by Mike Toole,

Mazinger Z: Infinity

Mazinger Z: Infinity
Once upon a time, Koji Kabuto and Tetsuya Tsurugi used the mighty Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger super robots to defeat Dr. Hell and his legions of robot monsters. Now the pair are older and wiser. The robots are retired museum pieces, the old Photonic Power Lab director Dr. Yumi is now Japan's prime minister, and Tetsuya's old partner Jun is now his wife and expecting his child. Meanwhile, Koji's old flame Sayaka is the Power Lab's new director. The peace brought by worldwide photonic power doesn't last, though—just as Sayaka's team discovers a new bigger Mazinger than ever, Dr. Hell's Iron Cross Army, his henchmen, and his legions of Mycenae robot monsters emerge from the shadows and attack. It's time for Koji and friends to Mazin-go into battle once again!

Some 50 years after his professional debut, 2018 is the year of Go Nagai. Netflix's DEVILMAN crybaby is an early favorite for anime series of the year, and while we await the upcoming Cutie Honey Universe, we've got an all-new, flashy, and action-packed movie featuring Nagai's creation Mazinger Z, the original piloted super robot from back in 1972. Noisy, childish, crude, and unquestionably fun, the original TV series led to a sequel, a spinoff, and a number of returns to the myth of a mysterious towering steel giant—one with the power to make its pilot either God, or the Devil!

This take on the material is an interesting one—it's sort of a sequel to the original Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger, with the colorful robot pilot heroes and heroines grappling with stuff like their burgeoning careers and families. But the film still cuts to the chase, opening with Tetsuya Tsurugi (who still looks exactly like Sonny Chiba) and Great Mazinger squaring off against an army of robot monsters at Texas's newly-built Photonic Power Plant. One by-product of Mazinger Z prevailing is that the super robot's technology has spread across the globe – there are now sleek, high-tech demi-Mazinger robots working in both industrial and military applications. One of these is piloted by Koji's little brother Shiro, who's about the same age Koji was when he became Mazinger Z's pilot, tasked with saving the world from the mad scientist Dr. Hell.

So there's a “getting the band back together” feel to seeing these characters again that's kinda nice if you're a longtime fan of the material – it's even good to see Dr. Hell, and his lieutenants Brocken and Baron Ashura, again. The core characters are also formulaic enough that the story is pretty easy to pick up for new viewers. If you understand the dynamic between He-Man and Skeletor, or Optimus Prime and Megatron, you'll have no trouble grokking Koji and Mazinger Z Vs. Dr. Hell. In that way, Mazinger Z: Infinity is oddly reassuring; they can bring in the original characters, situations, and enemies virtually unchanged, and it feels a bit timeless, especially when ageless wonder Ichiro Mizuki, singer of the original Mazinger Z theme, comes in with a revised version of the song for the film's opening crawl, which recreates a number of the TV show's key moments.

Koji's former partner and girlfriend Sayaka is the new director of Japan's Photonic Power Lab, and her first big move is the discovery of another Mazinger robot buried at the base of Mt. Fuji – one that's nearly ten times bigger than Mazinger Z. In super robot terms, this makes perfect sense; the only thing better than a huge robot is an even huger one! And inside this new Mazinger is a mysterious pilot—one with a surprising link to Koji's destiny. As Dr. Hell makes a play for this new robot, Koji and company are confronted with a new quandry: a super robot powerful enough to turn its pilot into both God and the Devil! Yep, it's pretty goofy stuff—just how a super robot adventure ought to be.

In the middle third, Mazinger Z: Infinity gets surprisingly chatty and philosophical—as Dr. Hell sneeringly informs Koji that humankind is weak due to its vast diversity of cultures, unable to come together under a simple, shared system of values, Koji himself grapples with the notion of doing his duty as a pilot versus stepping back and letting the next generation become heroes, in order to pursue his own happiness. Here, the script reels out like a TV drama, with Koji having urgent, angsty conversations about his hopes and fears with Sayaka, or the mysterious giant Mazinger pilot L.I.S.A., who has allied herself against Dr. Hell's forces, or hell, even Boss, Koji's beefy, lantern-jawed would-be bully from back in the day. Ultimately, it's just talk, because the world is still going to have to be saved.

Mazinger Z: Infinity presents an interesting take on super robot action and melodrama, but a curiously lightweight one. What remains are a number of fun, colorful, peppy action scenes, as both Mazingers take on dozens and dozens of robot monsters, including famous ones like the skull-faced Garada K-7 and the two-headed Doublas M2. This also leads us to a common issue with recent robot anime – while the characters are hand-drawn 2D animation, the battles are rendered in 3DCG. Thanks to some strong mecha design that vividly updates the robots' classic stovepipe arms and legs, this approach holds up and freqently looks terrific, but it leads to surprisingly conservative battle scenes, ones that are flashy but lack a sort of elasticity—they're low on the kind of weight and warmth that the classic cartoons' clunky fights had in spades. At the same time, it does up the ante, as both Koji and Tetsuya effectively face every single of the show's monsters of the week at once.

The 3DCG isn't the only slightly onerous modern cinematic staple present. There's also some surprisingly in-your-face product placement, including both Sony (not too obvious) and Nissan (the most obvious ever). It's not that weird to see characters like this flogging sensible name-brand cars in TV commercials, but it is pretty damn weird to have them ride around all over the place in a self-driving, prominently-badged Nissan. Oh well, I guess you gotta get some sponsorship money together somehow.

What keeps this film fun is its insistence on sticking to entertaining super robot formula in spite of its overwrought script. You can take the contrived line about how “The Japanese may have recovered economically, but have their hearts recovered?” and balance it against an absurd sidebar where Boss and a quartet of perfectly formulaic fanservice characters called the Mazin-Girls engineer a distraction for our heroes. The filmmakers even sneak in fun easter eggs for longtime fans, like the presence of original Koji and Sayaka voices Hiroya Ishimaru and Minori Matsushima, who are sneaked into the cast as background voices.

Mazinger Z: Infinity is a solidly fun nostalgia ride at the movies, but I can't help thinking that it's missing something. Are the rocket punches not punchy enough? Is it the lack of Aphrodite A? The film stands up, but it could use an infusion of extremely hot super robot pilot blood. All of the pieces are in place for Mazinger Z: Infinity, and yet, there's a swagger, a certain flamboyance to almost all other Mazinger animation that's curiously absent here. Just like the original in 1972, we'll have to content ourselves with the ending credit roll's detailed cutaway views of the robot itself.

Production Info:
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+

+ It's always good to see this classic robot in action, exciting fight scenes and a tantalizing glimpse of super robot heroes as thoughtful adults
Somewhat thin and unconvincing story; refined visuals can't hide the 3DCG's distinct lack of style

Director: Junji Shimizu
Screenplay: Takahiro Ozawa
Music: Toshiyuki Watanabe
Original creator: Go Nagai
Character Design: Hiroya Iijima
Mechanical design: Takayuki Yanase

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Mazinger Z: Infinity (movie)

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