For decades the secret Steel Dragon society has been slowly building its power ready for the moment when they will strike from their hidden bases using the Hakkeshu: eight giant robots with the power to destroy entire cities. But one Hakkeshu is missing – the largest and most powerful – the Zeoraima. Before the Steel Dragon can take control of the world the Zeoraima and its pilot must be annihilated. Meanwhile life for the teenager Akitsu Masato is turned upside down when a shadowy government group kidnaps and imprisons him in a secluded facility. But nothing can prepare him for the discovery of his own secret past? Masato finds that his happy childhood was all a lie – born from an embryo stolen from the Steel Dragons along with the Zeoraima.
His destiny is to become the machine’s ultimate pilot. Faced with the whirlwind-powered Lanstar and the deadly Steel Dragon twins Masato must tap into his hidden dark side and unleash the aggression within – but can he keep control?
I listened to the disc mainly in Japanese, although I did dip into the English dub from time to time. Zeoraima has the full range of soundtrack options – both the English and Japanese tracks are delivered in 2.0, 5.1 and DTS versions. In all versions, the sound is reasonably clear, but there’s no directionality to the dialog – it remains locked to the centre. Some remixing seems to have been done to the sound effects to give them some depth, making some use of the left and right channels, but for both the 5.1 and DTS tracks the rear channels remain stubbornly silent.
Originally produced between 1988 and 1990, you would expect the video to be starting to show its age, but while the picture is noticeably grainy in places it’s otherwise in fairly good condition. This show is heavy on darker colours, which probably serves to hide some less-obvious problems. There were no noticeable encoding problems. The credits could have been handled better, however – English credits have been overlayed onto the video in a particularly ugly way, with a blue-grey background used to obscure the original Japanese text. Manga have also edited the original four episodes down into two feature-length episodes. It’s fairly easy to spot where the breaks should be, but I would have preferred the original episode structure to be left intact.
No packaging was provided with our review disc.
The main menu uses a repeating clip from the show as background, with the various options arranged around the sides of the screen. Submenus use the same layout, but with a static background. Awkwardly, the audio and subtitle options each have their own submenu, which makes setting your language options a more long-winded process than it should be. Other than that, they’re quick enough to work through.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Akitsu Masato’s life has just changed drastically – taken from his adoptive parents by the government, he’s told that it’s his destiny to pilot the giant mecha, Zeoraima of the Heavens. Initially determined to have nothing to do with it, he’s thrown into prison until he begins to see things the government’s way. Meanwhile, the underground organisation known as the Steel Dragons have their own plans for Zeoraima – created to be the personal combat mecha of their Empress, Yuratei, it had been stolen from them fifteen years previously by its creator Kihara Misaki, and Yuratei wants it back. She’s determined to unleash hell on Earth, and only Zeoraima has the power to make sure she can accomplish her aims.
By the time the Steel Dragons unleash their private army, the Hakkeshu, in an attempt to recover Zeoraima, Masato has decided to toe the government’s line and fight, and along with mysterious girl Himuro Miku heads out to battle as ordered. There’s more to Misato than meets the eye, though – he was created by Kihara Misaki as a test tube clone of himself, and it seems Misaki has arranged for something of himself to remain in Misato. Once he takes control of Zeoraima, Misaki’s personality begins to take over his body, and he sets out to complete the plans he’d set in motion fifteen years earlier. Will he succeed in his plans? Will Yuratei be able to unleash hell on Earth? Or will Misato be able to regain control of himself and put a stop to both his adversaries?
A quick thought on that Evangelion comparison – you can tick the checkboxes for ‘angsty teenage pilot’, ‘not-quite-human female’ and ‘plot to destroy civilization as we know it’, as those three elements are very much part of both shows. After that, they’re each their own creature. I can’t say I blame Manga for name-dropping, but as comparisons go it’s perhaps a little optimistic.
There’s quite a large cast of characters to deal with here – as well as the lead characters, each episode has its own set of Hakkeshu members for Masato to take care of. There are some efforts made to provide most of the Steel Dragons with some real personality, and to explain their motivations for being with an organization that essentially wants to destroy the world – all of them have good reason to hate Kihara Misaki, and they’re only too keen to take out their revenge on Misato, even before he becomes aware of his real identity. It feels like the viewer is meant to build some sort of connection to the Hakkeshu and sympathize with them, but they just come across as shallow and two-dimensional.
Sadly, fleshing out the Steel Dragons has come at the expense of providing any real development for Miku and Misato, whose sole role in events seems to be to pilot Zeoraima, give the Hakkeshu someone to spill out their woes to, and make sure there’s a good fight scene to finish off each episode. Misato does get some background given to him – the mystery surrounding his origins and identity is used in several places to move things along – but there’s never any feeling that he’s more than a walking plot device. While they’re also part of a few genuinely unexpected plot twists towards the end of the series, they again don’t feel real enough for you to build any sort of empathy with them.
The show’s fight scenes provide a distraction from the more plot-heavy sections of the story. They’re reasonably well-choreographed and enjoyable, with the usual ingredients you would expect from any ‘giant robot’ series, including shouted-out attack names, mecha recovering from what seems like certain defeat, and signature finishing moves. That said, the fights would be more fun to watch if it weren’t for the frequent breaks in the action that allow Misato / Misaki and his opponent to talk motivations with each other. There’s already so much exposition going on in this series that it’s particularly annoying for the action – which is as close as Zeoraima gets to having a ‘strong’ point – to be broken up in this way.
It all adds up to a disappointing disc. There’s potential here, but it just hasn’t been presented in a way that can make the most of the ideas behind the story.
Zeoraima does try hard to explain itself as it goes along, but it seems to suffer from not having enough time for events to play out properly and ends up coming across as rushed and confused. Having a large cast of characters that it’s hard to build any sort of connection to doesn’t help its case, either, and in the end it’s not a show I could recommend.
Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1 & DTS),English Language (2.0; 5.1 & DTS),English Subtitles
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: C
Video Grade: C
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: May 16th, 2005
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Panasonic TX-W28R30P 28″ widescreen TV; Pioneer DV-626D player; Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.