Review

by Theron Martin,

Zillion

BD/DVD

Synopsis:
Zillion BD/DVD
In the year 2387, humankind's colony on planet Meris has come under attack from an alien race called the Nohza, who seek to colonize the planet themselves. Outgunned, the human forces of Meris are in trouble until they are mysteriously gifted a trio of weapons called Zillion, which are powerful enough to annihilate Nohza in a single shot but based on Black Box tech that humans cannot yet duplicate. A unit of three youths, called the White Nuts, is formed to be specialists in use of the Zillion and thus the most elite force among Meris's defenders. Together J.J., Champ, and Apple must contend with various roving bands of Nohza as well as the schemes and attacks of their commanders and elite counterparts, all while the Nohza empress Admiss urges her troops forward under an impending time limit.
Review:

This 31-episode series originally aired in 1987, with an OVA spinoff episode called Zillion: Burning Night following in 1988. Streamline Pictures made an effort in 1990 to dub the series and release it on VHS in the USA, but that effort never got past the first five TV episodes and the OVA. Hence this new Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Funimation is the first time that the entire series has been made available in the West. If anything, viewers may be most familiar with Zillion from a brief clip of it appearing in the music video for Michael Jackson's “Scream.”

On the whole, Zillion is very much a product of its time, fully representative of the action-adventure TV anime style from the late 1980s – for better or worse. Its character design style resembles innumerable other action series made around the same time, and it still clings to storytelling patterns standardized by '70s series like Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, that continued to be pretty common in the '80s. So in some senses, watching this series is a bit like taking an anime history lesson.

The plot structure of Zillion is very basic. Aliens are attacking humans and must be combated with special weaponry from an arcane source capable of breaking through the technological deficiency that humans face in this conflict. Though there is an overall plot in the broadest sense, most of the series involves episodic tales where three heroes must complete a wide variety of missions to combat the Nohza threat. Most of the continuity involves equipment upgrades and main Nohzan foes reappearing, with only one true two-parter and a semi-overarching story near the end as things gear up for the finale. The Nohzans aren't just indiscriminately attacking humans because they're evil, however; they actually need planet Meris for their own imperative reasons. Despite this, the story has little depth or complexity and no big surprises beyond the occasional deus ex machina.

The characters and villains aren't going to excite anyone, either. J.J. is the talented yet goofy and lecherous hothead, Champ is the more level-headed and pragmatic sniper, and Apple is the martial arts action heroine with an incongruously sweet disposition. None of these characters grow over the course of the series, nor do audiences get any real insight into their backstories. The banter they share is equally stereotypical; J.J. is always chiding Apple for not being very feminine and finds himself at odds with Champ over just about anything, while Apple gets disgusted with their behavior. Some of the period's sexism also filters into this dynamic; while Apple is shown to be quite capable and gets a couple of feature scenes, more often than not she plays second fiddle to the guys. She also gets injured and saved the most frequently, even though J.J. puts himself in the direct line of danger much more often.

But this isn't the kind of series people would seek out for character or story depth. This is pure popcorn entertainment, with each episode delivering its quota of daring action sequences and faceless aliens getting blown away. Weapons and vehicles get revamped as the series progresses to keep things somewhat fresh, and the challenges the heroes face are varied in both terrain and objective. Content is generally friendly for younger audiences, with graphic violence kept at a low level and sex appeal rarely getting saucier than Apple showing some cleavage.

The technical merits of the series are also typical. Early episodes in particular extensively use stock footage for launch sequences and commonly take big shortcuts for action scenes, especially ones where the character remains static as the background slides. However, there are more smoothly-animated highlights now and again. Facial expressions for J.J. are more heavily exaggerated in a quintessential '80s action hero way, while character designs are about as stock as the personalities attached to them. The gun designs are also nothing special, beyond a bit of trivia that they were modeled after the light guns for the Sega Master system. The Blu-Ray side of the release brings out the colors as vividly as possible and gives the whole production a remarkably clean look.

Sadly, the Blu-Ray release couldn't do much for the tepid musical score. The synth-based soundtrack uses the same kind of electric-drum-heavy sound that populates many titles from the era and rarely achieves a high degree of dramatic intensity; it is easily the weakest aspect of the series' production. Nothing is memorable about the opener or two closers, either.

Funimation's release also includes the 45-minute OVA episode. It tells an alternate-world story where the White Nuts are a rock band and the key villains are humans who control the local post-apocalyptic zone and seek to forcibly marry Apple into their family. The animation effort in particular is distinctly stronger, which results in much more fluid and involved battle sequences. Sadly, the release does not include an English dub. The only extras included are clean theme songs and some trailers.

On the whole, Zillion is a largely unexceptional throwback to a simpler era of sci fi anime. It's worth a look for fans of '80s-style action, though it will probably hold little interest for those who prefer more modern elements.

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

+ Plentiful action, varied settings
Lame musical score, heavy use of animation shortcuts and stock footage

Chief Director: Mizuho Nishikubo
Director: Mizuho Nishikubo
Series Composition: Mayori Sekijima
Script:
Tsunehisa Itō
Takao Koyama
Mami Watanabe
Takashi Yamada
Haruya Yamazaki
Screenplay: Mizuho Nishikubo
Storyboard:
Takaaki Ishiyama
Tetsuya Kobayashi
Yoriyasu Kogawa
Rei Maruwa
Mizuho Nishikubo
Shinya Sadamitsu
Yusaku Saotome
Hideki Tonokatsu
Baku Tsuzuri
Naoki Yamaguchi
Kazuo Yamazaki
Episode Director:
Tetsuya Kobayashi
Yoshihide Kuriyama
Mizuho Nishikubo
Satoshi Okada
Shinya Sadamitsu
Yusaku Saotome
Shinji Takagi
Hideki Tonokatsu
Baku Tsuzuri
Kazuo Yamazaki
Music: Jun Irie
Character Design:
Takayuki Goto
Chuuichi Iguchi
Kazuchika Kise
Yoshio Mizumura
Hiroyuki Okiura
Art Director: Kikuko Tada
Art: Yūji Ikeda
Animation Director:
Takayuki Goto
Hiroshi Hamasaki
Chuuichi Iguchi
Kazuchika Kise
Katsuji Matsumoto
Juji Mizumura
Yoshio Mizumura
Takashi Nakamura
Hiroyuki Okiura
Akira Watanabe
Mecha design:
Ammonite
Hiroshi Ogawa
Hirotoshi Okura
Takashi Ono
Sound Director: Katsunori Shimizu
Director of Photography:
Kazunori Hashimoto
Itta Kobayashi
Toshiaki Morita
Nobuyuki Sugaya
Koutaro Yokoyama
Mitsunobu Yoshida
Executive producer:
Katsuhiko Hasegawa
Ippei Kuri
Producer:
Joji Furusawa
Hiroshi Iwata
Minoru Ohno
Hidehiko Takei
Motoki Ueda

Full encyclopedia details about
Zillion (TV)
Zillion: Burning Night (OAV)

Release information about
Zillion - The Complete Series + OVA (BD+DVD)

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