At Otakon, Media Blasters, publishers of such Colony Drop-recommended genre fare as Samurai Cop, had a huge display up featuring Mazinkaiser SKL, the kind you could see from five or six booths off. I’m drawn to such things, of course, and after I giddily ran up to the beckoning Kaiser, I found the DVD itself quite elusive.
You see, it’s all well and good to have a robot around for decoration, but Media Blasters knows what really sells. It’s porno. A veritable plain of Z-grade ero anime stretched across three sides of the square booth, until finally giving way to MB’s stock of cult Japanese B-movies, which we’re told also outsell anime by a wide margin. Once you’re past Battle Royale and the growing “it’s just like Machine Girl!” genre, anime finally appears, led by the mighty Queen’s Blade and other T&A titles of varying degrees of skeeze. And at the very end of the very last table I checked at the booth– the “old guy stuff” section full of robot anime box sets– I found what I was told was the very last copy of Mazinkaiser SKL.
The moral of this story is that anime doesn’t sell, but maybe it does? In any case, if you’re of the Colony Drop Generation, you really don’t need to listen to me any further. Despite supposedly having been produced in 2010, Mazinkaiser SKL appears to have come to us straight from the Mangaverse, from the depths of Blockbuster’s Special Interest Youth Restricted Not For Kids Crazy Foreign Cartoon aisle. Comparisons to hits like MD Geist are entirely warranted, on more than one level.
After Yasuhiro Imagawa’s superb (but not very popular) Shin Mazinger reboot, Bandai gave Jun Kawagoe and his gang, at this point veterans of remaking Go Nagai robot anime, a shot at remaking the Mazinger universe themselves. They dispensed with nearly the entire mythos– you really don’t need to know a thing about Mazinger or Nagai’s works to watch this– and came out with a cartoon about two guys whose sole motivation in life is to be as metal as possible at all times.
I don’t even remember the two pilots’ names beyond “gun guy” and “sword guy”. They’re not established Nagai characters that I’m aware of, and when the character designs were first released their tight leather pants scared the fans into speculating that they might be getting some kind of melodramatic pretty-boy spin on the franchise: a Mazinger Wing, if you will.
Quite the opposite: Mazinkaiser SKL is all-out, screaming, murderous nonsense. You’ll be entertained with all manner of creative robot carnage and tough-guy theatrics from angry young men, and at the end of it you will absolutely not know what the hell just happened.
This series’ world is a bubble separated from the rest of the modern-day Earth by a massive gravity curtain that can only be entered by the baddest of bad dudes. Outside the curtain: the world we know. Inside, Heavy Metal magazine. Three warring nations– hot warrior chicks supported by hot psychic chicks, Mad Max bandits whose headquarters is also a strip club, and a more strictly organized military state– do absolutely nothing but kill each other in robots all day and all night.
Enter our heroes, special government agents (I presume from the Department of Indiscriminate Slaughter) and Mazinkaiser SKL, who must end a war that threatens to– oh, really, who are we kidding? These guys’ motto is “We are hell!” They just want to kill stuff to 80’s metal (courtesy of Loudness!) and they’ve found a great excuse.
Some notice must be given to the robot itself, which is so incredibly tacky and ridiculous that it embodies the sensibility of the work. The original Mazinkaiser, first seen in the Super Robot Wars game series, was already over-the-top enough, but Tsuyoshi Nonaka (Bandai toy designer and mecha designer for Shin Mazinger) decided that dammit, they can go bigger
Kaiser’s chest plates don’t just heat up and blast flames: they can also be pulled off of the body and used as guns (the staff had apparently just seen Equilibrium and were very excited about it). Furthermore, upon running out of ammo it is revealed that the guns are also knives. This is one of the less ridiculous weapons the skull-encrusted and eventually demon-winged Kaiser uses in the service of being totally metal. The key phrase to remember about Mazinkaiser SKL is “the guns are also knives.”
The vast majority of the show is concerned with carnage in and out of the robot. When SKL stops to try and tell the story of its world, it does so clumsily, with quick bites of incomprehensible exposition and an abruptly inserted bit of backstory that never goes anywhere. The three OVA episodes add up to a very viscerally satisfying action movie, but Redline this ain’t.
Also, while the second and third episodes come with more than their share of chaos, the first episode is by a mile the most inspired and entertaining. The animation quality slips noticeably as the series goes on, as the fights get less exciting and the story makes less sense. Even the heroine feels the need to deliver a “what just happened” speech over the final scene of the show. At the risk of spoilers, I will now paraphrase that narration:
“Once there was an island where everybody was fighting all the time, and it was just no good. It was then that Kaiser appeared, to bring peace by killing everything. It worked out great, and Kaiser is ready to do it again whenever.”
Make sure to stick around after the credits of the final episode, as the teaser that concludes the series is so beautiful that I applauded my TV when I first saw it. As a final note, the dub is criminally bad and I hope Media Blasters got it done for free.
Mazinkaiser SKL is available now on DVD for dirt cheap from Media Blasters, with a Blu-Ray supposedly coming at the end of the year.