Tuesday, March 6, 2012


this review originally appeared in 2005 at Anime Jump. Like Part 1, the DVD is currently available at bargain prices and you should totally get it.

It’s tough for me to review this film objectively. It’s an integral part of my late teenage psyche. I wasn’t a particularly introspective 18-year old, but there were two things I was sure of – I liked punk music and I liked Japanese cartoons, and MEGAZONE 23 PART 2 combined them both in a package convenient enough to stick in the pocket of your trenchcoat and impress your fellow late-80s teens with at any gathering.

And why not? It’s a Japanese cartoon starring punk rock kids on motorcycles who defy the police with machine guns and super robots in a battle to expose the massive fraud that underlies their very society. The film obsesses over details like beer cans and cigarette packaging and stars doppelgangers of the “Like A Prayer” Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and female pro wrestlers, and instead of the bug-eyed, melon-headed look that segregates most anime to the back of the visual arts bus, MEGAZONE 23 PART 2 stars recognizable human beings with nostrils and scars and sex lives. It’s about as far as you can get from SPEED RACER and still be a Japanese cartoon.

I think I went to high school with these guys

I can’t say PART 1 interested me overmuch; the Mikimoto character designs seemed like stale MACROSS, the Garland motorcycle-robot was entirely too functional, and on the whole I was more interested in watching VAMPIRE HUNTER D or DIRTY PAIR. PART 2, on the other hand, was a completely different story, and I mean that sincerely. It didn’t look, act, sound, or smell anything like the first MEGAZONE. In fact it didn’t look like anything we’d ever seen, at all. You could tell right away – via Yasuomi Umetsu’s no-nonsense character designs - that this wasn’t some kids’ TV cartoon tarted up for a direct-to-video release. Hell, in the first two minutes there are about six misdemeanors and eighteen felonies contained in a scene of mayhem and property destruction as wild if not wilder than anything Hollywood or Hong Kong would offer that year (1985!!) And this isn’t outer-space flying saucer nonsense – these are real life Tokyo neighborhoods being overrun by 80’s punker bosuzoku.

Except they’re not: this Tokyo is a fake, a prop, a stand-in. The real Earth’s been destroyed and the human race is inside the Megazone, a giant space ship big enough to hold entire cities and millions of people, some of whom know they’re living out one of science fiction’s hoariest cliches and others who never wonder why no one they know has ever actually been, you know, outside the city.

The unbelievable truth

Our hero Shogo Yahagi would still be one of these brainwashed proles if he hadn’t had the good sense to get involved in the hot motorcycle business. Turns out his stolen bike was a top-secret transforming giant combat robot designed to fight aliens in outer space, and that his entire life has been spent inside a giant space station, whose main computer systems are controlled by an artificial intelligence who moonlights as an idol singer known as EVE. While investigating this mystery- well, okay, he was committing grand theft super transforming robot motorcycle, all right? -Shogo winds up accused of murder and on the run, and that’s where PART 2 starts.

Holographic or not, the gals all love Shogo

Reunited with his biker pals, Shogo rekindles his romance with Yui and works out a plan to fool the authorities and find out once and for all what’s really going on. Meanwhile his opposite number in the government, the enigmatic B.D., can’t spend too much time searching for Shogo, because the hideous space aliens that attacked the Earth have found the Megazone, and are kicking ass on Earth spaceships with weapons that remind us uncomfortably of Roto-Rooter Gone Wild.

Naturally the key to everything is finding EVE. Aren’t most of life’s mysteries solved through communion with idol singers – especially computer-generated ones only slightly more artifical than the real thing? The incongruity of seeing total punk rockers going gaga over easy-listening top-40 pop music takes the edge from PART 2’s realism. On the other hand the punks of 1988 were going apeshit over the “swing revival” ten years later, so anything’s possible. When EVE isn’t singing, the Shirou Sagisu soundtrack ranges from moody 80s synth to some good honest speed metal guitar work.

typical anime club meeting circa 1985

After a running battle through “Tokyo” between the motorcycle punks and the cops and the all-out space assault by the sicko aliens, B.D. and Shogo achieve detente of sorts, though it’s academic at that point because EVE has activated A.D.A.M. and that means that the Megazone is destroyed in a total rotoscoped-from-atom-bomb-test-footage sequence that still looks pretty impressive. At this point you can either make some sort of fancy-pants biblical reference about Eve giving Adam knowledge which drives them out of Eden (Megazone), or you can make a joke about the Coleco Adam, possibly the worst home computer ever marketed to a confused American public. The choice is yours.

Not to give anything away (I think the spoiler warning has expired in a 20 year old film) but MEGAZONE 23 PART 2 ends its tired science fiction cliche of people living on a space ship so big they think they’re on Earth with another tired science fiction cliche of a small group of survivors left to repopulate a new planet. But that’s OK; you kind of want a familiar ending after the A-bomb test footage. Besides, if you’re watching MEGAZONE 23 PART 2 and aren’t focused on the visuals, you’re missing out, because the darn thing looks great. There’s a lot of rotoscoping and serious attention is paid to light and shadow and color and hair and clothes. There’s none of the fakey shorthand stuff so often seen in TV anime. Not that there aren’t outer-space giant robot laser gun battles in this film – there are, and plenty of ‘em – but there’s a real attempt to convince us that the high-tech and the low-brow exist in the same world. The animation’s reach sometimes exceeds its grasp, but even the less competent scenes have a punky charm.

eat hot lead, fascist pig transforming robot!

The dub pedigree of MZ23 2 is iffy; an English track by Intersound (the Robotech people) was included on a Japanese LD, but it never got a proper US release. I didn’t get my bootleg video pirate copy until 1988! ADV’s new dub ditches many of the earlier version’s more colorful moments; no longer do machine-gun toting punk chicks shout “EAT HOT LEAD FASCIST PIG!” while lighting up a police helicopter. However, the ADV script does actually acknowledge the existence of a PART 1, something the 80s version glossed over entirely, and dodges some of the production pitfalls of the earlier incarnation (hint: when a character complains about noise, it helps to actually have noises in the background). The voice work is smooth – almost too smooth at times for the characters, who, after all, are unemployed squatters with bad personal hygiene – but overall ADV’s version is professional and entertaining all the way.

Ultimately, in the face of the film’s climax, the valiant stand of the motorcycle teens against the adult world of authority winds up being pretty meaningless. Just like real life. Still, as director Ichirou Itano says in the accompanying interview, the real message of the film is the you should take defeat gracefully and move on to the next challenge with no regrets, because you did your best and it’s not your fault the world is filled with phonies, Holden Caulfield.

BD bulks up, gets fashion sense, punches Shogo's lights out

The interview is part of one of the disc’s extras, a fold-out poster. Itano, the inventor of the now-ubiquitous “missiles flying everywhere” visuals used in most SF anime, was given carte blanche to follow his bliss with MZ23 2, and the result is an anti-authoritarian epic with a heart and sharp as hell looks.

best use of multiplane camera rack-focus zoom ever.

Maybe you’re just looking for some 1980s revival anime, or if you always wanted to see the anime take on the Sid Vicious look, or if your jones for severe realism via Japanese cartoon character design wasn’t satisfied by AKIRA or JIN-ROH. If you want anime with colorful and unique characters, cosmic storylines, and plenty of property damage and beer, then MEGAZONE 23 PART II is where you need to be.

-Dave Merrill
Next: probably not reviewing "Megazone 23 Part 3 Part 1", because that would involve me, you know, having to watch it.

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Chris Sobieniak said...

Please don't watch that third thing Dave, you'll be glad you did!

Everything about the review is pretty on the mark with how I viewed it, I think if you didn't see the first installment, the second one works well on it's own too.

Dustin Kopplin said...

Part 3 is gonna happen, I just know it.

Also, I want to believe and wish anime clubs in 1985 were that awesome. These reviews make me wanna go back and watch it, and let my podcast co-host see it too.

Matt Murray said...

I also find it hard to look at this one objectively; it was one of the first three or four anime films I ever saw, and will always have a special place in my memories of that time, even though I've not watched it since the '80s. I watched part three once back then, and remember only that once felt like too much. Is this a good film? Hell, it's hard to say, but it definitely resonated with me at seventeen. I do enjoy the fact that Shogo doesn't win via combat, where BD always trounces him, but by living as someone EVE sees value in saving. What teen doesn't believe that his life has more that's "real" about it than some authoritarian asshat's? Hell, hearing Rick Santorum speak STILL makes me feel that way.

Anonymous said...

"Then think LOUDER, asshole."

Of course now, like so much of 1980s anime, my attitude towards MZ23II is "please come back, all is forgiven." But at the time I had been so into the original that I couldn't make the transition to the sequel.

It wasn't just the new character designs (again, now I appreciate them). Weirdly, I couldn't buy the idea Shogo Do-You-Want-Fries-With-That? Yahagi actually knew any machine gun-toting, government-resisting punks, and it ended up making him less interesting to me as a character.

In the original, the punk thing was a matter of Sunday dress-up (like the kids I'd see from my school panhandling on Telegraph) and no sooner was there a war scare then did Shogo's punk friends rinse out the product and join the army. To me, that was a touch of realism, and thus interesting. At the end of Part 1, when Shogo tries to be something he's not (a bad-ass), he gets that ass handed to him in short order. Again, that felt real.

To me, the happy ending of Part 1 wasn't that he won, but that he survived. It's hard to explain, but him actually winning would have felt phony and thus, unsatisfactory. Him losing but walking forward, on the other hand, felt like he really had achieved something against the odds.

To be fair to Part 2, it was the anime that introduced me to Dunhill cigarettes. I was into that soulbonding stuff, but with alcohol and tobacco.


Unknown said...

Back in the infancy of fan subtitling, Megazone 23 Part One was one of those things that multiple groups jumped on very quickly after its release. The Intersound dub of MZ23 Part 2 was kinda interesting to watch when it hit the trading circles, but unfortunately because of its existence it took years for fan subtitlers to get around to making a proper subtitled version of Part 2.

I still remember the first time I watched the Intersound dub, noting that they didn't wait more than a few seconds to start cramming every silent moment with English dialogue.

"Who are those punks?"
"They're part of a motorcycle gang called 'Trash'."

Intersound...where we get paid by the word.

Anonymous said...

Infancy of subbing is right. I can remember the pre Amiga and genlock days. But it was fun. I never did the grunt work, just enabled others . Looking back at your other blogs is really fun. Seeing all the old sub stuff that got done anonymously at the time or getting airline prints of gems like My Youth In Arcadia from a station in BC...well, how many people would know that, right? Oh, the stories I could tell...

d.merrill said...

That must be why my subtitle of MYIA has an episode of Samurai Pizza Cats taped from YTV at the end of the cassette.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I wouldn't be surprised.

Chris Sobieniak said...

To be fair to Part 2, it was the anime that introduced me to Dunhill cigarettes.

Then it did it's job well! I can sorta see how people would be that way about part 2 after watching part 1 with the slight shifts in design and direction. I sometimes wonder what it would've been if the second film never happened, ad we were stuck with part 1 as it stands, asking the same questions year after year about it, or coming up with possible scenarios for the outcome alone. Oh that would be interesting!

Still, what is a mystery is how in the world did they think there needed to be a third installment, that I will never know!