Director: Ryosuke Takahashi and Takahiro Ikezoe
Studio: GONZO and LandQ Studios
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-fi
My initial reaction to a six-episode long anime series isn’t generally the most positive one. I imagine all the things that could go wrong first before I look at the positive aspects. With only six episodes to tell an entire [original] story, many things could be left out; characters can’t be fully explored nor resolved, plot twists can’t be fully resolved, and worst of all, the ending could be rushed straight to hell. Fortunately however, this isn’t entirely the case for Ozuma. This six-episode long anime manages to do what even the 12-and-24-episode long series barely manage to do nowadays. I’m referring to entertaining an audience, while providing a fun little moral story at its core.
Ozuma is based on a recently discovered “illusive unreleased scenario” by legendary manga and anime author Leiji Matsumoto. Matsumoto wrote this script back in the 1980s and it was never brought to life until this year… roughly 22 years later. Regardless of the fact that it took 22 years to animate this project, I have a feeling that most of what Matsumoto envisioned was not lost in this small-screen adaptation. I just know that his original vision and ideas remained in the finalized product that is this short-lived series. For me it’s rather difficult to dispute otherwise when I have covered similar ground here on the site before.
It’s funny how these older anime titles from the 70s and 80s speak in higher volume to me personally than the current wave of 25 to 50 episode series we’re so all accustomed to. Even if Ozuma isn’t what you’d consider a literal “old-school” anime; in essence it remains the same. Ozuma brings forth environmental awareness, genetic modification, cloning, and of course, mankind at the center destroying the planet and itself. These are many of the themes and situations Ozuma puts forward, while also celebrating the style, look, and feel of many “old-school” anime series from the 70s and early 80s. As a result, Ozuma shares similarities with Toward the Terra, another story recently adapted to the small screen.
It puzzles me how these titles from back in those days are more in touch with contemporary themes such as cloning and environmental awareness… Unless back in those days the hippies still ruled the world? Or not. Anyhow, the story in Ozuma goes something like this: In the [not so] distant future, the Earth’s bodies of water have been devoured by the heat of the sun, leaving arid deserts on most of the planet’s surface. What remains of mankind and the enigmatic “Ideal Chidren” both face extinction, and now look for a way to survive the apocalypse by finding the Ozuma. One day a young boy named Sam comes across Maya, a mysterious woman being chased by the Theseus government, because she could be what triggers the cataclysm for the surviving race.
It doesn’t sound original and it isn’t, but it does what it can, and does it right. It’s funny to note that Leiji Matsumoto did not write this anime himself, but Junki Takegami who had already adapted Galaxy Express 999, another one of Matsumoto’s enduring works. Takegami worked on Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy, and she seems to adapt Ozuma in lieu of Matsumoto while keeping his true ideals, as I mentioned before. Going hand in hand with these ideals is the visionary homage paid to Matsumoto’s style and trademarks.
If you’re familiar with Leiji Matsumoto’s works then you should recognize the character archetypes here; Sam Coyne (the main character) resembling the brash, young, yet idealist Tetsuro from Galaxy Express 999. Maya, the mysterious, yet spellbinding long-haired woman Sam rescues shares many traits with Maetel also from Galaxy Express 999. Gido, one of the main antagonists finds a father in Captain Harlock (even with the mask and questionable motives). Lastly, I see traits from Emeraldas in Bainas; one of the deuteragonists of Ozuma.
The characters are not original by a long shot, and neither is the plot. In fact, the plot resembles Gundam Seed’s with the “Coordinators” now turned into “Ideal Children” here, yet it doesn’t really take away from the anime by much. Unless you’re a hardcore critic of banality, in which case this wouldn’t work either way since Ozuma was originally written 22 years ago. And no matter how heavy-handed in themes the plot is, it is unoriginal, though it still reminds me of Hayao Miyazaki’s environmental adventures. It reminded more prominently of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and this “coincidentally” happens to be a 1980s film which also explores several of the same themes found here.
The animation while it isn’t the greatest is done with style and pays heavy homage to Matsumoto’s animated tales from 20 to 30 years ago. It looks quite retro in animation style and character design. The character designs are done in typical Matsumoto flair and look very old-fashioned, as does the animation that accompanies them. Which brings me to my next point… Are the sudden jerking motions some characters pull in Ozuma done on purpose, perhaps to pay faithful homage to old-school animation from the 1970s and 80s? Are also the sometimes sloppily adapted characters supposed to look, well, sloppy on purpose? These two things are one of the primary issues I have with this small-series. Well, that and the fact that it really doesn’t wrap everything nicely. Even if it’s only six episodes long, I am still perplexed by one question which I won’t mention in this review because it’s a spoiler. In any case, Gonzo and LandQ Studios handled the animation well, while tastefully reviving the look of a Leiji Matsumoto story, and even the sound.
The sound, or soundtrack I should say of Ozuma is by far the best part about it. The score is melodramatic and grave when it needs to be, and it injects this story with the right sense of adventure and wonder. There is one particular song that plays several times throughout the anime that jacks up the adrenaline in whatever exciting scene it plays in. This same song also plays over the next-episode preview of each. The score here has copious amounts of “epic moment” inducing tracks that compliment Ozuma more than rightfully. I must almost admit that I wasn’t familiar with composer Kousuke Yamashita’s work before Ozuma, but I can see how well he mimics the sound of Matsumoto’s revered classics. Even better is that he also makes the score sound wholly original all the same. Unfortunately, the opening and ending themes aren’t as memorable. They’re fine, but just nothing more.
Ozuma may walk on familiar ground for some people, but for me it’s walking on marble steps. It’s like stepping into a new level of a 16-bit adventure videogame you once remember playing. Sure, it’s familiar, but it’s a nice, fresh and clean break from the unforgivable fanservice tropes that by now should be “old-fashioned” in today’s trending series. Another thing that helps Ozuma greatly is the fact that we don’t see clones or copies of Leiji Matsumoto’s character archetypes in anime series quite often.
The fact that Ozuma demonstrates these archetypes isn’t necessarily a good thing, yet I forgive it. Simply because I’d rather have a Captain Harlock copy, a Maetel copy, an Emeraldas copy, and a Tetsuro copy. I’ll take that over the usual school student character archetype who suddenly must save the world! It’s a fresh break in that sense, and while it doesn’t break new ground, it should at least be respected. Primarily because of the fact that Matsumoto wrote these ambitious, world-changing ideas 22 years ago; a time when anime and manga were still trying to find their own comfort zone in Japan, as well as the rest of the world.