Kakugo no Susume (localized title: Apocalypse Zero) is about the future. Our future. It is the beginning of the 21st century, and the world is destroyed. Tectonic activity, you know. The last remaining school on Earth soldiers on through the ruins of civilization.
In Japan, of course. Neo Tokyo, Sector 04. Japan was training for this shit. And so it was that two particularly gnarly bros — Kakugo and Harara Hagakure — were trained in the frozen north, in their skivvies, against sextuple-titted purple mutant grizzly bears with radioactive acid blood, all day, every day, by their father, the stone-faced Oboro Hagakure, until the day arrived when they would be entrusted with his magnum opus, a pair of bio-mechanical robo-suits powered by the souls of a thousand dead WWII-era test subjects, and sent out to fight evil in all its forms.
And then we see a schoolgirl get her intestines squeezed out of her body like a tube of sausage by a 20-foot tall giant, naked, puffy-lipped, clown-faced, dominatrix fat-chick who tells us that “My name is Hamuko… but people call me Beauty!” The entrails land on her boyfriend, of course. Who we then see in Hamuko’s bed. She tears his face off with her giant clown-lips, and tells him that she just gave him the “mark of eternal love.” Then she sews his stretched-out zombie face onto her left areola and–!
Apocalypse Zero is reading from two playbooks. First playbook: ‘70s Go Nagai. Devilman, Violence Jack, Kekko Kamen. Ravaged cityscapes, disgusting monsters, disgusting monsters uncomfortably intermingled with strange sexual imagery, and a heck of a lot of boys’ comic violence cranked way, way up.
Second playbook: Kazuo Umezo. The Drifting Classroom. Some of the character designs in here — especially the teachers — have the same kind of bug-eyed, square-jawed quality to them. And there is, of course, the apocalyptic classroom setting. Maybe I’m reading a little too deeply into this. You tell me.
This is really painfully obvious in the manga, which is garish and pulpy and ugly and creepy in an intensely personal way. That the author, Takayuki Yamaguchi, would eventually go on to create Shigurui, only reinforces that impression for me. This is his book, and you’re just passing through, man.
Most of this is lost in the 2-episode OAV adaptation from 1996, and I’m not really sure who to blame. Let’s start with the director, who is none other than Toshiki Iczer-Motherfuckin’-One Hirano himself. My god, what are you doing here? Is this what you saw yourself doing back in the ‘80s? Probably, right?
Here’s the big problem: Apocalypse Zero the manga is so weird — so up in your grill — that it commands respect. Even if the first ten pages make you throw up in your mouth a little, you’ll still have to admit that the book is a work of inspired, mad genius. You just gotta.
The OAV, on the other hand, misses the point. Everything is too clean, too polished for what goes down here. The fight scenes are staged and scored like any other kids fight show, despite the horrifying content. From one scene to the next is like watching three or four different shows, two crazy and gross, all mediocre. It’s just not very good, and the animation budget isn’t enough to really sell the concept.
Once you get into the vibe, though, there are some… amusing moments here. In a scene you’ve probably seen elsewhere, the main villain challenges a group of burly, post-apocalyptic biker-lookin’ dudes to best him in unarmed combat, the victor getting his castle as compensation. “The name’s Jackal! I killed 63 wrestlers one-handed in under a second!” screams the leader. There’s something endearing about that level of bravado.
Also endearing — in both the manga and the OAV — is the high school element. It’s played 100% straight, despite not making any sense whatsoever. This is a world that is by all measures worse than Fist of the North Star’s, yet there is still a high school, with a cafeteria, and bullies, and faculty fretting about how their students “must have an education… to change this world!” Of course, they’re also fretting about how two of their students were brutally murdered in the most horrifying ways imaginable, but I guess that comes with the territory.
Apocalypse Zero the manga ran for 11 volumes, which Media Blasters got about halfway through publishing in America before pulling the plug. Apocalypse Zero the OAV ran for two episodes, barely enough to cover the events of the manga’s first volume. The production staff probably knew this was going to happen, and took the liberty of adding a sexy-nurse monster character to the beginning of the second episode, who attacks Kakugo with her boobs. This is, of course, to complement the pervy old-man monster character from the manga, who shows up later in that same episode, and attacks with his genitals. Give and take, as they say.
Before I forget, Apocalypse Zero has a theme song. It plays only during the end credits of each of the two episodes, and it is sung by Hironobu Kageyama. Kind of like MD Geist!
Perhaps Apocalypse Zero‘s biggest mistake was that it wasn’t made in the ’80s. If it had, it probably would have been BAOH or any number of other legendary OAVs from the time period. Instead, it was Apocalypse Zero.