It’s been a pretty great year and some change for anime movies. We’ve seen features both classic and contemporary make their way to theaters throughout North America, and the latest is a direct blend of the two. Mazinger Z: INFINITY is one of many projects celebrating the work of prolific creator Go Nagai, and it might just be one of the best as far as faithful, spirited followups are concerned.
Rather than retelling the classic manga and anime’s story a la Masaaki Yuasa’s daring and awesome DEVILMAN crybaby, Mazinger Z: INFINITY places us in a relatively tranquil future after the many victories that paved the way for peace. Dr. Hell is long gone, and despite the occasional protest, the advancements of Photon Power have been nothing but a boon for humanity. The original Mazinger is on display in a museum (where it belongs!), the old Photon lab is about to be demolished, hero Koji Kabuto is a hard-working scientist, and Tetsuya’s greatest concern is finding the occasional gray hair.
Truly, nothing could go wrong here!
We all know that’s not going to last, and the first interesting yet inauspicious sign is the unearthing of a colossal Mazinger that comes to be known as Infinity. Seriously, on sight this behemoth is described as a “Mazin so big Mazinger Z could be the pilot.” And they’re just now stumbling upon it? Something doesn’t add up, and the situation gets even stranger when they discover a life form inside. The woman who emerges from within Infinity turns out to be the Sumire Uesaka-voiced LiSA, an android who essentially serves as Infinity’s onboard computer. Since Koji is the first person she sees, LiSA immediately recognizes him as her “master,” but thankfully that’s almost as strange as that relationship gets.
As if on cue, it doesn’t take long for everything to turn completely upside down. Savage Kikaiju make a sudden return despite the enemy’s defeat over a decade ago. A pair of notorious cohorts—the two-faced Baron Ashura and headless horror Count Brocken—are back, too, which means it won’t be long before The Villain With The Best Name Ever is on the scene once more. That’s right, Dr. HELL is here to twist our world to his liking, and he plans on using the overwhelming power of Infinity to do so.
Even though he’s been living the more humble life of a scientist, the Japanese government knows it would boost morale to have the revered Koji Kabuto helping to repel this reemerging threat. Oddly enough, aside from some pushback from Sayaka, there’s no real rejection of this call to action from Koji himself. Thus, we kick off the meat of Mazinger Z: INFINITY, which involves an intense, straightforward rallying of the troops (AKA the characters we know and love) to take the fight right back to Dr. Hell.
Throughout the movie Dr. Hell is as shrewd as ever. He offers humanity an olive branch of coexistence, knowing it won’t work. In the process of his feigned attempt at a compromise he reveals to Tetsuya the greatest weakness of our people: Diversity. “Mankind, being incapable of handling its diversity, falls once again to squabbling with each other.” Typical, right? Since Dr. Hell deems humans unworthy of their world, he plans to recreate it, and he’ll start with the help of his new weapon, Mazinger Infinity.
The initial reveal of Infinity as a force on the side of evil is something else. Dig the scene: A tornado whirls right next to Mt. Fuji. One by one, massive robotic appendages emerge; a stomping leg, a fist that’s ready to rocket punch its way to the moon; and a head that could literally house a handful of full-sized Mazingers. Yep, they named this feature after the right robot. Infinity is impressive and intimidating from the very first frame, even if you know Koji and his pals will eventually find a way to thwap this thunderous threat.
The themes swirling through INFINITY are about as subtle as a brick, but it’s a pleasure to watch, and even at around an hour and forty minutes it never overstays its welcome. There are a few plot points I won’t spoil here—mostly concerning LiSA—that come off as half-baked, but they’re a small chunk of the whole. The action scenes are all extremely well-handled, especially if you showed up specifically to see pretty much every notable Mazinger special move happen at once.
Mazinger Z: INFINITY is a rare example of a classic anime reboot/sequel that gets the nostalgia of the property right. Rather than going all dark and attempting to incorporate the original characters in bizarre new ways, INFINITY remains hopeful. It’s a colorful movie that balances the charm of Toei Animation’s original ’70s anime adaptation with characters who actually grew up while we were off watching other shows and movies. We may not have much of a chance to dive into their lives, but each cast member clearly has something going on behind the scenes. There’s a real sense of this being a lived-in world that never stopped turning after its initial run, and there’s a good mix of explosive, CG-infused action and the type of comedy that would be right at home on Japanese television circa 1972.
This is also a very newcomer-friendly movie, despite all the anime history you might assume is weighing it down. I caught INFINITY on a Blu-ray screener, but it definitely made me want to check it out in theaters. Do so if you have the opportunity; it might be the only chance you’ll get to hear Ichiro Mizuki’s iconic theme song blaring from your local theater’s speakers!
Mazinger Z: INFINITY will be playing at select theaters with English subtitles on February 11 and 12.