Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Zegapain: Style over Substance - the Sunrise way

Every anime studio has some sort of reputation associated with it, and a certain style they try to go by. For manglobe, it's highly stylized shows with a strong thematic base, whereas GONZO is known for putting together very appealing beginning and middle portions of series before faultering at the end. And Sunrise - they do giant robots, whether it be in the traditional sense or the extremely-out-there sense. However, along with the whole: "we do robots," reputation, there is also a certain stigma associated with Sunrise - this stigma being that their mecha shows are all style, no substance. And to some extent, this holds true.

More than many other companies, Sunrise has always put a great deal of effort into maintaining a crisp, clean feel to their animated productions. You can see it in any of the Gundam series, all of which have very clean styles (particularly 08th MS Team). Strong, bold lines, punctuated by a bright color palette are the norm for a Sunrise production, and Zegapain doesn't stray far from this. It's an appeal to the eyes of young males, as Sunrise has its hand in shows mostly targeted at a teenage male audience.

For such a blatantly merchandise-driven show, Zegapain surprisingly doesn't fail to deliver a compelling story. The tale of humanity wiped out, but stored on quantum servers recalls the Wachowski Brothers' Matrix Trilogy. The hero of the show, Soguro Kyo, lives in one of the few quantum computers still functioning on the planet that have stored the human race. All people exist only as data, wiped out by a mysterious enemy (most likely machines of some kind). Kyo's struggles with his discovery of the real world, one in which the human race has been wiped out, and his existence as data within a computer system. As he tries to come to grips with the fact that all that he "thinks" and "feels" may in fact just be parts of the virtual world, he is forced to do battle with the machines who wiped humanity from the earth.

Zegapain presents its storyline with the right mix of drama and comedy to create a compelling cast of characters mirrored between both the real and virtual worlds. Most characters in the "real" world have counterparts in the virtual one. Kyo's interactions with both groups is very human, and show him to be a very well-thought out character. However, where the Matrix Trilogy attempted to go deeper than just surface level examinations of the concept (albeit with too much of the philosophy hammer), Zegapain stays in the shallow end of the pool.

Kyo's questions concerning his humanity, whether the fact that he is simply data being transferred between machines renders him a cognizant machine himself, are never answered. In fact, they are simply brushed aside in order to force his character to get back into the Zegapain cockpit in time for the next episode. The "I am me," response is used as a copout to avoid the question, acting as a typical red herring. There is still plenty of the show left for me to watch, but if it follows the path of Ergo Proxy (of which I have finished fourteen of the twenty-three episodes), it probably won't make significant progress for a while.

It's because of shows like Zegapain that Sunrise is known as the purveyor of merchandise-driven anime. There is so much promise, and so much quality in there productions. Everything is done well. But when push comes to shove, they aren't willing to step up and tackle the hard questions, which is why their work will always remain that "good show of the year," and never take ranks with works of art like Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, and the like.


At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cowboy Bebop was a Sunrise show, you know...

At 11:55 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I'm applying this to the mecha shows that Sunrise generally produces - of course there are exceptions (Cowboy Bebop being one, 08th MS team another) - but much of their work definitely falls into the "flashy" category rather than the "thoughtful" one.

At 11:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering how slowly the plot develops, I don't think you can fairly judge the depth of the ZegaPain at this point in time. It wasn't that long ago that Kyo even learned about the true nature of his "existence"

At 7:13 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Okay, maybe I am jumping the gun. Zegapain has an awesome story, and more importantly, amazing character development that I may not have given enough credit to in this review. It's definitely worth watching, I'm not saying it's not. However, I do think the creators did skimp out a bit thus far at least on the question of how "being data" affects our humanity (they just glossed over it, and haven't addressed it in the four or five episodes since the last time it was broughh up).


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