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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Naikaku Kenryoku Hanzai Kyousei Torishimarikan Zaizen Jotaro: Say His Name, Say His Name...

This next review is one that I have wanted to do since I started this blog, but since only seven episodes had been fansubbed  I wasn't able to properly review it. A few months back subtitle files for the remaining four episodes, taken from the bootleg DVDs, were released, but the raw videos that they go with were still impossible to get. Luckily, I found out recently that a batch containing every episode, including the raw videos for those last four, was released. Needless to say, I got those four episodes, and here it is: My review for an anime that, in my opinion, is horrifically underrated and incorrectly considered one of the worst anime in existence... Though those haters certainly had a valid reason for hating the show.

Naikaku Kenryoku Hanzai Kyousei Torishimarikan/Government Crime Investigation Agent Zaizen Jotaro debuted in the now-defunct Comic Bunch Magazine back in 2004 and ran until 2007, totaling 17 volumes. It was the creation of writer Ken Kitashiba, who has written other detective manga before and was apparently an actual police officer before that, and artist Yasuhiro Watanabe, who was once an assistant to Tetsuo Hara and has done mostly baseball manga. From July to September of 2006. Trans-Arts, TV Asahi, and Universal Pictures Japan (now known as Geneon Universal) created an 11-episode TV anime based on the manga. When the anime debuted it was summarily trashed and hated by the general non-Japanese anime community for being ridiculously unrealistic, having horrific animation, and it was generally considered to be nothing but a show to watch for Mystery Science Theater 3000-esque laughs. It must be stated, though, that seemingly 99% of these opinions came solely from watching the first episode and nothing more. I'll get into episode 1 in particular later in the review, but I must say that these reviews are mostly invalid due to them being based solely off of the first episode, as the rest of the show is in fact an fun, if not exactly realistic, journey into dirty politics & business and how a group of people aim to stop it.

The bursting of Japan's economic bubble left a large impact on the country, but surely and slowly the people recovered. Unfortunately, there are still politicians who abuse their power and team up with dirty businessmen so that they can, in effect, steal the money that hard-working citizens earn. One example involves the company Ooshika Construction. Ooshika President Keiichi Suzuki has had a deal going with Minister of Construction Seijiro Matsuzaka for the past 10 years which allows Ooshika to construct buildings with less materials and less work yet still have them be approved for actual use. Suzuki pays off Matsuzaka and the money saved from using less matrials and work all goes into Suzuki's pocket, who hires the Overlord Black Dragon Gang, a local yakuza group, for protection. Unfortunately for them, this deal is already being investigated by the Government Crime Investigation Agency, the Japanese government-created but independently-run equivalent of the FBI. The agent on the case is Jotaro Zaizen, a former police officer who was thought to be dead for the past three years after a drug bust involving a foreign dignitary went wrong. In reality, Zaizen's death was faked and he lived abroad during these years, during which he gained access to the Zainers Gold Black Card, a credit card-looking item that gives Zaizen access to just about any weapon or location available to him. Combining his Gold Black Card with his GCIA badge, Jotaro Zaizen aims to put an end to the Ooshika situation, and in the process will find out just how far up the government this deal actually goes, not to mention having to deal with one of the Black Dragon's higher-ups, Ryuichi Jinnai.

Zaizen Jotaro is most definitely a slower-paced show, relying more on character actions and talking than faster-paced fighting sequences. The story is heavily-based around conversation, but still manages to keep your interest, with a nice twist coming in half-way and even when the last episode starts you still wonder how everything is going to end. New characters of varying importance are introduced throughout the show, even in the last episode, but it works because not every one of them is going to be used for more than the scene they are introduced in. The ones who do stay around for the long haul do have their importance and quirks. Takumi Mochizuki, the Ooshika employee who threatened to reveal the dirty dealings, ends up becoming Zaizen's sidekick for the early episodes, bringing in a nice bit of comedy that only a worrisome sidekick can do. Naoto Todo, the head of the GCIA, shows off both true leadership qualities as well as fun-loving and trusting side to him. Generally, anyone who joins Zaizen's side has importance to the story, even if it's only in spurts, while other characters who are introduced are either on the villains' side or have minor importance. The villains, though, are perfect for this show, either not caring for the common citizen's economic well-being or even thinking that what they are doing is actually helping the people out. The head of the villains is Hakudo Imazu, a 90-year-old with the body of a muscular 45-year-old, who is said to be the "real" head of politics and business in Japan for decades, running everything with his great mind and muscle. Imazu isn't properly introduced until half-way through, but once he's introduced he takes center stage on the villains' side and thankfully he fits the role quite well.

But two characters easily steal the show; Ryuichi Jinnai and, naturally, Jotaro Zaizen. Jinnai is an interesting take on a yakuza leader, as he's very old-school in his interests, and is even able to quote from the likes of Shakespeare. This makes Jinnai a real original in a world where he could have simply been another tough-guy yakuza. He makes a great rival to Zaizen, and when they finally confront each other in episode 9 you really feel that the story could end after that moment. And, with the show named after him, Zaizen himself should be a character worth caring about. Thankfully, Zaizen is excellent to watch, as he has a nice mix of seriousness, humor, sarcasm, and, to villains, snarkiness that always makes him fun to see. He's able to attract women in ways that City Hunter Ryo Saeba wishes he could (though it's usually for actual purposes, not simply for the mokkori), he knows just how to make a dangerous situation enjoyable for him, and his general attitude towards those who abuse power for their purposes is just simply awesome and, at times, hilarious to watch. Zaizen also has a catchphrase, "Da Bomb", and while one might think it's silly and abused early on, you start to really like the catchphrase and you notice that he only uses it when appropriate; essentially, it's a replacement for "Yeah!" or "That's right.". Hell, there are three episodes where Zaizen doesn't say "Da Bomb" at all, and all three of those episodes are very serious with little humor in them. Finally, since Watanabe learned his craft from Tetsuo Hara, not only does Zaizen have a Hara-esque look to him but he also has a similar "manly" style to him. Jotaro Zaizen himself is naturally the reason to watch the show, and he fulfills that reason and then some.

That said, there are some things that shows that it isn't for everyone, not to mention some issues in general. The biggest problem of all is easily episode 1. It's a stand-alone story where Zaizen heads to Los Angeles to hunt down a politician who was told to lay low in the city. The problem with this episode is that it goes way too far and ridiculous. For example, the episode literally starts with Zaizen jumping out of a jet fighter and parachuting in for no reason other than cool factor. Later, he buys a new car only to be forced onto a unfinished highway surrounded by big rigs, & his solution is to shoot holes into the sides of the car's top and then slam underneath the trailer of one of the big rigs, removing the top and allowing Zaizen to get away. All in all, it's simply an episode that goes too far and looks more like a parody of James Bond than what the show is really like. In fact, when the show first debuted I saw episode 1 and it made me not want to watch more of the show. A year later I decided to give the show another chance and went straight to episode 2; I ended up really enjoying what I could watch up to at that point and I recommend you do the same. If you really want, you could watch episode 1 after seeing the rest of the show first and then laugh at how bad it is. It's pretty obvious that Trans-Arts realized that they could adapt the story arc they were using from the manga in only 10 episodes, so they made a filler episode seemingly on-the-fly and decided to show it first and get it out of the way. It makes sense from a storytelling point-of-view, as it would be just weird to end the show with a one-off episode, but at the same time it gave the show the horrible reputation that it now has; a perfect case of "screwed if you do, screwed if you don't". Just skip episode 1 and you'll be better off. Hell, many anime fans say that you should skip episode 1 of the Gungrave anime since it's a useless episode, so I don't see a problem with recommending that you do the same with Zaizen Jotaro.

One reason, outside of episode 1 itself, that people bashed the show is due to "horrific animation". Now this is actually an inaccurate description, since the animation itself isn't badly-done or anything like that, but rather it's very limited. There are lots of scenes where it's simply a pan of a still image with maybe lips being animated when someone is talking, and even that isn't guaranteed. When there is movement it's also limited and only done in small portions, but I honestly don't mind that. Since the show is heavy on conversation and action is limited in general the show works really well and I can easily see the limited animation being more a case of Trans-Arts knowing that they didn't have to put a big budget behind animation and could work with limitations. One of the best cases of this is the heavy use of cut-ins where a part of the shot is used for another reason than it's original use. The best way to showcase this is to show an example:

Here we have a shot of Jinnai and Zaizen, with the split in the middle having an odd line to it. Originally, the part where you can see Zaizen's face was actually a shot of Zaizen's back before transitioning to a close-up shot of Zaizen's face. The show is full of these cut-ins, and I honestly have to give credit where credit is due, since a number of these cut-ins get pretty inventive and honestly surprise you; probably the one that I found the coolest was where the shot opened-up like a door, since someone was actually opening a door in the next shot. Considering the limited animation the show had, Trans-Arts really used their creativity and worked around the limitations, and I have to commend them for that. Granted, some people just want to see really smooth and nice-looking animation, so they'll just call Zaizen Jotaro's animation "horrible", but in reality it's just limited, which is usually an acquired taste. Personally, I think it takes complete advantage of what the cards it was given, & I fully respect it for that.

Now, yes, the show can be a bit over-the-top and ridiculous at times. Zaizen's Gold Black Card allows him to do some crazy things, like buy the hospital Imazu lives in solely so that the two can talk alone, but in all honesty the Gold Black Card is sparingly used outside of Zaizen showing it off very often, since it's also his GCIA badge. To be quite honest, first episode aside, Zaizen Jotaro is no more ridiculous and unrealistic in regards to its subject matter than titles like City Hunter are Great Teacher Onizuka are with theirs. You don't go into City Hunter expecting a semi-realistic portrayal of a sweeper nor do you go into GTO expecting Onizuka to act like a normal teacher. Honestly, I found that the show had a good mix, keeping the ridiculous parts to a minimum, outside of episode 1, of course. Still, I can see where this might rub some people the wrong way.

The show was directed by Hidetoshi Oomori, who is mostly a key animator and animation director but has done other larger jobs, like directing the Deprive portion of Robot Carnival. Again, Oomori does a great job working with the limited animation and the writing headed up by Hideki Mitsui (Dancougar Nova, Ragnarok the Animation) keeps the show from having any plot holes that really hurt the story. Masami Suda adapted the characters for the anime, and since this is the same man who did the character designs for anime like Salaryman Kintaro and Fist of the North Star, he is a natural fit for Watanabe's Hara-esque style. From what I can tell the music was done by Takeshi Murakami, though I'm not sure if it's the same person ANN's encyclopedia has under that name, and while it's not always music I'll be keeping in my mind I found the music to be well done and really fitting for the show; I wouldn't mind getting the soundtrack (which sadly doesn't exist on its own). The opening theme is "Zero no Kimochi" by doa, and it's simply an excellent opening theme that gets the style of the show down really well. It's actually my second favorite song by the group (nothing doa will ever do will beat "Eiyuu" from Ultraman Nexus). The ending theme is "Moshimo Umare Kawattara Mou Ichido Aishite Kuremasuka?" by Aiko Kitahara, and it's a very Santana-esque song that works really well as an ending theme; I like it. 

The voice cast is lead off by Teruaki Ogawa, who voices Zaizen; though he has done some anime before (like Keiichi Wakaouji from Full Moon o Sagashite) he might be more recognizable to Super Sentai fans, as he portrayed Hyuga/Black Knight from Seiju Sentai Gingaman as well as Sasuke/Ninja Red from Ninja Sentai Kakuranger. Ogawa's Zaizen is just perfect, as he makes Zaizen sound like the funny, sarcastic, and awesome guy that the anime shows him off as. Jinnai is voiced by Rinatarou Nishi, who has mostly done secondary roles, and he pulls off Jinnai excellently as well, making him a perfect vocal counterpart to Ogawa's Zaizen. Rounding out the other major characters are Tomomichi Nishimura (the most-identifiable voice of Street Fighter's Akuma) as Matsuzaka, Chikao Ohtsuka (Eggman from the Sonic the Hedgheog series) as Imazu, Kozo Shioya (Majin Buu from DBZ) as Mochizuki, and Hiroshi Ohtake (the original Boss from the Mazinger series) as Suzuki, among others. Not too many recent names, but that just gives the series more of that older audience feel that it exudes.

Overall, Naikaku Kenryoku Hanzai Kyousei Torishimarikan Zaizen Jotaro is a horrifically misunderstood show, mostly because the first episode utterly misrepresents the show and gives an absolutely horrible first impression, which is the complete opposite of what a first episode should do. In reality it's a neat look at dirty politics and business and what could happen if Japan actually had an organization that was able to put a stop to all of it, with some over-the-top style and manliness added in for fun. Considering that the original manga lasted 17 volumes I am really interested in what other adventures Zaizen gets himself into, as well as see if the manga ever gets to the "too much" extent that the first episode goes into. I would honestly love to see an anime licensor give this anime a try, though it's obviously way too much of a niche. Pictured above is the "Special Box" DVD set the anime received in late 2007; the first four DVDs cover all 11 episodes, while the fifth DVD is a bonus, disc. On the four main discs are a roundtable discussion featuring the staff and cast as well as a TV trailer and an image gallery, but the coolest extra is that the TV on-air version of episode 1 is featured on the bonus disc. That's a cool extra mainly because for the DVD release, Trans-Arts went back to the show and improved the animation quality for all 11 episodes, so featuring the on-air version of an episode lets people truly see how the show improved for its DVD release. I would honestly love to own this set and see how the show looks with the improved animation, but the set alone costs over $300, and the cheapest I saw it for online (roughly $70 or so) is via a Japanese online store that doesn't ship to the United States. That's partially why I want to see this show licensed one day, as much as it's never going to happen. It's definitely not for everyone with the subject material alone, let alone the limited animation, lack of big action, and occasional use of over-the-top and ridiculous moments, but Zaizen Jotaro is a show that really deserves a fair shot, especially now that the entire show can be seen with subtitles; those last four episodes are a bit awkwardly-translated, but they still make enough sense that you can understand what's going on. This is, by far, an anime that needs a second chance at gaining a fanbase. I say check it out... Right, Zaizen?

Da Bomb!

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