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Megazone 23

Over the last couple of decades the notion of being in an artificial world unbenounced to the protagonist has become quite popular in science fiction. Thanks to films like The Matrix, eXistence, and Dark City, this theme gained a lot of traction to the point where it has drifted close to trope status. Megazone 23 (pronounced Megazone Two Three) is an interesting anime, as it explored this idea a good 10-15 years before these movies came about. The show provides an enjoyable futuristic romp that follows a pair of motorcycle-riding delinquents, as they unravel the truth about their world, encounter secret organizations, and fight giant robots.

While Megazone 23 was released as a trilogy of OVAs, it was originally intended as a television series. However, halfway through production the sponsor dropped out, leaving the anime’s studio scrambling to put together what they had as an OVA instead. As a result of this, viewers will notice very different art direction and production values in the first instalment compared to the others. The first one has a style and level of detail that one would expect from an early 80s anime. If anything, it is quite reminiscent of the visuals in the TV version of Macross, so fans of that style will get a kick out of the first Megazone.

Happily, the OVA did quite well, and AIC was in a position to vastly improve the production values in the final two videos. Part 2 has by far the highest level of detail out of the trilogy. Comparing it to part one is like night and day. Characters have a much more realistic design to them, buildings and technology have a lot more detail, and the animation is smoother. It’s a beautiful anime to watch. Part 3 unfortunately feels like half a step back. It’s not horrible, but there is a slight decline in the level of detail. Also, there are segments where the animation gets very choppy. Seeing parts of the OVA essentially turn into a slide show makes one wonder if there were some budget issues during production resulting in some incidental scenes having significantly less animation in order to cut costs. Still, the series as a whole looks great. Fans of retro anime styles will have a lot to enjoy in Megazone 23, even more so since it covers a few different styles through its instalments.

The first two OVAs in the series take place one after the other with largely the same cast. Meanwhile, the third OVA happens 500 years after the events of the first two with a completely new cast of characters. A young biker delinquent named Shogo is the protagonist of the early ones. A friend manages to become the test rider for a new, super high tech motorcycle. However, while showing it to Shogo, said friend is killed by mysterious men in suits and Shogo has to escape on the fancy bike. From there adventures ensue, as Shogo finds out that the Tokyo he has grown up in isn’t real and that he is in fact on a giant space ship.

From there, he has to figure out how this ship got into space, what happened to the Earth, and what the deal is with this secret military organization that seems to be running things behind the scenes. There’s also a mysterious AI pop idol who knows far more than she's letting on that Shogo must help if he wants answers to his questions. There’s a lot to cover, but Megazone 23 does a decent job of explaining everything to viewers without being confusing. There are some pacing issues, particularly in the first OVA, but this can easily be chalked up to the production issues that this particular instalment suffered from. So, it’s at least understandable that it stumbled a bit there.

As mentioned, the third OVA takes place several hundred years after the first two. So, all of the characters from those shows are long dead (though there are references to Shogo). The only returning character is Eve, the pop idol. She is a program in the current civilization’s computer systems, but manages to take a physical form in order to help this chapter’s protagonist, Eiji, and his friends. Humans are back on Earth, but contained to one futuristic city by their leaders and the main computer systems. The story centers around a strange cult that is running things behind the scenes while Eiji tries to foil their plans and reactivate all of the computer systems that will allow humans to re-inhabit the Earth once more. While not too closely related to the first two OVAs, the story is decently enjoyable. However, it does a bit of retconning to earlier chapters that some may not be keen on.

Ultimately, these are enjoyable stories. The first two OVAs in particular are interesting for being an early attempt at the whole story premise of the protagonist’s world not being real. It just wasn’t a popular theme at the time, certainly not to the extent that it is today. Today, one is likely to find some sort of VR explanation to such a story, but the giant spaceship approach in Megazone 23 works just as well.

Given that this show is a product of the 1980s, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are mecha in Megazone 23. The military has a bunch of them, but the star of the show is Shogo / Eiji’s bike, named the Garland. It’s no ordinary motorcycle, which makes sense given that a secret agency is chasing after Shogo constantly to try and get it back. In bike form it’s quite the imposing, futuristic vehicle. The front of it actually looks a lot like Kaneda’s bike from Akira. What makes the Garland extra special is that it is able to transform into a robot and enter combat. It’s mecha design is quite nice and makes a lot of sense as a transition from bike form. It made enough impact in Japan to make the occasional appearance in Super Robot Taisen games over the years, so it’s no slouch as far as mecha designs go.

Music also has a prominent spot in Megazone 23. This is largely thanks to Eve, the pop idol ever present in the series. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if her presence was the direct result of the popularity of Macross and its resident pop idol Minmay. She really catapulted the idea of pop star anime characters into the limelight, so it would only be a manner of time before she was emulated. So, here we have Eve belting out a number of pop hits throughout the series. There are a couple in particular that get revisited from time to time during the series. Bare in mind, these songs have a very 80s Japanese pop flair to them, so viewers will really have to be into that sort of thing to get anything out of the music.

Overall, Megazone 23 is well worth a watch. It’s three OVAs, so can be seen in the span of a weekend. The artwork is quite good (especially part two), the story is a fun ride, and the music is well done for 80s pop. This is a series that hasn’t gotten a huge amount of attention in the West and deserves a closer look.

- IroIro
March 25, 2019

Written by:
Hiroyuki Hoshiyama / Emu Arii
Noboru Ishiguro / Ichiro Itano / Shinji Aramaki

Megazone 23 Image 1
Western DVD Box Art

Megazone 23 Image 2
Shogo meets Yui in the first OVA

Megazone 23 Image 3
The Garland in mecha form

Megazone 23 Image 4
Shogo and Yui in the second OVA with major change to art

Megazone 23 Image 5
Ryo, the female protagonist of the third OVA