What They Say:
The year is 2387, and humanity is at war with a merciless alien species—the Noza. Both vying for control of planet Maris, humanity’s best chance for survival rests upon three young soldiers wielding powerful handheld weapons called Zillion.
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language only in stereo and encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show is very much a product of its time where it’s a full sounding mix that doesn’t have a lot of big moments of directionality or placement, though it does what it can when it can. The music tends to be the warmest part of the mix but there’s some good stuff with the dialogue and action elements that lets it be a pretty fun project. The characters range well as needed for the scenes and it’s well-handled throughout. The action has that full sounding feeling as well so it’s not something that spreads itself around but it comes across, like the dialogue, in a clean and clear fashion throughout.
Originally airing in 1987, the transfer for this TV series and OVA series are presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p. The show is spread across four discs with plenty of room to work with. Animation by Tatsunoko that became Production I.G., this is considered their first work since they wanted this production team to stick together for other works. And for good reason as it looks great and you can see why many thought it was a Robotech successor at one point because of the design work. This native HD transfer looks fantastic as the film elements are visible with the grain in a lot of scenes without being overpowering but the color palette is fantastic. There’s a really good solidity throughout much of it, though some areas show a little shimmer in tighter spots, but the look of this traditionally animated show coming from the film sources for the master negative are simply fantastic. For those like me that had seen the VHS ages ago this is like a revelation of just how excellent the show was on top of what we already believed.
Funimation delivered right on the packaging for this set as we get an oversized Blu-ray case to hold the discs for both formats and a slipcover that replicates the artwork. The cover is done up as a worn and frayed VHS style cover with the stickers and other design elements that really drives up the nostalgia. It’s got a rough look to it to some degree, which belies the wonderful color quality of the show within, but it tickles that fancy in such a great way that it really does delight. The back cover goes for more of the worn feeling with an otherwise solid black background where we get the summary of the premise and some good larger sized shots of the show in old “tube” style TV windows. The technical grid breaks down everything cleanly and clearly and the extras are listed well. There are no show related inserts but the reverse side features two panels with some of the characters getting their own nod within the same framing as the front yet without all the logos and stickers.
The menu design for this release definitely keeps things simple, which I’m not sure is the right way to go, but it hits up a certain nostalgia as well. Done with the same static screen across all the discs, we get the 8-bit stile logo through the middle against a black checkerboard-ish background. The series listing is just below that and the navigation is simple with most of the discs just being “play all” and episode selection since it’s monolingual and light on extras until the end. There’s not much need for interactivity with this release so the simpleness isn’t a surprise and it works well for doing what you need in just getting into the show quickly and easily.
The extras for this are about what I expected and had hoped we’d get, in that we get the clean opening sequence and the two clean closing sequences. Materials for older shows and especially clean versions can be hard to come by if they exist at all.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When it comes to the early days of domestic anime licensing and official releases at the retail level, things were slim. Very slim. While you had comic book shops and other places that would have fansubs and raw videos in their back room that they’d sell quietly, if you wanted something that was more accessible you had a lot less to go on. You’d find Robotech everywhere and a couple of movies until more distributors started getting into the game. One of the earliest that released titles, however, was Streamline Pictures. With their work on Robotech dominating and opening the door for more, they looked at a lot of things to bring out. One of them was the Zillion series, which retained its name and I think a lot of the core ideas and character names. The first five episodes were dubbed and put out as a single VHS release that left many like myself wanting to see more of it for, well, decades.
Funimation finally filled that hole in the hearts of many with this release that contains the thirty-one episode run that was animated by the Tatsunoko Production branch that became Production I.G., the beginning of a new era. The show also had a follow-up OVA called Burning Night that this set includes where it essentially re-imagines everything into an action/rock band show that’s just weird, trippy, and fun. Zillion is one of those properties that you’re left wondering what it was that held it up for so long when so many companies could have tried for it, but with it being part of the old Streamline catalog and some of the animation showing up in the “Scream” music video by Michael and Janet Jackson, it’s easy to imagine there are some weird holds or other entanglements that have kept it out of fans hands until now.
I won’t blow smoke and say that this is the greatest series ever or a long lost classic that we’ve missed out on for decades. The property is one that is a serviceable good bit of fun from the ’80s that holds up a lot better than many other shows because of the design work of the characters and just the dynamic action sequences. But it also has that charm that comes from some of the better productions of this time with just how well the animation for it is carried out and the kinds of stories that are told within an episodic design. You can see the influences from other shows, especially projects that made up Robotech, while also striking out and evolving on them in a lot of ways. It is, I think, one of those pivotal evolutionary titles in how the medium changed that also came at the same time that this kind of material was starting to phase out some as the ‘90s was looming.
The premise takes place about four hundred years from now when mankind has spread to the stars and one of the colonized worlds, a second Earth as they referred to it, was a world called Maris. The world has been built up well with lots of cities and a booming population that’s certainly not a frontier world like you might expect. The problem is that a race called the Nozan are expanding their empire and this world is on their list of places to conquer, pesky humanity or not. The Nozan are interesting looking with the slightly larger designs, the masks that they wear, and just the color design for them that leans toward the bad guy side of things but can just be a matter of interpretation through the human lens. They don’t get a rich history here but there is enough time spent with them over the course of it to empathize with some of them and to give us opponents that aren’t truly faceless and simply monolithic.
To help humanity fight against this empire where conventional weapons have no real impact, three mysterious guns have been gifted to humanity that appeared out of nowhere. You have to love that aspect of it and that they end up in the hands of a trio of teenagers that are kind of chosen to wield them when nobody else can. They form a group that’s called the White Knights, but with how they were originally done here they’re actually called the White Nuts and I must respect that the subtitles reflect that perfectly. The group has JJ as our lead, coming in at 16, while Apple is 17 and Champ is 18. They don’t get along well with each other for all the usual reasons early on and they struggle throughout the run in their dynamic, but they all complement each other well in the bigger fight. They also get help from Gord, the man in charge of the group, and his assistant Amy. Add in Dave and Opa-Opa and you get a few more of the usual team elements.
The show is basically like many science fiction action series of its time in that it’s highly episodic with a few multi-part stories within but also a sense of progress in the big picture fight against the Nozan. But what we mostly get are a lot of standalone episodes with the individual missions really dominating it. There are serious ones with people that are threatened or killed, there are low stakes ones, and there’s also some fun beach material because you have to get Apple in a bathing suit at some point – and relatively early on in its run. Again, it’s not to diminish the show because these episodes are all a lot of fun but it is pretty much exactly what you’d get from this period that you don’t see much of anymore with this kind of structure. The push to long-form storytelling has made shows like this almost a lost art but also something that, for better and worse, are things that fans simply no longer invest their time in. But revisiting the show here and all its charm through every element, especially if you break it up instead of trying to marathon it, makes for a really great little experience.
Zillion has a lot of things going for it and admittedly for a segment of fandom, a lot of that is nostalgia. But nostalgia can’t make the whole thing good and the show itself has to do that. While I do continue to find the OVA ridiculous, the main show itself is a real treat and treasure from a time when you realize just how far ahead of its time this was in terms of production. It’s a straightforward fun ‘80s action series with all the right elements but watching it here in high definition just delights me in a way that I don’t think it could have in those rough and raw VHS days. It’s a great looking release that should rank a lot higher with fans and should be pushed a lot harder by Funimation as it’s a strong property with a lot to offer. Very recommended.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Textless Opening & Closing Songs
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: October 9th, 2018
Running Time: 825 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.