Buried Treasure
Megazone 23 Trilogy

by Justin Sevakis, Jan 22nd 2009

It's a bizarre, freaky time in world history. The pillars on which the entire world operated for decades are coming down around us, bringing with them careers, institutions and fortunes. Economists around the world are throwing up their hands, banks are worth less than 1/100th of what they were a year ago, and many are saying the entire system on which the world market was thought to have worked has fallen.

As a relative outsider to the world of big corporations and finance, it's hard not to look upon what's happening with slight sense of relief. Sure, like anybody else I worry about my own finances, as well as that of my friends and family. I'm quite aware of how bad things roll downhill, and how people who don't deserve to suffer will inevitably get it the worst. But at the same time, it's hard to mourn the passing of a system that seemed corrupt at best and outright dysfunctional at worst. I've had numerous occasions to become involved with such powers, and inevitably I'd backed away slowly when nobody could explain to my satisfaction how the system worked. (Somehow it always seemed to come down to "well, we're gambling here.") I've worked with enough big corporations to see from the inside how wasteful they were, how fundamentally dishonest many had become, and how so many small-minded and downright unintelligent people wielded unquestionable power. Those who looked upon those institutions as infallible and adapted to their Machiavellian ways have just had that world blow up in their faces. It's no wonder people seem so lost.

But even before all this happened, I wasn't alone in my distaste for the world as we saw it. Indeed, the late 20s of one's life seems to be, by many accounts, the time when people realize how few respectable people there really are. It's the era when most of your heroes reveal themselves to be full of it, and most of the people you admired unwittingly clue you in on the fact that they have no idea what they're doing and never did. The ideals that were so important to you as a teenager and in college start to become smacked down by a dire reality: that the vast majority of things people spend their lives on (building institutions, accumulating fortunes, wielding control) are, in the grand scheme of things, fleeting and pointless. It's a terrible thing to realize. Most people give up their dreams and resign themselves to becoming part of the rank and file. Some become born-again hippies and quit their jobs to join a drum circle. I refer to it as the "Quarter-life Crisis," and I have seen many of my friends succumb to it.

As for me, I was never able to shake a certain level of distrust in the system, and in many ways I think that might have cushioned the blow. My generation (late X/early Y) was raised during an age of deep cynicism, and in retrospect I think that was a reflection of our own doubts as to what really motivated people. As the baby boomer generation forgot the value of peace and love, and the religious right forgot what Jesus would do and both ultimately stood for nothing other than personal gain, our cynicism was eventually proven accurate.

Maybe that's the reason Megazone 23 Part 2 always resonated in me so strongly. Somehow, in our heart of hearts, we recognize that the deeper we look into a "system", we see the cracks, the insecurity of those controlling it, and that the whole way of the world is pretty fragile in the end. Even if some of the people running it aren't bad, but merely doing the best they can.


MEGAZONE 23 Part 2: Himitsu Ku•Da•Sa•I

The original Megazone 23 was a trifle: an entertaining, silly exercise in 80s pop art inspired by Streets of Fire in tone and countless pulp sci-fi works in content. In a nutshell, it involved a young man named Shogo Yahagi, hanging out with his friends, admiring their artistic pursuits (Tomomi wants to be a director, and his new love interest Yui is an aspiring dancer). He meets up with his friend, who shows off to him an amazing new prototype motorcycle. But before he can ask too many questions, his friend is murdered by the institution that tailed him, and Shogo takes the bike and runs. Not sure what to do next, he calls into the talk show hosted by pop idol Eve Tokimatsuri. His call never gets out over the air, having been intercepted by the military, but it turns out Eve is actually a high level computer program that has more control than they do. Privately, Eve refers to him as Garland Operator 7G, and tells him she'll look into what happened to his friend.

Shogo tries to carry on like normal and, for lack of anything better to do, agrees to act in Tomomi's amateur movie. Ultimately he only gets in deeper trouble when, while filming, they stumble upon the science fiction underbelly of the city. All of Tokyo, it seems, was turned into a giant space ship. Rather than get fat like the inhabitants of Wall•E, the inhabitants live under the lie that they're endlessly living in the mid 1980s. "It's the time Tokyo was closest to achieving peace," Eve explains. The military has formed outside of her control, and the two are constantly at odds with each other. She's not programmed to allow weapons or an organized military onboard the Megazone.

The way the first part ends is thought provoking, and that ending was far more mature and interesting than the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the effort was marred by its own immaturity, a sort of bright-eyed hyperactivity that too willingly dove into its (admittedly ludicrous) world of big robots and cute girls and idol singers-that-were-really-firewalls. The characters are cartoony and childish looking (designed by the immediately recognizable Toshihiro Hirano, of Iczer fame). Its garish colors and sense of frivolity worked against the sense of weightiness it was trying to achieve.

Megazone 23 Part 2 could almost be said to make the opposite mistake. It aims high, higher than it's really capable of reaching, but at the same time is much more successful in creating a mood, and saying something important. It does so almost in spite of its technical limitations (and its inherent silliness). Picking up about six months later, we find Shogo has become allies with a punk biker gang. They're not all that bright, but they're filled with that brashful sense of youth that thumbs its nose at authority and plays by its own rules. Outlaws, but the fun-loving kind.

The military, meanwhile, is still at it. They've just christened their new fighter, the FX-101, in their quest to defeat the invading Dezalg aliens, but their corporate sponsors know they're badly outmatched and are more interested in coming to terms with the aliens to profit from their superior technology. Undoing Eve's layers of protection is proving difficult for the military, and top commander B.D. has a task force assigned to reverse engineering her. She's trying to reach Shogo, but why? B.D. must know the answer. It's the only way for him to get Eve to open up and allow the crew of the Megazone to protect itself from the aliens. He assigns his task force to capture him no matter what.

But it's looking like it might be too late already. The Dezalg prove unstoppable, and kill the crew of the FX-101 on its first mission. Shogo doesn't know why Eve is calling him, and with a vague sense of what's at stake he enlists the help of his new friends to get him past the military and into the city-under-the-city, to meet Eve. The real Eve, the one who calls out to him, and whom the rest of his friends worship as a goddess. Eve, the acme and the muse of human endeavor.

And what comes next is what elevates Megazone 23 Part 2 to a whole 'nother level. Simply, Eve and Shogo sit down and talk, or rather, she starts to interview him. Why didn't he join the army? "I don't like the way they do things. They wipe out all the small things for the big things as if they're throwing away trash. Before they even know if something is good or bad, they label it as a matter of fact." He doesn't want to live as someone who establishes rules or principles. He only wants to live happily with the people he loves. That's all.

And what of those that run the world, that are trying to capture him and destroy Eve? "I look at those so-called adults, and I see them lying to others, hurting others, even killing others, all for their own selfish interests. I... I don't want to be an adult like them!" It's the sort of statement that only the young can afford to make, full of the knowledge that he has principles, and without the ability to imagine a scenario that would force him to bend them.

The thing is, B.D. is not a bad man. The principles he espouses are not evil, though Shogo does disagree with them. He has the lives of everyone else on Megazone on his mind, and is acting heroically, the best way that he can. The system he's working in is corrupt, but he's doing his best, working within it, even stretching the bounds of his authority. But inevitably, his tower of influence falls, and Shogo is the one who will inherit the world. And perhaps he may yet become another, respectable kind of adult, that lives to simply be happy.

Visually, Megazone 23 Part 2 looks nothing like its predecessor. Shogo, Yui and Eve have all been redesigned from scratch, the former two by none other than Yasuomi Umetsu. Umetsu's style at this point could be described as "over-reaching", obsessed with clothing wrinkles, earrings, and fine detail. Eve's Elle Paris tank top leaves very little of her (very realistic) chest to the imagination, while Shogo wears what is possibly the only animated Sex Wax jacket in history. (Those things were EVERYWHERE during the 80s!) The supporting cast from the first OAV being mostly gone, Shogo's new band of punk friends are similarly realistic looking, almost like the cast of Jem with a budget. They all smoke name-brand cigarettes and drink Bud or Heineken seductively, obsessively, as if they were in a commercial for them. The level of detail is such that every distinctive trademark and label is not only reproduced, but fully animated as people pick them up and set them down.

As things heat up in the battle between the police and the punks, there are scenes that look as if they are entirely rotoscoped: full, deep animation, fluid and arresting in its detail. This, no doubt, is the look Itano and Umetsu were going for as they played chicken, constantly trying to one-up each other (Umetsu in his characters, Itano in his mechanical designs). But perhaps they bit off a little more than they could chew: some scenes look incredibly rushed, featuring no shading, no detail and sometimes slowing down to less than a single frame per second. It's sloppy and disappointing of course, but ultimately has a sort of bi-polar charm. You can see just how much work was put into the thing.

Eve's speaking and singing voice in both parts by then-up-and-coming idol singer Miyasato Kumi, who hasn't been heard from in well over a decade. While forgettable as a voice actress, Miyasato's songs are memorable, some of them indelible. Before Macross Plus came along, her song "Himitsu Ku•Da•Sa•I" was the song that DEFINED the whole rousing J-pop ballad-while-stuff-blows-up-in-space thing. (No doubt Itano learned that little trick from working on Macross DYRL.) There's something bizarrely stirring about hearing a cheesy love song while you watch millions die and space ships explode. Kazuki Yao lends Shogo his brash, youthful energy while Maria Kawamura gently takes Yui from indecisive and scared to being a liberated woman of the 80s. (Fangirls will also melt over Kaneto Shiozawa as the new beefcake-ized B.D.)

But never mind all that. As a film, Megazone 23 Part 2 is pretty, visually inventive, and frequently marred by the inexperience of a crew trying to do too much. As science fiction, it's serviceable, but hardly a masterpiece. But what it says about the corruption of adulthood and its associated power has stuck with me over the years. Power and authority are something to be questioned, to be looked at askance, to be suspicious of. Some, within that framework of power, do good. Some have good intentions, but veer off into a dangerous, even despotic direction. And when the situation is no longer tenable, it's up to those who want to live happily to decide what's important to them. And the spirit of human endeavor will lead the way.

There's one other thing that can happen when you reach your quarter life crisis. Some people, the lucky ones, find something that makes them happy, that gives their life real meaning. That meaning is invariably other people: your friends, your family. And that's what's important: not the cars, not the big fancy homes, not the flat-screen TV or the fancy kitchen or the beachfront property. As long as you're not starving or freezing to death or bleeding or dying of cancer, they're pretty much all you need. But the care of other people and the fostering of human relationships was not what our society has been focused on during my life time.

As fate would have it, what's happening now is starting to mirror what happened in Megazone: the false world is crumbling, a lot of people aren't going to make it, and it's going to be really really bad for a little while.

But if we can survive, and I think we will, we get a do-over. And it's hard not to be optimistic about that. After all, the last item in Pandora's Box was Hope.


Obscure-O-Meter™
A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

Where to get it:
There are no less than three dubs of Megazone Part 1, and two of Part 2. Part 1 was infamously reworked (barely) into the unwatchable and incoherent Robotech: The Untold Story, the famously never-released Robotech movie. (Grainy 16mm footage from Mospeda was added in at distributor Carolco's request, as they complained there were too many girls and not enough mecha. This made an already weak adaptation even less coherent.) Years later Streamline Pictures dubbed Part 1 decently, albeit unforgettably, and released it uncut on VHS and later DVD. I still see the DVD turn up in $5 bargain bins from time to time. It has what is possibly the worst cover art in American anime DVD history.

Japanese producer Idol Co., Ltd. asked Harmony Gold to make an English version of Part 2 (which they subtitled back into Japanese for laserdisc release as "The International Version"). This version is all American fans got their hands on for years. It was not a good dub, as it featured some truly horrid script adaptation and bizarrely renamed characters. (Shogo was renamed Johnny Winters; Yui became Suzy Sue, and all the bikers spouted horrible 80s catch phrases but ne'er a profanity.) Most people that saw it ended up utterly confused about the Megazone universe. At least this LD included the hackneyed alternate "happy ending" created for the Robotech movie.

Finally, at the height of the Region-1 anime DVD boom, ADV released the entire trilogy with a fresh dub and gorgeously remastered video. Unfortunately the contents of the International Version were not included as extras. I enjoy the new dub; Vic Mignona makes a great Shogo (in all his incarnations), and while Allison Shipp's Yui is a little shrill for my taste, it works well. The entire trilogy was repackaged recently as a thinpak, and can be had dirt cheap if you know where to shop.

There's a third Megazone OAV, produced a few years later with an entirely new cast and crew. It's not without its charm (most of it musical), but is more of a spinoff than a direct sequel. It's also really dumb, and was so poorly managed as a project that several scenes are missing in-between animation and have only stuttering keyframes. ADV gets my kudos for releasing it, but ultimately I like to forget that one even exists.


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