Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 24th 2007
After spotting a beautiful girl diving in the school pool, Kyo Sogoru's life stops revolving entirely around his fervent desire to resurrect the school's swim club. The girl, Shizuno, pulls Kyo into another world, one of devastation and hostile alien forces. There he pilots Zegapain, a giant robot, with suspiciously advanced skill in battle against the swarms of alien invaders. He begins slipping with eases between two worlds: his everyday school life—the swim club, the ex-members out to do him in, his childhood friend Ryoko Kaminagi and her secret crush on him—and the battle-intensive world of Shizuno and Zegapain. Originally convinced that Zegapain is some sort of immersive virtual reality game, Kyo soon begins noticing irregularities in his normal life that leave him questioning which of the two worlds is truly "real."
In the eternal quest to keep the giant robot fresh (and profitable) it's amazing how few series strike upon the simple solution of telling a good story and instead opt for high-concept gimmicks. Take Zegapain, which seems to think that cribbing the central concept from The Matrix excuses boring its audience to death with poorly constructed worlds, fights straight from a mid-budget video game, and characters that are such nonentities that they don't even serve as plot devices.
The first five episodes of Zegapain pass leaving no impression at all. This is the anime equivalent of staring off into space for two hours—not because nothing happens (there're plenty of rushing and exploding mecha) but because none of what happens is in any way interesting. Kyo is a standard-issue outgoing lead, with depths that are attested to but have yet to manifest in any meaningful way; Shizuno is a mystery-woman catalyst with no personality as of yet; and the remaining cast members have stock personalities so thin they're transparent. And their interactions are unimaginative—attempts at emotional involvement slip by unnoticed, victim to apathetic writing and direction. In addition to the depth of characterization, the repetitive events and attempts to pass off elaborate terminology as world-building do their best to keep interest at bay...and succeed brilliantly. Even the central gimmick—the question of which is reality, the post-apocalyptic world of Zegapain or the normal existence in Japan—offers no engagement for the intellect. The concept itself has been beaten to death (and then flogged some more), and the answer to the question is so glaringly obvious (just ask yourself which option offers easy drama) that it doesn't even warrant a thought.
Ironically enough, both worlds actually resemble virtual-reality games more so than true worlds—the world of Zegapain being a mecha-based shooter and Japan a low-rent dating sim (though, to be fair, dating sims have better-looking characters). That excursions in Zegapain involve overly simplistic missions and the same three types of enemy mecha being destroyed in the exact same ways (complete with repeated animation) doesn't help much. Nor does the disjunct between the 3D animation of mecha and the 2D backgrounds or the yawn-inducing ordinariness of the remaining animation. The post-apocalyptic landscapes, though filled with detailed rubble, fail to evoke the emptiness and devastation they should, while the pristine sterility of "normal" Japan feels more cheap than purposeful. Character designs range from generic to bad. Shizuno isn't even a fraction as beautiful as everyone says she is, and if you placed the entire cast in a lineup with background characters from other shows, you'd never be able to pick out who was who.
Whether the music is actually as forgettable as it seems or whether it's just the unfortunate result of it being stuck in a forgettable show doesn't really matter, the fact remains that the music isn't powerful enough to escape the grip of the series' overwhelming emptiness. The light, pleasant opening and closing themes with their constantly metamorphosing visuals are good enough that they should belong to a better show.
The dub team has their work cut out for them trying to hoist the series from the swamp of mediocrity it has mired itself in. Judging by the way the cast sleep-walks through their roles, though, they aren't even inclined to try. Though there are plenty of little details to pick on, particularly the inconsistent pronunciation of names and Zegapain technobabble terminology, there are no glaring problems with the dub. The English version simply matches apathy for apathy, faithful in its reproduction of the original's boredom. The translation is similarly faithful, with the matching of lip-flaps accounting for the majority of the changes.
Zegapain doesn't even deserve the epithet "escapism." In order to be escapism there needs to be something there to escape into; Zegapain is so utterly uninvolving that it leaves the mind completely unfettered, it's incapable even of distraction. The closest it gets to being memorable is Kyo's habit of running unabashed through the school dressed in nothing but a speedo. Well, that and the neon nightmare mecha that look like the unfortunate product of conjugal relations between a Transformer and a glow-stick.
Overall (dub) : D+
Overall (sub) : D+
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : C
Music : C
+ Main character occasionally wears a speedo in class.
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