Review for World Conquest Zvezda Plot: Complete Series Collection
When it comes to anime, something just draws me to wacky titles, suggesting that what lies within will be unconventional at least, and wholly original at best. Let’s face it, anime excels in twisting the English language when it comes to titles, especially when Japanese creators insist on keeping their translations. Hence I have shows like Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, Paniponi Dash, Samurai Deeper Kyo, Speed Grapher, Birdy the Mighty Decode, Pumpkin Scissors, Blast of Tempest, She, The Ultimate Weapon, and various other verbal paroxysms in my collection. So more often than not, I’ll be disappointed in my search for originality, as only occasionally do the shows live up to the titles, but I keep on looking, and hoping, especially when shows like 2014’s World Conquest Zvezda Plot are released.
I watched it when it was originally streamed, and this wackily titled anime show turned out to be just as wacky and bizarre in its premise. At the time I made a mental note to look it up on its physical release, and now that it’s here, we in the UK get something quite special courtesy of Kazé Entertainment. We’re the only English speaking territory to get the show on Blu-ray; Aniplex in the US and Madman in Australia both released it on DVD alone, and if you watched the show when it was streamed, you’ll know that its animation will prove problematic when it comes to DVD compression.
Asuta Jimon could be considered a typical middle school student. He’s certainly going through the usual teenage rebellion, and as the story begins, he’s run away from home, unable to get along with his father. He could have picked a better day to do it though, as Martial Law is suddenly declared in West Udogawa city, leaving him stranded outside, while the military descend. Then a cute grey-haired girl crashes her bike, her stomach growling. Kate Hoshimiya is grateful enough at Asuta’s offer of food that she allows him into her Zvezda organisation to take over the world. Little kids say the cutest things...
Only Kate, as Lady Venera really is trying to take over the world. She has a full on secret base, she has minions, warriors Lady Plamya and General Pepel (father and daughter Goro and Itsuka Shikabane), a mad scientist in Professor Um (Ukrainian Natasha), a robot girl named Roboko, and self-styled hero Odin (Yasu). Seeing Asuta’s talent in the kitchen, they’re glad of their newest recruit, dubbed Dva, but Asuta has got in way over his head given the opposition they face, not least of all the White Light organisation (featuring two very familiar looking heroes of justice), the conspiracies surrounding the city, and in particular just who Asuta’s father happens to be...
12 episodes of World Conquest Zvezda Plot, plus the OVA are presented across two Blu-rays from Kazé Entertainment.
1. Conquer All Humanity
2. From the Dining Table to the Graveyard
3. Gone With the Smoke
4. Udo in the Cold Ground
5. White Robin in Danger!
6. The After School Secret Treasure Club (Part 1)
7. The After School Secret Treasure Club (Part 2)
8. The Falcon Has Landed
9. Masked Battle in the Steam
10. Not All Quiet on the West Udogawa Front
11. All That’s Left of Conqueror’s Dreams
12. The Light of Zvezda Will Shine Upon the Whole World
13. New: Zvezda’s Grand Plot
Zvezda gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these single layer Blu-ray discs. Given that they contain just the episodes evenly spread, one audio track, and no extra features, it’s fair to say that compression isn’t an issue here, and Zvezda’s image quality is on a par with the better anime Blu-rays, and given its comparative bright palette, digital banding isn’t readily apparent either. When you see the level of detail, and the complexity of the animation, you can see why Blu-ray is the preferable format. That’s most apparent with the kurukuru critters, small, cute mascot animals found in Zvezda’s lair, but when thousands upon millions come together, they form the impressive kaiju beasts that rampage through the city at Zvezda’s behest. When they are defeated, they tend to disassociate into their component parts, thousands of them falling from the sky, which is perfectly fine on a Blu-ray, but you can imagine that complexity of animation will be a pixellated mess on DVD.
The character designs, while conforming to the norm for anime, are individual enough to stand out and become memorable. The quality of the character animation is high throughout, particularly for the action sequences, and the show blends its 2D elements with CGI with the typical ease that we’ve come to expect from modern anime. The world design is rich with detail and colour, and taken together it makes for a very appealing whole.
The images used in this review were kindly supplied by Kazé Entertainment.
Oddly for Kazé, this looks to be a UK specific release; there are no French assets on board. You just get a PCM 2.0 Stereo Japanese track with locked translated English subtitles. The dialogue is clear, the action gets decent representation through the stereo, and the show’s music comes across well enough. Of course we have the usual problem with Kazé discs unable to show more than two lines of subtitles simultaneously, but World Conquest Zvezda Plot gets away with it pretty well for the most part. Text translations remain on screen long enough to read, and it looks like most of the on screen text is translated. There is one point where there are two overlapping conversations, and due to this limitation only one of the conversations is subtitled, and in around half of the next episode previews, the episode title is missed out because the character is talking. The biggest problem is that Roboko’s song in episode 13 isn’t subtitled, just as with the theme songs. Otherwise the subtitles are timed accurately and free of typographical error, although the font is a little on the thin side.
The discs present their content on a slightly animated menu, with a very short 31 second loop, abruptly stopping the theme song in an awkward place. Both discs autoplay with trailers for Mawaru Penguindrum, Persona 4 The Animation, and Mirai Nikki: Future Diary.
I really enjoyed World Conquest Zvezda Plot when I first watched it streamed. It really felt like a modern day Excel Saga (with a little Pinky and the Brain thrown in) in some ways, wacky characters that would each week try in some, bizarre way to conquer the world, to varying degrees of success. The second time around it hasn’t felt quite as enjoyable, something I also experienced with Excel Saga, although here it’s for different reasons. The streaming schedule certainly worked to Zvezda’s benefit. With its episodes spaced a week or more apart, absence tended to make the heart grow a little fonder, and each new episode was taken on its own merits. As a package deal, marathoning the show in just a few nights, it’s a lot easier to see the show’s weaknesses, and whereas separately the episodes stood up well, they don’t hang together with the same degree of efficacy.
The biggest problem is the two tone approach the show takes to its story. For the most part, it’s a fun, silly little show about a rather daft insurgency and its attempts to achieve world conquest, with each episode pretty much going its own way with a conquest target of the week, all loosely connected by an overarching storyline. Then for the final three episodes, things suddenly get serious, as the government and associated agencies crack down on Zvezda and their territory with an iron boot, lives are threatened, in some cases apparently lost, and for the series protagonist, events get a lot more personal, and the show starts feeling a tad nasty in comparison to the earlier episodes. It’s not as much fun anymore. True, Excel Saga did much the same thing for its run of episodes, but it was four episodes out of that show’s run of 26, not 3 out of 12 as we get here. The 13th OVA episode does get back to the zany sense of fun though.
Another issue might be that there is a lot going on in World Conquest Zvezda Plot, certainly a lot more than can snugly fit into 12 episodes plus 1. You have the whole Zvezda group aiming for world conquest obviously, you have the Tokyo Governor (and Asuta’s dad) that they oppose, and you have the White Light superhero group opposing Zvezda as a bunch of terrorists. Zvezda’s leader Kate Hoshimiya isn’t exactly what she seems (the rabbit ears and floating star attest to that), and her ability to reach into her stuffed animal Galactika and pull out a giant holographic fist to deliver beatdowns with, could bear some explanation. West Udogawa city is Zvezda’s territory, and their secret (occasionally) underground base is apparently built upon the ruins of the Ancient Udogawan civilisation. Udo is also a kind of vegetable foodstuff that powers Zvezda’s robot girl Roboko, and the group’s transformation into world conquistadors. Then there are the kurukuru, Zvezda’s mascot animals, thousands upon thousands of multi-coloured tribble-like creatures.
Against them, the White Light group are more like a superhero combination, powered up girls in white suits and masks, wielding beamsabers, battling Zvezda to protect the public. Asuta’s schoolfriend (and potential crush) Renge is in actuality White Robin, school princess Miki is White Egret, and they’re all about the justice. Then terms like Heian era and onmyo mysticism are thrown around, hinting at a bigger back story to White Light.
Certainly Zvezda’s characters are a lot of fun, each of them adopting warrior names for their transformed guises. Kate Hoshimiya (Lady Venera) is an unlikely dictator, a little girl who still has training wheels on her bicycle, and it’s the incongruity of hearing Bond villain pronouncements from such a cute little girl that makes for much humour. Her chief scientist is Natasha (Professor Um), whose usual daywear consists of lingerie and a white coat and who has a dry sense of humour. Hero of the group and self-styled warrior is Yasu (Odin), at least in his own head. He’s really a junior dogsbody whose instincts and desires keep getting him into trouble and suffering punishment as a result. The real warriors are Goro (General Pepel) and Itsuka (Lady Plamya) Shikabane. Goro was a former gangster before signing on with Zvezda, while his daughter Itsuka is a dominatrix with a bad attitude and short temper, when she isn’t doting on ‘big sister’ Kate, and she has a soft side too as revealed when she bursts into tears. Against these Roboko is a somewhat underdeveloped as a character and more of a gimmick. Asuta is the typical hapless teen male who gets into these situations through no fault of his own, and winds up Zvezda’s chef (Itsuka can’t cook). He gets a gimp suit/gas mask costume, and is dubbed Dva, and spends the whole series trying to keep up with the mayhem, until the end when his dad shows up, chain smoking his evil vapours around the city.
Would you believe that I’m just scratching the surface of the show? There’s even more going on in these episodes, especially with Goro’s gangster past that I haven’t the space to explore here. The real problem is that the show doesn’t have the space to explore it either, cramming it all into its short run, and in some cases, really just toying briefly with ideas before discarding them, forgotten.
Until it gets to that nasty, atonal ending, World Conquest Zvezda Plot is a whole lot of fun. It may be messy, incoherent, and a little aimless, but it is fun nevertheless, and it’s full of charming moments that put a smile on my face. It could be Itsuka’s bad cooking, Yasu trying to have a secret smoke (yielding a whole episode where Kate tries to conquer smokers and get them to end their filthy habit), Zvezda trying to discover White Robin’s secret identity, looking for treasure in school, and the obligatory hot springs trip. They are all episodes that entertain, and despite their excess of ideas, don’t tax the mind. But there is that lingering feeling that Zvezda could have been a lot more, could have been a genuine classic. And don’t let that final scene fool you, there is no second season to World Conquest Zvezda Plot, at least not at the time of writing. But for a Kazé release, this one’s pretty good.