Welcome To The Megazone (Parts I and II)

Megazone 23 (read as Megazone Two-Three, not twenty-three) is a four-episode direct-to-video anime with release dates ranging from March 1985 to December 1989. The whole story (at least for the first two parts of this series) is set in a future wherein humanity is engaged in a never-ending war with interplanetary threats meanwhile making the denizens of the somewhat space colony they live in pseudo-mid 1980s Japan, none the wiser.

The production of this OVA has some interesting backstories of its own just like the Megazone that the people in this show live in. Let’s do a deep dive into it as well as a review of the series itself, at least the first two parts.

Plot and Pacing: The first thirty minutes of Part I can be a bit boring since this anime has been made as a sci-fi action anime but all you see is nothing but an animated version of 1980s Tokyo, Japan.

Once the first part hits the thirty-minute mark, this is when the bombshell hits and everything goes straightforward from there.

While the plot and the pacing of the first story are easy to follow, there are some spots in the OVA that felt rushed for the sake of getting released and that’s because…Megazone 23 was supposed to be a television show.

Anime historian Sean O’ Mara has published on his website in 2018 about Megazone 23’s production history. The supposed television show, under the title Omega City 23, would be a 26-episode television series with each episode having a 30-minute run time.

It just so happens that after subsequent name changes and the lack of sponsors who are willing to support this project, the director, Noboru Ishiguro, and ARTMIC decided to release the project as a direct-to-video production instead, thus the sudden rush in some plot points and scenes.

If anything, the war with the Dezalg (the alien race the people of Megazone 23 are at war with) is just a plot device for what was the real conflict within the show: reconciling the fact that the government that was doing its best to protect its people by hiding the fact that they are in a large spaceship battling aliens and at the same time insulting the intelligence of its constituents by making them live in a false reality that was programmed by a supercomputer.

With that said, aside from the first thirty minutes of Part I, every minute of parts I and II is filled with nothing but action, and intrigue from end to end. The only thing that can bring it down is a lack of proper resolution as nobody knows if the people living in the Megazone were informed about the extraterrestrial war or if were they wiped out together with the Dezalg fleet as it ends with a cliffhanger (maybe because they had Part III in mind when they were re-drafting the anime pitch into something marketable).

Characters: Megazone 23 was released at a time what I would like to call the “post-Gundam/Macross, pre-Evangelion era” wherein the common trope is “youth gets into mecha, adults want to kill said youth because said mecha is a top-secret military project” so the characters are just playing into the tropes of the times. Shogo Yahagi is your typical Hikaru Ichijo/Judau Ashta character archetype: a hot-blooded teenager who hates the adults running the city after discovering the truth about the world they live in.

B.D. complements Shogo’s naivete by being the cold, calculating adult who pulls the strings behind the military operations while not exactly agreeing with the top brass who lords over him.

EVE/Eve Tokimatsuri fills in the Lynn Minmay of the series being the catalyst of the events that lead humanity into war with the extraterrestrial beings and the bridge between Shogo and the Bahamut supercomputer.

The side characters vary from plot devices to cannon fodder so I’m a bit on the fence about the usefulness of characters like Yui, Mai, Tomomi, Lightning, that one character who is literally a Dump Matsumoto reference, and others. Some aren’t even given a chance to be introduced to the viewers as to who they are and what they do to the story in a meaningful way and that could be because, again, this was supposed to be a television show and the limits of a direct-to-video medium would mean that compromises and cuts have to be made to save time and money.

To sum it up, I’ll have one of the characters say it.

"All the unimportant characters always get killed off"

Art and Animation: The character art in the first two parts of Megazone 23 can be used as a case study on how anime art changed within the span of one year.

Omega City 23 character sheet.
Character designs for Omega City 23. Thanks once again to Sean O’Mara of Zimmerit for preserving these on the Internet.
Character designs for Shogo Yahagi. Move the slider for comparison
BD Character Design Comparison. Notice the change in hairstyle and skin color.

The designs of Part 1, and by extension the Omega City drafts, were based more on Macross and other anime shows at the time which, if you look at it, is a remnant of the styles of what anime looked like in the mid to late 1970s.

By the time 1986 came, anime such as California Crisis and the theatrical version of Fist of the North Star’s first few arcs have already been in the consciousness of the anime-watching public at the time, so Artland and AIC have to follow suit by updating the designs to fit with the times.

Mechanical designs, on the other hand, aren’t as memorable and at times, as derivative as they could be.

For instance, the transformed mechanical version of the proto-Garland, the main mecha of this arc, looks like what a GM would look like if Mamoru Nagano designed it and its color scheme subconsciously reminded me of Ideon of all things.

Some characters also had their color schemes changed, take BD and Yui for instance. These characters had their hair colors changed in a span of a year and a half to denote a time skip between the OVAs although, in a storyline sense, Yui’s hair color change made more sense than BD’s.

I would’ve preferred Megazone Part 1 to have the same art style as Part 2 in my opinion, as I think that the story of Megazone 23 doesn’t fit the whole Macross derivative type of character design.

Animation: Being first designed as a television show, you don’t necessarily expect a lot of sakuga* in this anime and more of yashigani** but Megazone 23 proved otherwise thanks to the less restrictive platform of direct-to-video (in terms of what can and cannot be put in anime.

Remember that television content standards in 1986 are different from what is standard television content in 2023 and aside from the very obvious sex scenes between Shogo and Yui, I don’t think Artmic and Artland won’t get away with showing excessive violence seen in Part II.

Just like the pacing of the story, the animation sometimes lets you know that there are some scenes being redrawn for the sake of cutting some corners due to video format restrictions so you may see some yashigani here and there as well as some choppy animation but the good outweighs the bad in this anime so, at the end of the day, it didn’t even seem to be noticeable in the first place.

Themes: More like how the show handled its themes is what I am going to talk about in this section, and the first two parts of Megazone 23 are…kind of all over the place when it comes to this.

For one, I don’t get why Shogo has the right to rag on adults when he
himself, surprise surprise, is an adult by the time Part II’s events happened.

Another thing to consider is that there are some concepts that weren’t that thoroughly explored throughout the series such as the Bahamut computer itself. How and why did it consider the 1980s as the peak of human existence? What sort of political machinations were enacted to draft the Earth preservation laws? Why bother preserving the old order of existence in all its glory when they can start life anew in space? Who gave the go signal that a computer should dictate what period in history should we relive? Who knows? We will never know unless these will be answered in Part III.

One thing is for sure though, the concept of simulated reality through some entity is something that Megazone 23 tackled with great detail and a theme that will be revisited by other media such as The Matrix, Evangelion, and Naruto.

Sound Design: I believe that sound design is where Megazone 23 shined the best. This was THE Shiro Sagisu’s second year producing music for anime and with Megazone, he brought his A-game in producing the BGM’s.

For Part I, Rock Cafe is the standout track and all of the best EVE songs are on Part I. Part II excels more on the background music as it fits the mood of street punks vs the military in space anime that Part II came to be.

Part II would have the weaker EVE playlist as it only had two songs compared to Part I’s three but it has one stand-out EVE song, “Tell Me A Secret” which was used during the end of Part II.

If you’re more familiar with Sagisu’s work on Evangelion and Bleach, this soundtrack might be a great way to see Shiro Sagisu’s musical versatility as he is not only great with doom and gloom set pieces but as well as energetic, rock tunes.

The dubbing is okay at best. It’s your typical 1980s anime voice tropes so it’s kind of interchangeable and yes, Shogo Yahagi sounds too much like Hikaru Ichijo from Macross to my liking for Part I, and in Part II, he just sounds like a mishmash of Franky and Judau Ashta.

Overall: The first two parts of Megazone 23, or as I would like to call it the “Shogo arc”, deserve the right to be called a trailblazing anime. It introduced themes that were not commonly normal within anime shows at the time and had the original television show pitch come to fruition, it could’ve been a much larger cult classic among anime fans. If you wanted to watch more old anime and you don’t know where to start, I’d recommend giving this one a try.

See you in Part III’s review.

*sakuga (作画) – literally just means “drawing pictures” in Japanese but in an anime-centric context, it means fluid animation that has high-quality standards compared to your usual anime show.

**yashigani (ヤシガニ) – derived from the title of the fourth episode of the anime Lost Universe, “Yashigani hofuru,” or “Coconut Crabs Kill!,” Japanese anime fans would usually use this term to derive animation of inferior quality.

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