Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 16th 2013
Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Years ago the Amagi Corporation secretly financed the development of Players, creatures who could pass for human normally but could also regress into a monstrous form, for the express purpose of gladiator-style battles in an underground arena in front of the privileged. But the Players eventually broke out, and one of the key scientists, Kanazaki, went into hiding with a babe imbedded with a ring on its hand, a child who could eventually become ZET, a warrior capable of combatting the Players. Several years later young Jin lives in a homeless camp with his “gramps” Kanzaki and plays hero games with Kouga and Konoha, two like-aged Amagi children, while also rescuing people from bad guys for money on the side. One such fateful encounter brings him into contact with a sex worker he will later come to call Auntie and live with after Kanzaki dies. Over the next few years encounters with Players help Jin's powers to emerge, while Kouga, still obsessed with justice and becoming a hero like his idol Alphas (an anime character) follows his own path to becoming a costumed crusader and Konoha just looks on pathetically as her potential love interest Jin is taken away by another woman. All three of them eventually get caught up in the schemes of an EVOL (a more advanced Player), Kouga and Konoha's grandfather, and another man with an interest in Players, however, and when Zetman finally emerges on the scene, things will get messy.
Although the anime version of Zetman is directly based on parts of the manga version by Masakazu Katsura which began in 2002, the original manga version first ran in the late '80s and early '90s, which may partially explain why the series has an old-school feel about it. This is, essentially, a classic story about two young men who take very different but still crossing paths in striving to be super-heroes: one accomplishes it through biology, the other through technology. Predictably, the two young men have very different attitudes towards it as well, as one sees it merely as the natural thing to do (although he also sometimes seeks to get paid for it) and the other sees it as an extension of his overpowering desire to pursue and mete out justice. Naturally these two philosophies sometimes clash.
The rest of the structure of the series is quite predictable, too; in fact, hardly a single plot twist or story development is fresh enough or creative enough that it should catch veteran anime viewers by surprise, especially once one appreciates that the series is not above engaging in bloody slaughter of innocent people. Director Osamu Nabeshima and head writer Atsuhiro Tomioka seemed to realize that they did not have much originality to work with in terms of plot, so they focused quite heavily on character development. Their apparent intent was to show how Jin grows into a well-rounded, responsible young man through family or family-like associations, while Kouga was to be the strict fundamentalist, albeit one who might get more satisfaction out of fights than he is willing to admit. The former case does essentially come through, though not always smoothly, while the latter case is taken enough to an obsessive extreme – Kouga can barely say a sentence without using the word “justice” – that it becomes almost comical. (The series does seem to vaguely suggest that Kouga gets off on playing the hero, but it is not bold enough to actively explore that angle.) Of the male supporting cast members, the trio of company scientists are a typical geeky support staff, a typically gruff detective pops up regularly, and the Amagi father and grandfather are equally typical as the stern corporate leader who prioritizes the company over his family and the senior scientist who wants to try to solve the mistakes of the past, respectively. A little better is the establishment and development of the villains. EVOL Haitani is hardly a fresh character but functions reasonably well as a classic manipulator who wants to win the hero over to his side, though his motives for doing so seem to consist of making Jin the “Charisma” for the EVOL and Players – although what, exactly, that means is never explained. A little more original is Jirou Nakata, a human who coerces Kouga into participating in moralistic tests under the pretense of making him a better hero, although late in the series his true (and far less complementary) reasons for doing so become apparent. The rest of the antagonists and monsters are merely disposable thugs.
And then there's the issue of how the series treats its female cast. Such a testosterone-laden concept leaves little room for female characters to do anything, and indeed, the only one who does anything worthwhile is Akemi, the scarred former sex worker who becomes Jin's foster parent. (In the manga version she was scarred by a customer, but in the anime version her injury is earned more heroically.) Otherwise female characters are just weak-willed onlookers, individuals with no power of any kind, or victims. The series takes a particularly perverse delight in bloodily injuring and slaughtering innocent female characters, especially schoolgirls; its propensity to connect these scenes with fan service shots, such as one scene where a girl is shown literally cut in half but with her panties on display, is further unsettling. A couple of other scenes involving nudity are both less gratuitous and less objectionable.
Little complaint can also be lodged against the artwork beyond an occasional lapse in character rendering quality. All cast members of any consequence have distinctive, striking appearances, including dashingly masculine male leads and cute, pretty, or outright sexy female characters; older characters have prominent, finely-chiseled features. Background art is also usually well-defined, and the series pulls few punches when it comes to showing bloody mayhem or, at the least, its aftermath. Animation quality varies but is normally fairly sharp, with some good-looking action sequences.
The musical score puts in even more effort, resulting in a dramatic, cinematic sound heavily dependent on orchestration occasionally supported by vocals. At times it comes close to going overboard but never leaves scenes short on audio impact. Opener “dots and lines” is a catchy, funky number well worth repeat viewings, while closer “Tomeru” is fine but much less memorable.
NYAV Post's English dub sports a few very familiar names but mostly in secondary and minor roles. The experience of actors in major roles is more limited, with Jin's voice primarily being a veteran of the Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Sonic franchises (Jason Griffith) and Kouga being voiced by Grant George (probably best-known as the voice of Gilgamesh in Fate/stay night). Casting choices and performances generally fit well and the script does not make any significant changes.
Extras on Viz Media's Blu-Ray release of the series are limited to clean opener and closer, series trailers, and a short interview with Katsura, which was apparently done at 2012's New York Comic Con. The interview is surprisingly insightful for something that lasts only a bit over four minutes, as it provides an episode-to-manga-chapter correlation, explains how some things came out differently in the anime than what Katsura had expected (he did not realize that Kouga's obsession with justice came off looking so comical until he saw it in anime form, for instance), and reveals that he was actively involved in the production process, so he had a say in the decision to make the anime version a revamp of the original story rather than a faithful rendition. The release also has a marathon play option which skips openers after the first play on a disk and skips closers except for the last play on a disk.
Despite the youth of some of its key characters, Zetman is clearly aimed at somewhat older audiences, and as a result it has more mature content than normal. (Two characters quite obviously have sex, for instance.) While it can be entertaining, and certainly should hold some appeal for fans of graphic content, it never comes together well enough, or produces a novel enough feel, to be compelling.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Lots of bloody violence for those who like such things, strives for greater character development, opener.
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