Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
At one point in recent history, a group of strange human hybrids known as “Players” fought each other in underground gambling parlors. Eventually the fighting was stopped, but some of the Players escaped...as did a scientist who had been part of the Players' creation. He took with him an infant in a bio-bassinet with a strange, raised ring on the back of his hand. This baby grows up to be Jin Kanzaki, a scrappy street kid living with his “grandfather” in Undertown, the run-down slum of a great city. Jin hooks up with rich siblings Kouga and Konoha to help people in trouble, albeit for different reasons – Kouga wants to help people and Jin wants cash. Events separate the children, but Konoha never forgets the boy she and her brother used to know and continues to frequent Undertown as part of a food relief program. As the years pass, Jin learns that he has the ability to become “Zet,” an incredible warrior, thanks to the ring on his hand while Kouga continues to pursue justice in a different way until their paths cross again.
Masakazu Katsura has tackled quite a few genres over the course of his manga career – harem (D.N.A.2), magical girl (Shadow Lady), and magical girlfriend (Video Girl Ai) to name a few, and in each one some reference was made to his love of Batman. Now in Zetman he brings that adoration to the fore in a dark tale of super-powered heroes fighting it out in gritty locations that would fit right into Gotham's landscape. It is an engrossing, fascinating story...it's just too bad that the anime version is so clearly not doing it justice.
It is rarely a good sign when someone who has not read the manga can tell that the anime adaptation is lacking. This is, regretfully, the case with Zetman. Within the first three episodes, years have been skipped with dizzying rapidity in an attempt to cram in backstory while still getting to where the adapters want to be. We first meet Jin as a scrappy child, then all of a sudden he's a surly young teen, and the next thing you know, he's high school/college age and even grumpier. Over the course of these years, his grandfather dies and a club hostess takes him in, but they appear so fleetingly that when bad things happen it is difficult to feel any regret. In fact, so rushed are the events of at least four of these six episodes that it is hard to come up with any emotional attachment to anyone, Jin, Kouga, and Konoha included. Episode five appears to have gotten us to where we'll be staying in terms of continuity and time line, and it is here that we finally begin to feel something for the characters, Konoha specifically.
Luckily for Zetman, it looks good. Katsura's character designs translate fairly well to animated format, and small details such as the drip of urine from a saturated skirt or the moment when the seep of blood becomes a flow are beautifully done. Fight scenes have a fluidity that makes them both dramatic and fun to watch. As might be guessed from the previous sentences, the show does not shy away from the grimmer aspects of a fight, and blood and other injuries are depicted with relative realism. The whole show has a “dark and gritty” feel to it, with the color palate remaining firmly in the shadows and the entire city giving off an impression that it is none too clean. This is in marked contrast to the several science laboratories shown, which are bright white and practically scream “sterile environment.” Scientific machinations make up a decent amount of the plot, with Kouga's sentai hero dreams being realized by Science and Jin's entire existence owed to it. The science is more Star Trek than Heinlein in its believability, but generally works within the context of the story.
Character-wise, the story doesn't spend quite enough time on any of the protagonists to really give us an attachment to them, but the attempt is made. Jin and Kouga are clearly meant to be foil figures, with Kouga espousing justice for justice's sake and Jin taking a much more mercenary view of the subject. When Jin's situation is explained to him by the scientists who, essentially, created him, his thoughts are only slightly altered, the most significant being that he believes implicitly the scientists' statement that he must not become close to anyone. (Granted, events have also contributed to this.) This is where Konoha's role comes clear. She has never managed to forget Jin and has constantly worried about him. After the two meet again in the middle time skip, she carries around something of his for the next two years, simply as an excuse to see him again. From a storytelling perspective, it is obvious that Konoha is meant to be the one who shows Jin that he cannot cut himself off from humanity...so throwing Tanaka into the mix definitely shakes things up a bit. Tanaka is an apparent runaway with nicely detailed braces who essentially forces herself into Jin's life, usurping the role Konoha was meant to have. This does change the expected story a little, although it also opens the door for another, equally predictable path.
Zetman is that saddest of series – one that had great potential and clearly interesting source material but didn't quite manage to get there. In its headlong rush to reach a certain point in the story, the series sacrifices emotional content and character development in favor of interesting but empty battles and leaving the viewer with a sense of vague discontent. Now that we are halfway through the series it does seem to have settled on a time and place, but it will have to work very hard to overcome the issues of four of these six episodes. If it can do so, we're in for a good time, but as of right now, Zetman is nowhere near living up to its potential.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Good fight scenes, nice attention to detail, and definite potential...
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