Thanks to Fathom Events and my friend Victor at The Modern Gafa, I got to watch the latest installment of the Mazinger franchise this weekend. Like most Mazinger properties, it wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was one hell of a fun ride. Slight spoilers ahead!
Brief summary: Mazinger Z: Infinity follows the casts of Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger ten years after the defeat of Dr. Hell. The world is at peace and Z’s pilot, Koji, has retired from battle and become a scientist. Everything is great until Koji finds a massive mecha at the base of Mt. Fuji and Great’s pilot, Tetsuya, is captured by none other than Dr. Hell, who apparently survived and has one last plot to conquer the world.
The Fathom feature opened with interviews from the director and character designer, which provided a good idea of what to expect. When asked the theme of the film, director Junji Shimizu simply stated “entertainment”. And it was entertaining even if the plot was simple and reminiscent of way too many hot-blooded shonens before it (Spirit Bomb reference, anyone?). The weird magical girl angle tempered any deus ex machina claims by giving them legitimacy via new character (and action/magical girl) Lisa. More on her later.
The greatest advantage this film has is that it’s set ten years in the future. This allows for slightly new angles and some off-screen development for the characters. This benefits Shiro (who has a chance to be somewhat useful) and Boss the most, with Boss’s scenes being among the highlights. Both Boss and Shiro are depicted as more mature, and Boss is given a great balance between surprisingly mature adult and complete goofball. Sayaka gets a slightly better treatment in this film than she usually does – it puts her in a position of power that isn’t being a pilot. Every time she pilots, she ends up needing saved, so having her do everything other than pilot was actually kind of empowering for her character. Koji is constantly referred to as “matured”, but the only proof of this is that he’s a little more quiet. Otherwise, he’s basically himself in a lab coat.
Jun and Tetsuya get the short end of the stick in character development, with both more or less in damsel-in-distress mode for the majority of the film. The little drama that they had was given no satisfying ending – at the end they were literally pushed to the side for Sayaka and Koji.
Mazinger Z: Infinity introduces a new character in Lisa, who is a biological machine and the key to activate Infinity. She pushes the main and side plots, involving herself in the big battles and in Koji and Sayaka’s love lives. She was actually a solid character, even if her fate was exactly what I expected for a magical, gray-haired girl. I was relieved that the film didn’t turn Lisa-Koji-Sayaka into a love triangle, which would have been a huge injustice to her character and would’ve made Koji come across as really, really gross.
While the character development is decent, the best parts of the film are the animation and mecha designs. The CGI for the mechs and fight scenes blended incredibly well with the rest of the animation, and these were by far the most beautiful interpretations of Z and Great that I’ve ever seen. The goofiest mech additions were the kikaiju of Count Brocken and Baron Ashura, which were still admittedly well-done. I also loved that even as gritty and gray as this film got, Dr. Hell’s mechanical beasts were all as colorful and bright as their 1970’s counterparts.
Overall, Mazinger Z: Infinity was a solid film. Shimizu was on point when he said he intended it to tell a simple, entertaining story. Maybe one day a Mazinger installment will blow my mind, but this wasn’t it. I’ll continue watching, though, because I have a soft spot for the characters and for Z.