Sep 10, 2016
hen researching Zeorymer I read comments about how dark it was and that it was a "proto-Evangelion". After watching the OVA I feel that these praises are glib, but they're not baseless. This 1988 OVA came out in the span of about a year and a half, and it stars a kid named Masato who's kidnapped by men in black and told that his family life was a lie and he is an artificial human groomed to pilot the mecha Zeorymer. He doesn't take it too well at first, but soon accepts his fate to fight against Hau Dragon, an organization bent on world domination using their mecha known as "Hakkeshu", and seeking revenge on Zeorymer for being the mech stolen from them by a traitor.

This show has weird progression in the sort you'd expect from an OVA that sounds too short for its britches. Masato works with this girl named Miku who sub-pilots Zeorymer with him, and he's naturally resistant and standoffish to her since she's in league with the people who took him away from his normal life. Makes sense, but despite their very few personal, non-business interactions in the show, Miku develops obvious affection for Masato out of nowhere and Masato's perfectly receptive to it. The only other main character on the protagonist side is Oki, the main man in black who's constantly wearing sunglasses. I thought his initial role was pretty interesting, as he's given such a featureless and mute design that gives him mystery when combined with the cruel ways with which he treats Masato like a tool. Early scenes with him are interesting because he shows so little of himself despite frequently being on-screen as the only representative of the Last Guardian organization. He goes from having this interesting dynamic with Masato as he seems practically amused by his shock and suffering, but when Masato just accepts his role as Zeorymer's pilot Oki falls into being a standard support man for Masato despite them never having any personal bonding scenes. When the finale comes and Oki is giving Masato the "go get 'em, tiger" look and saluting his liftoff while Masato is addressing him as "Oki-san" suddenly it's just weird. Where's all this character transitioning coming from? It's disappointing when the move to more standard characterization isn't even properly justified in the narrative.

That's really enough said to move on to the villains now, who are actually much more interesting. One of Zeorymer's distinctive traits in its writing (and probably the thing that gets it compared to Evangelion) is that Masato and all of the OVA's villains have blatant, specific psychological complexes. The members of Hau Dragon have some implied personal conflicts and intriguing dynamics between them that do have some kind of payoff. The problem is largely the same as before though in that the set-up isn't enough to comb the depths of its psychological ideas. The two twin sisters where one loves the other and the other hates and feels overshadowed by the more experienced one, and the uncertain relationship between Taiha and Hau Dragon's leader Yuratei are two such examples. My favorite character in the show is Saiga, largely due in part to Kaneto Shiozawa's voice performance. He uses a deep, soft, cold voice similar to his performance of Oberstein in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and it grants Saiga a more immediate mystique than the rest of Hau Dragon. He's also instantly shown to be disapproving of the rest of his teammates, which gives him particular unpredictability and a further threatening poise. Unfortunately, Saiga is the one character who doesn't have payoff. His climactic scene undermines the idea that he was being painted as some kind of exception to the failures of Hau Dragon, and simply put his final scheme is simple and pulled off very lamely, devoid of the intelligence and stature he had as a character. This is only worse when you realize that Saiga is involved in the show's final battle. There's also a lot of talk in this OVA about the "Hades Project" mentioned in the title, and from what I gathered it has something to do with the Hakkeshu battles determining who will be the "leader of the underworld". But I don't think it's ever explained what the hell the underworld specifically is in this context, and since the OVA immediately ends after the final battle we never find out what this whole motivation for so many characters even was. Very awkward.

Let's talk about the mechs, because I actually quite like Yoshiki Takaya's designs. The Hakkeshu look very alien in appearance due to their lack of an obvious human base in design. They don't have two eyes or visors reflecting helmets, and instead their "eyes" are expressed by glowing orbs that are simply stuck in square compartments. They're very blocky and not aerodynamic with sharp or inconsistent shapes jutting out. They kind of look like relics or statues of mythical gods with how they defy any facial characterization. Omzack doesn't even have limbs, just being some sort of floating aquatic-like machine with several tails flowing behind it. Zeorymer itself is a massively overpowered machine which can still be cool if pulled off well, but what makes its strength kind of dull is the fact it doesn't really escalate. It feels as though it's about demonstrating the same level of power in every fight all the way to the end, and it's simply always enough to destroy the enemy machines in one blow while never being an any serious danger. The fights aren't very dynamic nor do they have complex choreography due to their slow pace, but they're entertaining enough due to the plot and character development that continues to unfold as they play out. Zeorymer also doesn't have particularly great animation, but when it does decide to show off some action it looks fluid. What's most commendable is just the excellent illustration. I love the shading here, and there are several great stills that are incredibly detailed with scene compositions that are focused and easy to follow, so this does feel like a production worthy of an OVA and it has solid direction. The imagery is great, but there isn't a lot of complex motion to marvel at. The soundtrack is decent, with the brassy "Awake! Zeorymer" and the angsty, cathartic ending theme "Crimson Loneliness" being the highlights.

Zeorymer in general just sort of ends unsatisfyingly. This OVA is full of a lot of great concepts that it doesn't have the breadth to pull off, so it ends up being emotionally limp due to weak set-ups that don't provide enough relationship detail or nuance to do its ideas justice, even though it has respectable ambition. The ideas that are still there such as the dark tone and psychological themes make it a decent enough watch for its run time even though they're minor, but it never ends up outdoing itself. I can safely recommend this to hardcore mecha fans or 80s/90s OVA junkies because it does enough to distinguish itself, but most people will probably think there just isn't enough here to leave a lasting impression. Zeorymer isn't a heavily flawed series, it just needed to actually be big rather than just think big.