Thursday, April 19, 2018

Movie review: 'Mazinger Z Infinity' is an ode to old-school nerd-vana

For adults of a certain age, Mazinger Z harkens back to afternoons spent in front of the TV as our favorite mechanime went on air. 

We had UFO Grendizer, which also had Koji Kabuto (the main pilot of Mazinger Z) as a side character. We grooved with Mekanda Robot simply because he had the most badass shields and a theme song that sticks to your brain like glue. My romantic loveteams were not JaDine or KathNiel but Erika and Richard (Erika! Richard!) from the Daimos cartoon. And, of course, teamwork was a natural for fans of Chodenji Machina Voltes V or simply Voltes V. I still remember clapping my hands with a hundred excited kids when the Voltes V team finally volt in at the movie's finale when it was shown in the old moviehouse in front of Central Market in Manila.

But Mazinger Z was first. 

A brainchild of Go Nagai, Mazinger Z first came out as a manga series in Shonen Jump and Kodansha from 1972-74 while also making the jump to cartoons. An English-dubbed version, Tranzor Z, was also aired in the '70s. Mazinger, with his grill-covered mouth, always struck me as a more dangerous looking mecha compared to the human faces on Daimos or the Robotech Valkyries. Danger may have been on Nagai's mind when he designed Mazinger Z as Majin is an amalgamation of Ma (demon) and Jin (god). 

There is nothing dangerous about "Mazinger Z: Infinity," the new movie produced by Toei Animation for the 45th anniversary of the Mazinger franchise. In fact, I nodded off at least twice while watching the movie - something I usually do when a film fails to find a rhythm or pulse. 

"Mazinger Z" Infinity is slow and boring at parts but it is not completely without merit: any old-school anime fan will thrill at seeing a computer-animated Mazinger Z fight off a legion of monsters. Also, it has one character hacking into another dimension using a typewriter. It's just the connective tissue between the boring parts that increases the gravitational pull on my eyelids. 

Taking place 10 years after Koji Kabuto defeats Doctor Hell and his army of kaijus, the story starts off showing a world at peace as Kabuto continues his father's work as a scientist while his friends lead different lives. In this world, mechas are museum pieces and photon power is the energy of choice for the whole world. The discovery of a giant Mazinger robot underneath Mt. Fuji, however, brings back Doctor Hell and his robot armies intent on finishing what they started. It is up to Kabuto and his friends to discover the secret behind the Mazinger and why a female mecha named Lisa holds the key to their victory. 

"Mazinger Z Infinity" takes a decades-old mecha and gives it a new coat of paint, but not much else. Koji is still the dashing hero surrounded by friends Tetsuya Tsurugi, Yumi Sayaka and Boss, who now owns a ramen shop. Koji's brother Shiro has his own demi-Mazinger robot that he puts to good use. Aphrodite and her boob missiles are a no-show, replacing her are a quartet of Mazin-Girls with similar uhm, weaponry. 

At one point, Doctor Hell taunts Koji of his inevitable failure because mankind is "too diverse" to band together and defeat him. That soft stab at possible politics on the world stage sets up the finale and a chance to pump up the effects. 

What works though is the final fight, which sees the Mazingers take on an army of beast fighters including the skull-faced Garada K-7 and Doublas M2 - like a sped-up version of the original anime. 

Even better, the mecha action is enhanced by merging hand-drawn animation with CG animation. An ode to old-school nerd-vana, "Mazinger Z Infinity" serves up kinetic thrills one rocket punch after the other especially in that final fight. Thanos better watch it, this Infinity packs a rocket punch.