabs a pencil into a little girl's neck
As what's left of Tokyo is being gobbled up by a zebra-stripe-painting energy bubble, an older, amnesiatic version
of that teacher is chased down by guntoting stormtroopers
A zebra-centric music video cuts in outta nowhere, and as the crowd triumphantly pumps their zebra panties
or whatever in the air, the aging former Zebraman putters across the screen on his Rascal Scooter
This is seriously, like, the first five minutes too. I guess what I'm getting at here is that Zebraman 2 is kind of the greatest movie ever.
So, anyway...dateline! 2025. Tokyo -- and, well, pretty much everything around it too -- is a distant memory, twisted and deformed into the totalitarian state of Zebra City. It's governed under the idea that evil can never be fully eradicated, so instead it's tightly controlled. At 5:00 AM and 5:00 PM, for 5 minutes a pop, just about anything goes. Government officials can't be held accountable for their crimes during those ten minutes a day, so rape and murder run rampant. The Zebra Police can legally gun down anyone who looks at 'em funny. Uh, believe it or not, the Zebra Time craze is kind of infectious too, and after hearing that unsanctioned crime in Zebra City has dropped by half, the word going around is that 17 states on this side of the Pacific are on the verge of adopting it. First Zebra City, and next, the world? The cry goes out both far and wide for a hero to vanquish this sinister menace. The cry goes out for Zebraman. The only thing is that Shinichi
Ichikawa (Show Aikawa) has long since lost his powers and his memories, and he'll need both if he's gonna stand anything resembling a chance against the menace of the megalomaniacal popstar known as the Zebra Queen (Riisa Naka).
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The plot's sorta incidental, though, kind of just there to give screenwriter Kankurō Kudō and even-more-unhinged-than-usual director Takashi Miike an excuse to revel in every hyperstylish and gleefully insane idea that pops into their heads. I mean, in the middle of the Big Action Movie Climax, a fully-restored Zebraman does a health safety PSA. A girl who looks like she's...what, eight?...is spun around inside a giant centrifuge. The Lady Gaga-esque villainess lords over the Miniskirt Zebra Police that are...yeah, exactly what they sound like. A faceless black goo girl gives herself a boob job at her master's command. The closest thing Zebraman has to a sidekick is the guy who used to play the character on a low-rent Japanese TV show, complete with chintzy rubber monsters and a ridiculous theme song. What happens after the final fight is just...oh, I wish there were words. It totally works too. Zebraman 2 is in the running as the most spastic, most wildly unpredictable, and most entrancingly bizarre movie I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot. Its visuals are startlingly ambitious and brilliantly executed. Everyone on both sides of the camera is clearly having a hell of a lot of fun, and that's completely infectious. As nonsensical as the storyline so often seems, there really is the skeleton of a story somewhere in here, and the things I couldn't quite follow along with at first glance eventually come together in a way I could work with.
I love the holy hell out of Zebraman 2...love every demented and wildly imaginative frame of it, to the point where I can't find anything to gripe about. I can't think of the last time I had this much of a blast with a movie. For anyone out there who's wondering, I wouldn't call Zebraman 2 a kids' movie, but its comic book-y violence is totally appropriate for the junior set, and the sexuality isn't too in-your-face. The overall storyline draws heavily from what happened in the first Zebraman flick, but you don't have to have seen the original to get anything out of it. I mean, I haven't seen it, and it obviously didn't keep me from chucking out all those stars in the sidebar. So, yeah: Highly Recommended.
...and, hey, it looks great too! The digital photography behind Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City is ridiculously sharp and detailed. The palette is kept somewhat muted -- not quite what I'd expect from a four-color comic book action flick -- but comes through flawlessly just the same. No artificial sharpening or excessive noise reduction ever get in the way, and even though a couple hours of pointlessly upconverted extras
gobble up way more of the disc's capacity than they really should, the AVC encode doesn't suffer for it. If I have one gripe, it's that black levels don't pack nearly as much of a wallop as I wish they did, coming through as more of a charcoal gray than a proper black. Other than that, though...? Pretty much perfect.
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Zebraman 2 is served up on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc and is presented without any matting at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Oh, and even though the flipside of the case says that Zebraman 2 is interlaced, take heart! It's 1080p24 just like pretty much everything else out there on the format.
Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City is presented exclusively in its original Japanese on this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. I know! TrueHD. I didn't know that was still a thing. There aren't any dubs this time around, and the disc's optional English subtitles are enabled by default.
The lossless soundtrack is completely solid. The film's dialogue is consistently rendered cleanly and clearly throughout. I love how well all that reverb and atmospheric color come through in the surrounds, along with effects like bullets whizzing around and yet another giant monster trashing what's more-or-less Tokyo. The subwoofer is constantly belching out all sorts of low-frequency growls, from the Miniskirt Police's dropkicks all the way to an oversized tub of Jell-O stomping on skyscrapers. There's part of me that wishes the track roared more than it does, and it feels like more of a head-on assault rather than engulfing every square inch of the room in sound, but I still really dug it.
All of the extras on this Blu-ray disc have been upconverted to 1080p despite being sourced from standard-def...heavily windowboxed, even.
- The Making of Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City (86 min.; SD): The standout extra on this Blu-ray set is a feature-length making-of doc. There's no narration and it's light on talking heads, instead preferring a fly-on-the-wall approach as cameras roll on Zebraman 2. Many of the movie's most memorable setpieces are
explored here, and the documentary takes particular interest in what doesn't go so well: injuries on the set, botched takes, and prop mishaps. The one stretch of the doc that's directed squarely at its cameras comes near the end when delving in detail into the extensive visual effects work, running through every stage of the process, including Show Aikawa getting a full-body cyberscan. "The Making of Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City" is overflowing with personality, and the enthusiasm the cast and crew have for the film they're making is absolutely infectious.
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- The Making of the "Zebra Queen Theme" Music Video (7 min.; SD): It's actually the making of two music videos featured in the flick, but who's counting? I also learned that those are zebra towels that are being flashed in the first video and not panties, but I like my version better.
- Interviews (27 min.; SD): Director Takashi Miike is interviewed alongside actors Riki Abe, Show Aikawa, Masahiro Inoue, and Riisa Naka. The cast mostly fields the same set of questions: what Zebraman means to them, who their real-life heroes are, how they approached their roles, and what their impressions were of the film's director and star. Strangely, these interviews were recorded during pre-production, and that kind of gets in the way of some of the answers. I'm pretty sure one of the actors said he hadn't even met Miike yet. Given all that, it's probably not surprising that the conversation with the director himself is the most interesting of the bunch, discussing the daunting scale of Zebraman 2 as well as his close relationship with Aikawa.
- Promotional Material (3 min.; SD): Rounding out the extras are a bunch of trailers and TV spots.
Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City comes packed in a DVD-style case rather than what you're used to seeing on Blu-ray. It's a three-disc combo pack too: one DVD for the movie itself, another DVD for the extras, and a Blu-ray disc with every last bit of that stuff.
The Final Word
I know we're only, like, two weeks into January, but Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City is already on my "Most Amazing Movies I've Seen in 2012" list, and I'm pretty sure it's not going anywhere. Entrancingly bizarre, inhumanly fun, and...hey!...pretty darn cheap on Amazon, going for all of $16.99 as I write this. You kids out there know what all of that adds up to! An boldfaced, italicized Highly Recommended rating.