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Mazinkaiser - Turbo Smashing Sensation! (Vol. 1)
I'll start out this review by admitting that, as a general rule, I don't like anime. However, I couldn't resist picking up Mazinkaiser: Turbo Smashing Sensation!, though, because the original Mazinger-Z (or Tranzor-Z as it was called in the U.S.) was one of my childhood cartoon favorites. I was hoping that Mazinkaiser, a modern continuation of the Mazinger-Z (1972-1974) and Great Mazinger (1974-1975) series, would offer more of the silly but very fun adventures of Mazinger and company. As it turned out, I was half right... and half very wrong.
In the first episode of Mazinkaiser, the story seems to pick up the general plot threads of the earlier series. Dr. Hell is still obsessed with conquering the world with his mechanical legions, and the bizarre half-man/half-woman Baron Ashura is still on the front lines of the evil army, plotting how to get rid of the inconveniently powerful Mazinger. Back in the Photon Power Lab, we also have the familiar cast of characters: Dr.Yumi, his daughter Sayaka, who controls the giant robot Aphrodite-A, and the controllers of Mazinger and Great Mazinger: Koji Kabuto and Tetsuya Tsurugi.
So far, so good. In fact, the first two episodes of Mazinkaiser are truly "turbo-smashing sensations," as we get to see the "good" robots battling against the familiar mechanical brutes of Dr. Hell. But when Mazinger is stolen and corrupted by Dr. Hell, Great Mazinger isn't enough to protect the Photon Lab by himself; all seems to be lost until Koji stumbles across an even more powerful robot: Mazinkaiser. These two episodes have the definite feel of the old Mazinger-Z episodes: a little silly, perhaps, but lots of fun. And there's a strong indication that Mazinkaiser might explore something that was vaguely implied but never developed in Mazinger-Z: the idea of the giant Mazinger robot as both godlike and demonic, capable of great good or great evil.
Notice that I've just been referring to the first two episodes so far, though. That's because the third and fourth episodes are a horse of a completely different color. In fact, it seems very clear that the first two episodes were purely connecting episodes, designed to show Mazinkaiser's origins in the earlier shows (and pull in their audience, presumably); after that, Mazinkaiser takes off in an entirely different direction, one that has nothing whatsoever to do with Go Nagai's style of storytelling that we'd seen in Mazinger-Z.
First of all, the familiar robots are swiftly shuffled offstage: Mazinger and Great Mazinger are disposed of, Aphrodite-A soon follows suit, and Tetsuya is sent off as well. By now, we have an all-new robot cast: Mazinkaiser and Venus-Ace. In itself, that's not so bad... except that the story suddenly switches gears as well. Instead of recounting the adventures of Mazinkaiser and crew, the story now focuses on the human characters and their interactions (which I didn't find interesting at all). The presence of the giant robots and Dr. Hell's evil schemes seem tacked on as an afterthought.
The overall tone in the third and fourth episodes shifts radically, as well. The characters start swearing fairly often, something I didn't notice at all in the first two episodes, crude physical humor abounds, and the comedic aspect in general is emphasized much more. The classic "Mazinger-Z" feel of the first two episodes completely vanishes.
While the original action-adventure Mazinger-Z episodes were fairly accessible to a non-Japanese audience (as are the first two Mazinkaiser episodes), the second two episodes are much less so. Humor, for instance, is notably difficult to translate, and humor starts becoming a much larger part of the story. Probably because we see more of the human characters, we also see more of the Japanese style of visual "markers" for emotional states. I'm quite sure that blood running from the characters' eyes, or snot from their noses, signifies something relevant to the Japanese audience (much in the way that stars circling around a character's head would mean "he's dizzy" in a Western cartoon), but for a viewer like me who's not familiar with the anime style, it's just another distancing effect.
What's perhaps most bizarre is that all of a sudden, the show develops an adolescent-male fetish with the female body, and it shows up everywhere: in the form of three statuesque "killer androids" (whose clothes are conveniently the first thing to burn up when they're destroyed), in two new characters whose only contribution to the fourth episode is to lounge around on the beach in microscopic bikinis, and even in Sayaka herself. A lengthy segment of the fourth episode deals with Koji slathering suntan oil over the bodies of the twins. When the "adventure" starts, Sayaka gets captured by Baron Ashura; we see her tied up in a rather suggestive pose, and Ashura's minions threaten to... remove her bikini! Oh no! Wait, there's more: when Koji rescues her, he "accidentally" pulls off her bikini top. We're favored with no fewer than three instant replays of her breasts popping out and bouncing around, in intense close-up. And of course, this doesn't even include the many gratuitous "check out the babe's rear end, legs, and breasts" shots throughout the episodes.
I don't know where Mazinkaiser is going in episodes five and later, but it will be a trip the series can take without me; it doesn't live up to its predecessors.
The four 30-minute episodes of Mazinkaiser: Turbo Smashing Sensation! Volume 1 are packaged on one DVD.
While the DVD is officially "unrated," it notes on the back of the case that it's suggested for ages 15 and up.
ADV Films has done an outstanding job in bringing Mazinkaiser to DVD. The four episodes are all presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), and they look great. The image is very sharp and clear, with bright, bold colors and solid blacks making for a colorful and attractive picture. Animation is particularly unforgiving of excessive compression, so it's a pleasure to see that the compression has been handled very well here: there aren't any hints of artifacts even in the most challenging solid-color parts of the image. The only slight flaw that I spotted in the transfer is a hint of grain at times; on the whole it's extremely good.
Fans of the Mazinkaiser series will be pleased with the audio options here. An English dubbed track is offered in Dolby 5.1, and it sounds very nice, with clear (if cheesy-sounding) dialogue and good depth to the sound. At times, the background music gets a little obtrusive, but on the whole it sounds very good.The original Japanese Dolby 2.0 track is also provided, and viewers have the option of English subtitles.
Rather oddly, English subtitles do appear now and then in the English dubbed track, any time that we see any Japanese text in the picture. I say "oddly" because it doesn't really affect the story to see a subtitle telling me what book Sayaka is reading, for instance; it's actually a bit distracting.
A few special features are included, though nothing mind-blowing. Technical specifications for the robots Mazinger-Z, Great Mazinger, and Mazinkaiser are provided, although they don't seem to match up with the robots as portrayed in the series. Production sketches and the original Japanese art for the DVD covers of the four individual episodes are also included, along with the original Japanese opening credits, which are longer than those on the DVD set. Previews of six other anime series offered by ADV are also included.
One special feature that's not mentioned anywhere on the case is that after each episode plays, a preview for the next episode follows.
If you're looking for a continuation of the fun action-adventure of the original 1970s Mazinger-Z, I'm afraid that Mazinkaiser isn't it. The DVD is worth renting to check out the first two episodes, which are in the classic style and are quite entertaining, but the third and fourth episodes indicate that Mazinkaiser is heading in a very different direction than its predecessors... and I didn't find that direction to be at all entertaining. Fans of the show will be able to pick up this set with no second thoughts, though, because the transfer is outstanding. Meanwhile, I'll be waiting for the original Mazinger-Z...