Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
Unbelievably smart and with a chip on his shoulder the size of Tokyo, Kiyo never had many friends at his high school; in fact, it was a struggle for him to even attend regularly. That all changes when one day a mostly-nude demon boy from another world named Zatch arrives by smashing in through his window carrying a giant fish and a mysterious red book! Assigned to Kiyo as a trusted ward, the boisterous and enthusiastic Zatch accompanies Kiyo to school, and winds up confronting a terrifying bully… a bully burnt to cinders by Zatch's powerful lightning spell! Just who is this Zatch kid anyway, where does he come from, what's up with this mysterious book… and more importantly, can Zatch teach Kiyo to stop being such a jerk?
Yet another long-running action-adventure from the pages of Shonen Jump makes the leap to the small screen in Zatch Bell. The good news? This show is so mind-numbingly over-the-top, so enthusiastically bizarre, that it's difficult to not get sucked into its strange little world. The bad news? Well, in spite of all the strangeness going on, based on the episodes presented on volume one, this is yet another “battle your way to the top while learning important lessons about teamwork and courage” anime, like so many before it.
Far and away, the sheer exuberance and energy this show exudes is the best thing it has going for it, and it transforms what could have been another bland shonen series into something that's a lot of fun to watch, even if it is a little brain-dead and simple. The characters are constantly over-emoting, bursting into tears and giving long speeches about friendship and teamwork and other values little boys need to learn about, all while beating the living crap out of the bad guys. Frankly, the show is perfect for its target demographic, elementary school-aged boys; were I 10 years old, this would probably be my favorite show. Unfortunately I'm not, which makes it much easier to see how truly clichéd this show is. That doesn't mean it isn't fun, it just means that you shouldn't expect sophistication on really any level from this show.
The basic problem lies in the premise. So far, in every episode (okay, sometimes there's a two-parter), Zatch and Kiyo fight another kid who's controlling his own Mamodo (“demons” in the Japanese version), usually for ill-gotten gains. Zatch and Kiyo cry a lot and take a beating just before unleashing Zatch's powerful lightning attack and then they learn an important lesson. That's basically it. Sometimes the show can be pretty funny, the animation is competent and the color palette is bright and eye-catching, but overall, there just isn't much to this show. The storyline is way too similar to other Shonen Jump titles… at least, this is true for the four episodes contained on this disc. As is the norm for shows like these, the plot probably gets really convoluted later on, but it's difficult to believe that a show like this will suddenly have emotional depth.
The version included on this disc is the TV-edited dub only; there's no subtitle track. Luckily, the TV dub is actually quite good. A few necessary edits have been made; the title has been changed to Zatch Bell from the original “Gash Bell” (which in and of itself explains why it needed to be changed), Zatch doesn't ever appear naked thanks to a pair of fairly convincing digital underpants, and a few other edits have been made to make the show more acceptable to American children. The result is a solid, likable and very appropriate kids' show. The dub voices are all suitably enthusiastic; some may recognize the voice of Zatch as the same bloke responsible for voicing Nickelodeon's popular Jimmy Neutron character. I've never heard anyone call Zatch Bell an untouchable masterpiece that should never be tampered with, so the changes made in order to get this show on TV shouldn't raise anyone's hackles. If anything, it's made the show a lot more accessible and fun for young English speakers.
If you're a kid, Zatch Bell comes at my highest possible recommendation. Simply put, this show is a lot of fun and has an infectious energy that seems to be missing from a lot of other Shonen Jump anime titles; it's a really great show for the young'uns. If you're an adult, there's some humor to be found in how out-and-out insane some of the proceedings are. Heck, if you shut your brain off and don't take the show seriously (or maybe drove to the liquor store shortly beforehand), you'll probably have a good time.
Overall (dub) : B
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Enthusiastic, bizarre fun for the whole family.
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