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Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City DVD/Blu-ray Review

12 min read

Evil is about to get striped again.

What They Say:
The year is 2025. Tokyo has fallen and the world cries out for a hero. It cries for Zebraman. This striped crime fighter is the only hope for those who live in fear of the Zebra Queen, a hooved seductress out to conquer the world with the aid of her Miniskirt Zebra Police. The Queen has stolen Zebraman’s powers and instituted Zebra Time: ten horrifying minutes each day when murder is legal! Without his super strength, Zebraman is just a guy with a mane – a broken-down hero unable to stop the onslaught of evil. Before he can take a bite out of the bad guys, Zebraman must find the young girl who holds the secret to regaining his ass-kicking powers and prove, once and for all, that a hero never changes his stripes!

The Review:
*Note-for the purpose of this review the Blu Ray Disc was used.
Oddly enough for a FUNimation release this feature contains only the original 5.1 audio track. While there are exceptions to every rule and FUNimation dubs almost all their releases, even the release of the original film from another studio managed to have an English dub produced so the lack of one here feels somewhat unusual. Despite this the track that is here is a very solid one that makes use of the 5.1 encode nicely as the quiet moments come across well as do the louder, more splashy moments and the music video like scenes in the feature. The dialogue is nice and clear for the most part, even in the midst of action scenes and there were no dropouts or distortions noted during playback.

Originally created in 2010 the feature is presented here in its original 16:9 ratio and includes an anamorphic encode. The benefit to the Blu Ray format is the shear amount of data that it allows to be stored on the disc. In theory this space allows for image files to be stored without having to use some of the same compression techniques that are necessary on DVDs. Normally this means an incredible picture that is presented exactly as the director intended, or at least as would be present on the film stock. For the most part this often means that any grain they inserted is there and intentional and often that is the extent of things, though in the case of Zebraman 2 something seems to have gone off kilter somewhere along the line.

Present on the feature is some dot crawl in one effect, some light level flickering on numerous occasions, odd moments where the grain vanishes, occasional odd patterns in what should be solid colors, and almost TV like static present at times. The inconsistency between its spectacular moments and the less spectacular is truly annoying but it is hard to place where the fault lies. Any other director and I would lean toward a disc production error but given it is Takashi Miike there is a chance this was a deliberate thing. Regardless of where the fault lies this is certainly not a disc I would throw in to try to impress someone by demonstrating the quality Blu Ray can provide.

The release of Zebraman 2 comes in a Blu Ray+DVD combo pack which is presented in a clear, standard sized DVD case that includes a flipper panel in the center that houses the DVD on one side, the DVD extras disc on the other and the Blu Ray disc is housed on the hub connected to the back of the case. The front cover features a close up of Zebraman in his mostly black armor seen in the picture on the left side while in front of him on the right is an almost full image of Zebra Queen in transformed mode while the top of the cover features the Blu Ray banner and also mentions that it includes the DVD copy. The spine features an image of transformed Zebraman in the top corner with the title written below that against a white background and black stripes present at the bottom.

The back cover uses a white background on the top half with the copy laid over it and an image of Zebraman standing before an army of Zebra Police against a backdrop of the city with three stills from the feature present to either side of this image. Below that is the technical information for the discs included as well as the copyright information. Each of the three discs use a “tribal” like design of a zebra stripe pattern and the reverse side of the cover contains close ups of the transformed white Zebraman on one side and Yui Aihara on the other.

The menu for the feature uses a cycling series of moments from the film that highlight the action found within as an instrumental version of one of the pop songs found in the feature plays in the background. The selectable options are lined up near the bottom of the screen in a black box that has a white boarder on top and white stripes at the edges. When selected instead of sub menus appearing as they do for most DVDs, the choices there come on to the screen in place of the initial selections. In the case of the Scene Selection screen small rectangular boxes that stretch across the bottom of the screen which hold stills representing the chapter stops are also present as the highlighted one gets a red arrow below it and the still is blown up. The highlighted option for most of the menu is signaled by it appearing in a bold red color and the menu is quick to respond to both changes in selections highlighted as well as to implement them when chosen.

The release contains an amazing abundance of extras, so many that the DVD version of the release that is included in the combo pack needed a separate disc just to house them all. Included in this release are The Making of Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City, The Making of the “Zebra Queen’s Theme” Music Video, Interview with Director Takashi Miike, Interview with Riki Abe (Niimi), Interview with Show Aikawa (Shinichi / Zebraman), Interview with Masahiro Inoue (Asano), Interview with Riisa Naka (Yui / Zebra Queen), Original Commercials and Theatrical Trailers.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In 2004 director Takashi Miike launched the unusual hero Zebraman onto the silver screen. In his story the origin of this hero is shown as he rises from the position of 3rd grade teacher who no one respects to take the mantel of his favorite tokusatu (live action superhero). In a twist of fate it turns out that Shinichi Ichikawa was fated to take the role as the disregarded 70’s character was actually created by an alien who could see the future and saw the role Shinichi/Zebraman would carry- if not the end he would create through his sheer will.

The film starts a month after the confrontation with the aliens that Zebraman had where he had saved the world from their plans of conquest. As fans of the original movie learned his power came about as a reaction to the aliens so once they were defeated he returned to his normal human state. Sadly this included being arrested as the government needed a scapegoat for the damage that had been wrote during the Zebraman/alien battle. Now Shinichi has been released by the police and discovered one of the reasons many heroes take such efforts to conceal their identity.

He has become so mobbed with adoring fans he can’t even take his garbage out without being disturbed by them, many of whom are well wishers but others are looking to use him to their own gains. This sudden fame has robbed from him everything that it looked like his previous actions might finally be gaining for him as his wife left him and took their children with her and he has been forced to resign from his job as he couldn’t function as needed in the role anymore. He can’t even talk with Asano, the young boy whose belief helped him seize his role as mankind’s savior due to the crowd that is constantly around him and his home.

With things being this dark one might wonder if the price Shinichi paid was worth it- unfortunately for him he is about to discover that the problems of fame and the dark cloud they bring him are relative bright spots in his life. Suddenly there is a shift in focus and Shinichi is watching these events play out on a television screen as he is trapped in an odd mechanical device by a man who doesn’t show his face to the audience. While contained inside this machine Shinichi expresses his regret over the course of events and the price he paid both with his life and also with the guilt he carries around related to those he defeated who had been possessed by aliens. It seems his days as Zebraman may not be finished as the mysterious man has an assistant who stick a pencil into a young girl they have chained near the machine- and when he does her eyes start to glow a familiar green as the table Shinichi is strapped to starts to move.

Fast forward 15 years and it is suddenly 2025 when Shinichi appears again. The audience finds him lying on top of a grating on the street and that his hair has gone completely white. As he lays there an alarm goes off and all the people in the street start running in a panic and an ominous tower is seen to be moving, the various projections on its side starting to line up and a clock emerges. From this tower a beam of line shoots up to a satellite which then encompasses much of the city in a bizarre shadow that resembles zebra stripes.

The audience is soon to discover that the city Shinichi gave so much to save has become a type of hell on Earth. In Zebra city for 10 minutes a day- 5 minutes each at 5 am and pm, the shadow that falls across the city signals the start of Zebra Time, which is a period where the police and others in power are free to do whatever they want without fear of reprisal or prosecution. And the most damning thing of all is that it is working to an extent as crime is down overall and other cities are thinking of adopting the system. Shinichi discovers this first hand as he is hunted down by the Zebra Police during this period and wounded, but the Zebra Time ends before the police can attempt to finish him off.

In this hell Shinichi is going to discover there are still some kind souls as he is found and brought to a camp where the victims who survive Zebra Time tend to gather. While here he will be reunited with an older Asano who has come to loath violence and that he works to heal those who have been victims of Zebra Time assaults. Asano explains the situation to Shinichi who has been brought into his emergency clinic after being assaulted during a period of Zebra Time and as he lies on the medical table. Shinichi oddly has no memory of who he is and what he has done in the past but otherwise is fairly fully functional minus not being up to date on events. He also discovers during this time that the song he heard during Zebra Time is sung by Yui Aihara, daughter of the current governor Kozo Aihara who instituted Zebra Time.

As Shinichi heals he learns more of this troubled world he finds himself in he discovers exactly what has happened over the missing 15 years of his life and the bizarre connection that he has to Zebra Time. While he is learning to deal with all this new information a face familiar to the viewers appears around him as the young alien girl who was trapped with him has also found herself in the refuge like encampment he now inhabits. As he learns of the events going on in Zebra City it turns out that Yui Aihara is making plans of her own that will place the professed Zebra Queen directly into opposition of Shinichi. Will Shinichi once again discover the power that lived within him when an alien menace rises again or will the cost that must be paid simply make it too much for him to shoulder this second time?

The original Zebraman film was one that I bought on a lark as I have seen quite a number of Takashi Miike’s films and have yet to have a lukewarm response to them as they have all wound up in either as either “love” or “hate.” To my great surprise and joy I discovered that Zebraman fell into the “love” column as Miike had successfully made a rather original film that presented a flawed man becoming a hero based of an old TV show that he loved which in fact was a prophecy of the hero he was to become. When I discovered a sequel was being made I was hoping it would make the transition overseas and it did, though with FUNimation picking the sequel up rather than the company that released the original feature.

While the first feature was a tale of a man grasping the reigns of being the hero he was destined to be, the second feature is a much darker piece in many respects. It isn’t just the city that has changed with its Zebra Time but as he grows and returns to the man he used to be Shinichi is going to have to remember all the sacrifices he made as well as come to terms with the dichotomy of good and evil that exists along the way.

Not content just with this moral quest the scriptwriter threw in plenty of other items for the audience to ponder from its Zebra Time to its almost Lady Gaga like Zebra Queen with her style and videos. A number of these points take off from some more famous works as the 5 minute Zebra Time gives off a very familiar feel to Orwell’s Two Minutes of Hate. Also Kozo Aihara’s manner of dress looks like it came directly out of A Clockwork Orange, which plays off as a desperate attempt to recreate that dystopian world unnecessarily given the fleshed out nature of the one created for this feature. Whether these inclusions are meant to try to get the audience to buy into the premise easier or are there as an (failed) attempt to try to equate this work with those masterpieces is uncertain but what is present is still a rather dark hued ride.

To offset this somewhat Miike does insert some humor into the script and while a few jokes do come off well a couple actually seem to slightly disconnect the train of story progression from the plot which undercuts events slightly. In the end what remains is a film that does what no Miike film has done for me previously- winds up solidly in a middle ground where there are equal parts that work for me and parts that just don’t. Fans of the original film may find this film enjoyable if they are looking for a darker feature than the first but it isn’t likely many will discover that this film is anything other than a picture that stands in the shadows cast from the brilliance of the original film.

In Summary:
Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City returns viewers to a world where aliens exist and so do the super powered heroes who will fight them. The similarity in themes ends here though as Zebraman 2 is a much darker take on the world and it also incorporates themes that may cause the viewer to make some connections to current trends. In many ways though this feature is a bookend companion to the first film in that it has a symmetry in its appearance but is completely opposite to that version’s vision and it winds up on the other end of the spectrum. It is a film that works on a number of levels and may draw some people in to that but it also fails to connect on just as many levels which can leave the audience wondering just what the message of the picture was supposed to be. Enough points seem to disconnect that there clearly is a purpose intended but it may be one so connected to some part of Japanese culture or society that it doesn’t completely carry over, a condition which may leave this feature a work that is harder to digest than the original.

Japanese 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, The Making of Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City, The Making of the “Zebra Queen’s Theme” Music Video, Interview with Director Takashi Miike, Interview with Riki Abe (Niimi), Interview with Show Aikawa (Shinichi / Zebraman), Interview with Masahiro Inoue (Asano), Interview with Riisa Naka (Yui / Zebra Queen), Original Commercials, Theatrical Trailers

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: C-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: A+

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: November 29th, 2011
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.