"This is Zebra City. Anything goes."
While Takasi Miike can do a mainstream film every now and again (most recently and famously '13 Assassins'), what the Japanese director is known best for are the absolutely insane flicks he directs at a rapid clip. Anyone unfamiliar with his filmography is missing a wealth of infamous movies, from his highly regarded sado-masochistic masterpiece 'Ichi the Killer' and perturbed torture of 'Audition,' his utterly disturbed (and banned!) episode of the 'Masters of Horror' entitled 'Imprint,' or even his involvement in the horror anthology 'Three Extremes.' Then, naturally, there are the moments of utter insanity found in flicks like 'Visitor Q,' 'Gozu,' and let's not even touch 'The Happiness of the Katakuris.' The man is beyond prolific, with a massive load of 88 directorial credits in just 21 years, including a number of series, such as 'Dead or Alive,' 'Crows Zero,' and 'Zebraman,' which may be best described as 'Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers' on crack. Sweet, delicious crack.
The 2004 film about a third grade teacher who starts dressing up as a forgotten superhero from a long-canceled television series, who gains super powers and wards off an alien invasion predicted in the show was sequelized in 2010, and the end result is one of the strangest superhero films imaginable. Tim Burton's most perturbed cinematic dreams don't come close to reaching this level of freakishness.
After defending Earth from the parasitic alien creatures, Shinichi Ichikawa, aka Zebraman (Sho Aikawa), becomes the world's most famous man, his every breath scrutinized, his every move surrounded by adoring fans and media hounds, until one day when he disappears. Fifteen years pass, and Tokyo has been renamed Zebra City. A corrupt governor and his daughter, the pop diva dubbed Zebra Queen (Riisa Naka), have made the area the most crime-free on the planet, due to a twice daily purge where, for five minutes at 5 am and pm, murder is legal. Police, the females in mini-skirts, the men clad solely in black with faceless, Darth Nihilus inspired masks, roam the streets with automatic weapons, gunning down the weak, society's dependents.
Ichikawa finds himself amnesiac on the streets, a victim of the most recent blietzkrieg, his chest and stomach riddled with over 100 bullets, but he survives. As he attempts to regain his memory (and the powers that are evading him), Ichikawa is thrust into the middle of a war he knows nothing about, as the white clothed victims attempt to band together against the black clad police force, led by Zebra Queen. Her secret origin and plans to recreate the alien encounter make her the most dangerous threat to humanity, and it's up to a forgotten hero to stripe evil, once and for all.
Now, that doesn't sound all too strange, right? The symbolism of black and white doing battle, the last generation taking on a new, upstart movement, a society thrown into dystopian nightmare, with music video-like sequences starring a bizarrely dressed pop starlet, green glob-like aliens, and faceless, gestapo-like police enforcing unpopular rules are all somewhat common themes in cinema, but in the hands of someone like Miike, the experience turns into something far more surreal, with tongue-in-cheek visual humor mixed in with hard hitting science fiction action and social commentary.
'Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City' is a great film that stands on its own two legs, with the necessary information about the first film shown in flashes, so no prior knowledge is necessary to jump into the film. Of course, that doesn't mean it will make perfect sense, as it does devolve into some very bizarre sequences and features a number of fascinatingly unusual plot devices. The major storyline, that of the Zebra Queen's quest for power and her conflict with Zebraman, has a few key elements that will be obvious to those paying attention to the symbolism of the roles, as their characters are too polar opposite for there not to be some kind of connection, especially with Zebraman's faded white hair and his attempts at transformation leaving him with a pitch white suit.
Still, it's the insanity of this flick that makes it a real gem to watch. The alien subplot is silly, but the way it involves a failed television adaptation of the Zebraman character is fitting, considering the way it makes this film synch with the previous, how fiction dictates reality like a pop culture portent. The fight sequences are enjoyable and fairly unique, while the actions of the Zebra Police in all their incarnations are always fascinating. Zebra Time has to be one of the neatest plot devices in some time, opening the door for some unadulterated carnage, and, let's face it, it's hard to hate a film that features a hero finally reaching his potential, while the screen flashes in bold letters "Stop AIDS" for no apparent reason. This is stereotypical Miike lunacy, and it's beyond entertaining.
The Disc: Vital Stats
FUNimation brings the 'Zebraman' sequel to Blu-ray on a three disc combo pack (two DVD, one BD50 Blu-ray that is Region A locked), packaged in a DVD sized case, with no alternative packaging. There are currently no signs of the original film coming to the format from any distributor.
The 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 transfer given to 'Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City' is passable, but has some serious issues. On the bright side, whites are often amazingly clean, and black levels are natural and uber-inky. There's no crush issues in these rich blacks, either, and the fairly strong picture depth helps this cause. Detail levels are strong, including amazing hair detail, and while some aesthetics dampen detail, like some strong color bleeds and contrast spikes, the picture regularly is eye popping, and is free from digital tampering. What the picture lacks, though, is the ability to not dive headfirst regularly, as randomly hectic grain in this film can cause some amazing surges, sometimes flashing in intensity, while minor noise issues pile up, and textures eventually give way and turn into a catastrophe. Amazing highs, this disc has, but some dangerous lows put it in check.
While the video is par at best, the audio on 'Zebraman 2' is a winner, with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track in Japanese that brings the film to life. Please note, unlike many FUNimation releases, this film does not contain any English dub options, just subtitles. What makes this disc earn high marks? How about pitch perfect dynamics, accurate movement, superb localization effects, wonderful range, appropriate rear channel activity (including appropriate ambience, fantastic score presence, and a little bit of dialogue), and solid bass. Mind you, I would have preferred some seriously thundering low ends for the tower that constructs at every Zebra Time, but with Zebra Queen's music packing plenty of thump, and minor bumps in action sequences, it's forgiven.
The best bonus on this release is the two disc DVD copy of the film.
'Zebraman 2' is cinematic insanity as only Takashi Miike can do it. The odd subplots, the unique ideas, the cracked out characters, the superb costumes and sets, it's really impossible to explain in depth without sounding like a crazy person. This sequel requires no prior knowledge of the series, and a little bit of patience, but the payoff is there, in a film that has almost no boundaries. None. If someone told me Miike's films were giant middle fingers to his superiors, I'd believe them. If someone told me Miike was an alien himself, I'd believe them. If someone tells you to check out this film, as you'll never see anything quite like it? Believe them.