Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
You know, I’ve never gone back and watched a full show from one of my season previews, despite the fact that I covered the first one almost half a year ago. So here I am, rectifying that! Out of all the shows I’ve touched on, I decided to revisit OZMA, the modern Leiji Matsumoto work from the Spring 2012 season. I chose it because it is a show about which I initially felt lukewarm – which means I could have either grown to love or hate it – and because it’s a measly six episodes long. Easy viewing during a week when I have a lot of Olympic soccer, gymnastics, and swimming to watch!
The plot, for those of you unfamiliar with the show, follows chipper young protagonist Sam Coyne, a sand pirate who lives on a post-apocalyptic Earth. The seas have disintegrated, deserts have overrun the land, and an empire of Ideal Children – clones of perfect genetic specimens – rules over the tattered remains of the Natura, or natural, people. But Sam doesn’t care for politics. He only hopes to be of use to his ragtag group of pirate friends and to one day capture the massive sand whale known as the Ozma in hopes that it might bring him closer to his brother, who disappeared while hunting the beast. But one of Sam’s searches goes awry when he stumbles across a mysterious woman being hunted by the Ideal Children’s army, and trouble follows them both back to the pirates’ lair.
To recap, here’s how I felt about OZMA after watching the first episode in April: “Everything about this anime screams retro: the art and character designs, the princess-in-peril plot, the masked Char-wannabe villain. There’s nothing wrong with going back to what used to work and trying to make it fresh, but OZMA doesn’t really do much on that second front. […] Since I didn’t really grow up with this sort of show, it feels dated to me. The one very big check-mark OZMA has going in its favor is the Captain of the Sand Pirate ship Baldanos. Her name is Bainas, and good lord she’s a badass. I want to be this woman, with her cool edge under fire and her striking red cape. If I keep watching OZMA, it will be to see more Bainas!”
So, how did OZMA hold up under extended scrutiny? Eh… not well.
First, the positives. The opening song “Neverland” by FT Island is memorable, an all-English ditty that fits the optimistic feel of most of the show. But the highlights of OZMA are definitely the battles between the armed forces of the Ideal Children and the pirates on the Baldanos. The tactical moves and the life-and-death stakes are handled very well, and the tension just ratchets up, up, and up. And if the battles are the highlight, they owe a lot to the two characters standing at the forefront of each side of the conflict: namely Gido (of the Ideal Children) and the aforementioned Bainas. From the first episode to the last, Bainas is an absolutely fantastic character: strong-willed, level-headed, and effortlessly in control of her ship and her crew.
Gido is similarly interesting in his own right, but his effectiveness as a character in the show’s narrative gets complicated by the later episodes in ways that are spectacularly spoiler-ific.
Which brings us to the negatives. There is not a single thing revolutionary about this plot. There’s not a single thing even unique or interesting about this plot, nor about most of the characters. You have seen every major event in this show a thousand times before, you’ve heard every line of dialogue, and you can guess every plot twist full episodes before they happen. OZMA is the sort of show you turn into a drinking game because of the clichés. But despite all this, I think the show is actually too ambitious, rather than too lazy.
This show is only six episodes long. It was only planned to be six episodes long. And yet somehow the studio or director thought they could cover the history of an entirely new world, the struggles between its different peoples, and the personal tragedies of a surprisingly sizable cast in such a short amount of time. Add in a sub-plot that Sam’s brother – gasp! – might not be dead at all, and you’ve got a lot of different people jockeying for a severe shortage of screen time. Poor female sidekick Mimay is supposed to be sympathetic as the childhood friend of Sam’s who gets ignored in favor of newcomer (and more feminine) Maya, but she’s mostly just a waste of space. Even Bainas’s personal sob story – despite the fact that she single-handedly saves the show – probably should have been axed to make room for more important matters.
To compensate for this dearth of breathing room, the show relies on the tropes we’ve seen before in order to create shortcuts. No need to explain that the masked villain is in fact a conflicted potential ally; we’ve seen that in Char and Zechs Merquise. No need to show that the giant water beast is an agent of both destruction and rebirth; Blue Submarine No. 6 already did that. Why bother to tell us that maiden-in-distress Maya is in actuality a princess? If she’s tall, waifish, and soft spoken, she’s obviously royalty. I’d have much preferred a smaller cast and shorter, more compact story if it meant that I was getting something new and fresh. The stakes don’t have to be raised to the fate of the world so long as I can get invested in the characters and their desires.
When it comes to the art, I still couldn’t get over the dated feel of it all. But your mileage will vary there, and my opinion shouldn’t deter you from the show if you like that style. But what can’t be cast aside as opinion is the fact that the show has some serious consistency problems with its artwork and character designs. Up close, every character looks attractive enough with their long eyelashes and tiny mouths. The lines are solid; the designs are recognizably Matsumoto’s. But once you pull back from the glamor shots, everyone catches a bad case of the uglies. Lines get sketchy and faces turn into Dali-esque oddities. There is an Ideal Child soldier who is constantly drawn with the most gaunt face I’ve even seen, including a nose on which you could probably cut concrete. Eyes are often off-center, mouths disappear, hair looks like a tumbleweed set on fire and then attached, still smoldering, to characters’ heads. This problem begins to alleviate in later episodes, mostly because the show begins to focus more and more on those pretty close-ups. Smart choice there.
Ultimately, OZMA just isn’t really worth the effort of watching. It’s not the worst thing ever produced, and it might prod some of the nostalgia buttons of Leiji Matsumoto fans, but I feel almost everyone would be better served by going back and watching the man’s earlier masterpieces instead. Save your three hours – there are better things out there to watch.
… Like Olympic sports! There’s been a lot of drama this year (as there always is), and I’ve found it all much more entertaining than OZMA. Of all the sports, I’m most interested in women’s soccer. Go USA! And see you in two weeks!