Kyo, an avid swimmer tries his best to keep the high school swimming club going, which is pretty hard when he's the only member. Facing the prospect of the club being closed by the student council, he tries to enlist beautiful Misaki to act in a promo video, shot by his good friend Ryoko, in a bid to start a recruitment drive. She agrees but only if he pilots a mecha under the wing of Celebrum, a resistance organisation fighting to destroy Deutera Areas formed on Earth by the aliens Gards-orm. He agrees but finds it all strangely familiar as if he's done it before...
I’ll admit I was quite biased when I heard that Sunrise was going to make yet another mecha anime. One day I said “why not?” and watched the first episode afterwards I knew this was something quite different than your usual mecha fare. One of the major things that struck me was the OP (disguised as the ED in the first ep), “Kimi e Mukau Hikari” sung by Akino Arai. This was not a fast paced song with intense mecha action in the background. Instead the OP featured a slow, beautifully sung ballad predominantly featuring the characters of the series, not
the giant robots. This really sets the tone for the entire series.
Many people say that the beginning of Zegapain starts off very slow and doesn’t really start till a few episodes in. However, for me I was quite intrigued by the many subtle hints found in the first few eps. What is Shizuno’s relationship with Kyo? What was the deal with that scene? What is really going on? The story effectively builds upon itself and builds several layers of complexity. Each episode flowed quite well with each other, thus making many cliffhangers. Although, if I had to complain about the pacing it does somewhat falter a little in the midteens. In addition, the story features several classic philosophical ideal from Descartes to Berkeley (?). However, unlike other anime titles Zegapain doesn’t bog the viewer down with its ideas.
Animation-wise there really isn’t anything to complain about, it seems Sunrise put a decent about of money into producing this anime. CG for the fight scenes at least in the beginning was kind of weak however, they managed to fix that mid series.
In terms of sound, I really like the OST and it really accents many of scenes while not being too forward and in your face. However, it’s the OP and EDs which really stick out for me and are constantly appearing in my playlist.
In general there is an overarching sense of sadness throughout the series and quite a bit of drama. However, not so much as to make the viewer go numb. Do not watch Zegapain for the action, watch it for the story and characters. While the action scenes are nicely done there are far better shows out there if that’s what you are looking for.
Zegapain is a not so well-known sci-fi mecha show that is sci-fi first and mecha second. So if you're looking for some bombastic action-oriented anime and just want to see cool looking robots blowing each other up then steer clear, Zegapain isn't for you. However, if you're looking for a heavy sci-fi show strong in thought-provoking themes and a complex story and narrative then continue reading and maybe I can convince you to watch this.
Jumping into the first episode Zegapain seems like a generic Mecha show with high-school flavor but that's exactly what the show wants you to think as everything isn't as it seems.
Our protagonist, Kyo, is living his normal life and starts noticing some weird occurrences and through a course of events finds himself piloting a robot and in an alternate game-seeming reality that after uncovering some truths will shake his very world and perception to its core. Existentialist themes such as Cartesian dualism, reality, identity, and some other minor themes such as natural vs. artificial are juggled without ever seeming pretentious, preachy, shoehorned, or unexplored; Zegapain is great at handling its themes to the fullest.
A typical problem a lot of similar shows have is collapsing under the weight of its complex story and setting because of plotholes, infodumps (or the opposite, lack of exposition), and plot contrivances, none of which are problems here. Zegapain manages to maintain a complex fully-explored setting and plot advancements without any of those, the show is really maturely handled, always evolving with its characters and plot developments, always rewarding, and never breaking its rules. I would talk more about the setting but it's a bit hard to delve into without spoiling things, just keep in mind that it's never as simple as it seems and there's always another twist to rattle it up. We may have some pacing problems here and there but it's nothing too bad, it's never painfully dull or too fast, it can just be a little erratic sometimes due to the frequency that plot-twists are thrown and dealt with, it's never unsatisfying or impedes with dealing with its themes though. I mention that the show has lots of twists but it isn't one of those shows that throws twists at you for the sake of twists, they're very pivotal to the setting and narrative and are all excused and heavily, subtly, and intricately foreshadowed. To top it all off we arrive at an extremely well-polished and powerful conclusion that leaves no loose ends and compliments its themes nicely.
Zegapain also delivers with its characters about as much as with its plot, no archetypes or one-dimensional characters here. Everyone is well fleshed out and receives a ton of backstory, that isn't to say the show goes overboard with its flashbacks but rather that backdrops fit extremely well into its narrative and always makes use of them. The characters evolve alongside the plot and revelations as they are forced to confront reality and their beliefs in a way that can totally rock their perception of life and their situations, aside from adding to the dynamics of their character it really makes for some thought provoking ideas and intriguing angles of growth. All the characters have a purpose and definitely add something to the show but some of the side characters can lack some presence once in a while and are rather forgettable despite being well fleshed-out and having solid development and backdrop. Something that can also throw a lot of shows off the deep end is a shoehorned romance or love triangle that just isn't well handled in general, Zegapain deals with its romance very well. There is sort of a love triangle in the show but it's perfectly excused by former and current relationships between the characters and plot advancements without ever seeming forced, melodramatic, or used for a reason that doesn't aid in developing it's plot or characters, infact it's very important to them.
One area where Zegapain doesn't deliver however, is the art and animation section. The characters all look really bland and the animation isn't the greatest (though it's definitely not bad), sure the show has some neat visual effects but it definitely doesn't excuse this sections biggest downfall for the show; the CGI. The mechs are designed fairly uniquely (albeit look and move a bit clunky) but it's put to shame by some poor CGI. It's definitely not close to the worst case of CGI i've seen but it really does stand out. Despite being a mecha show, and done by Sunrise for that matter, the action scenes atleast for the first half are very dull and unengaing. It's partly due to the early action scenes lacking context and exposition as we don't know what we're fighting, what our main characters are fighting for, and what the stakes are, just that they're fighting some ugly CGI grunt robots that all look the same. That isn't to say that they shouldn't be there, they are definitely important scenes, just a little taxing. Zegapain definitely delivers in a lot of areas but this is not one of them, good thing the show is more plot and character focused anyway.
However the sound section is another area that the show delivers for. It's certainly not one of the strongest soundtracks i've heard but the pieces range from average to incredible, there's certainly a lot of great tracks used that really add to the emotion and feeling of the scenes as well as just sounding great in general, especially a lot of the music in the latter half. I myself wasn't too fond of the opening but I didn't dislike it, the main ending theme however im really a fan of and it seems to fit the show perfectly. The voice acting in the sub is stellar and has lots of impact, I definitely recommend it over the dub which ranges from average to bad and lazily done.
I was really surprised by the high level of writing this show presented, it's a great sci-fi mecha show that really pushes the boundaries of what the genres are capable of. It's a pretty heavy show and not easily digestible but it really stands out in the crowd and is one of the stronger hidden gems i've seen, definitely an underrated work that needs more appreciation. This really feels like one of the greater sci-fi show's of the medium and you should really check this out if it seems like your cup of tea and you can get past some bad CGI.
Zegapain is a show that contains all the elements of a show that should have met massive critical and commercial success both inside and outside of Japan. The latter is true, but the former isn't, which comes as a surprise of sorts if someone has actually finished the show. The show is complex, philosophical, very tightly written and has an amazing setting which is fleshed out in a spectacular amount of detail and has a lot of depth.
And yet, this show stands as one of the most underrated anime series of all time. This is in part to the show's seemingly weak beginning where a
lot of elements that the show has are foreshadowed but never directly told to the audience, which leaves viewers with the misleading impression that it's just another generic mech anime and that the characters are simplistic and bland.
Neither impression is correct, as anyone who has actually finished the show would tell you. In fact, this show's biggest problem is that it doesn't show its true nature until most viewers have dropped the show and walked out with the worst first impression possible.
Zegapain is also well-known for the story and setting in itself being a massive spoiler for the entire show. It is recommended by most people to at least reach episode 7 before making a decision to drop the show, since the show doesn't show its true colors until that point.
The story is very tightly written and well-explained, and the setting is even better fleshed out than one would expect.
Presentation of the story is top notch and exposition scenes never insult the viewer's intelligence by bringing up things that the viewer already knows but apparently needs the show to explain.
The setting is very distinct by anime standards, and while many people will be quick to compare the setting with the Matrix, I found the similarities superficial at best and outright wrong at worse. The setting is incredibly crapsack by nature, so heads up for anyone looking for something easygoing and happy-go-lucky; you won't find it here.
The themes are very interesting and captivating from beginning to the end, well-explored and fully fleshed out. Mentioning the themes is a spoiler as well, so I will only say that even that shows its true colors after episode 7, though very carefully foreshadowed at the beginning.
The characters are simplistic, but are very dynamic and work extremely well and develop very well over the course of the show. No character is left undeveloped or unexplored, though the villains aren't as developed as well as they could have been.
The soundtrack is of a high quality, fitting the mood of the show and some tracks having hearing value outside of the show. The ending song in particular fits the show very well, and is easily among my favorite ending songs of all time.
Artwork looks alright, but I couldn't help but feel that with better animation quality this show's presentation would've been a lot better and it would have been nice to see where the creators could have experimented with it. The animation is consistent throughout the show, and there are no real quality drops, but even then the show was too good to have animation that barely gets an average score.
Overall, Zegapain is an exceptional show which doesn't play its cards properly instantly and saves the best after a certain point in the show. The story is amazing, the setting detailed and the characters constantly move forward from episode to episode. Patience will be rewarded while watching this show, and it certainly is a case where ratings don't tell the full story.
“Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.”
― Albert Camus
The story of Zegapain begins with our protagonist, Kyo a skilled swimmer in high school trying to reach out and get more members for his swim club in order for it to stay open. Kyo sees a beautiful mysterious girl and chooses her to act in a promotion video for the club. The mysterious girl agrees on the condition that Kyo pilots a mecha and fight creatures known as gardsorm in what she claims to be a “high tech video game simulation". If you think this story sounds cliche from my
description, boy are you in for a wild ride, as nothing is as it seems and about 6 episodes the story turns all the cliches on their heads and introduces themes such as existentialism into the mix. The change in tone from cliche and lighthearted to mysterious and thematic is fairly gradual as certain scenes in the first 5 episodes give the viewer clues that there is definitely more than meets the eye in the world of Zegapain and your suspicions grow and grow until they are finally confirmed at the 6 episode mark. The mecha fights in Zegapain are great as well. I really like the idea it presents where two people pilot a mecha and take on different roles ultimately supporting each other, the chemistry between characters really plays in as a factor in how well they pilot the mecha. As you can see it’s very hard to talk about Zegapain’s story without getting into spoiler territory but I hope you got the general idea that there is really more than meets the eye with this one and you have to pay attention to find the little clues that will lead you to the reality of the show.
Now not only does the story of Zegapain have more to it than it first has you believe the characters do too. Kyo starts off as a very annoying and generic character, he is overly upbeat all the time and lacks any defining trait outside of his passion for swimming, but over time Kyo unfolds as a character from one that is difficult to watch to one who is very human and flawed. Once Kyo learns the severity of the situation at hand his character expresses much more depth, his upbeat attitude is not a result of cliches and tropes but is a result of him trying to cope with a difficult situation. Kyo pretends everything is okay to try and defuse difficult situations despite the pain he suffers through. Kyo has to question the existence of pretty much everything he knows and this takes a toll on him as we see him trying to run from his fate and reality many times, only to have some form of epiphany and keep on trucking. The rest of the cast have very good chemistry and they slowly grow along side Kyo as they face their own realities and circumstances and cope with them in a variety of ways. The anime deals with the psychological implications the story has on the character very well, at no time does anything feel overblown as the anime balances the dramatic elements perfectly.
Zegapain was animated by studio Sunrise and unfortunately they did not put much effort into the animation. The character designs are nothing special and look very cookie cutter, the mechas are all CGI and don’t look very good outside of a design standpoint, once in a while Zegapain presents us with a good looking background, but outside of that the animation is very weak and is an obstacle you have to get over to fully enjoy the anime.
The soundtrack in Zegapin is pretty solid, the tracks fit what is going on in the anime very well at times adding to the tension evident in the plot making the experience much more enjoyable as a whole. The opening and ending themes are very melodic and while neither of them struck me as anything special at first, over time they grew on me. While this soundtrack is not something I'd actively listen to in my free time, it still manages to do its job well.
Zegapain is an extremely enjoyable show from the beginning to end, the perfectly handled mystery elements in the early parts and the slow, tense moments kept me at the edge of my seat.
Final Score: 8/10 Highly Recommended
Zegapain is by far not your typical mecha, its existential themes and brilliant characters make it stand out from the crowd as a brilliant anime.