Judge Daryl Loomis will show you up, unfortunately.
Our review of Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City (Blu-ray), published January 4th, 2012, is also available.
Let's get ready to fight!
There is no greater wildcard of a director working today than Takashi Miike (Visitor Q). Not only does he make films at a breakneck pace, rarely is his new work at all similar to his last. People who came to know him for his extreme horror are in for a big surprise if they happen up The Happiness of the Katakuris. Not nearly as big, though, as for people who took notice of his more acclaimed recent work when they sit down with their families to watch Imprint. Of course, no director worth his salt walks away without making a superhero comedy, so now we have Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City, the sequel to his own 2004 oddity. So, it's time to start striping evil all over again, but this time, he has a much bigger budget.
Facts of the Case
Fifteen years have passed since Shinichi Ichikawa (Sho Aikawa, Dead or Alive 2) donned the Zebraman outfit and singlehandedly fought off the little green aliens invading Tokyo. He was a hero, but a lot has changed since then. Tokyo is now known as Zebra City. Lorded over by the diabolical Kozo Aihara (Gadarukanaru Taka, Boiling Point) and his even more evil pop star daughter, the Zebra Queen (Riisa Naka), they have made 5:00 Zebra Time, five minutes twice a day when the police have free reign to shoot citizens at will. Worse yet, just when Zebra City needs him the most, Zebraman has amnesia and no longer has is powers. But Zebraman would never leave the citizens to die, so with the help of a little girl, who may also be the last alien in Tokyo, Zebraman regains his powers and flies off to stop the Zebra Queen before she can make it Zebra Time all the time.
It's unnecessary to have seen the original Zebraman to understand the sequel. There's a brief recap of the past events at the beginning of the film, and neither movie makes much sense anyway, so it's just as well to not put too much thought into it and enjoy the ride. As ridiculous as the original was, Miike has upped the ante in every respect with Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City, delivering a sequel that is completely insane and even more enjoyable than its predecessor.
Miike and writer Kankuro Kudo, who also penned the original, had a significantly larger budget this go around and used it everywhere he could. The fights are bigger, the effects are more explosive, and everything is flashier. But even though the sequel was clearly far more expensive than the original, Attack on Zebra City still retains the cheap esthetic of the "Giant Robot" movies and television shows that have been forever popular in Japan. With an eye pointed firmly on Ultraman and its imitators, Miike simultaneously mimics and mocks the genre, with all the bad wire work, foam rubber costumes, and flashing lights that come along with it. Miike and Kudo went even farther than that, though. As they should, the non-super people in the film revere Zebraman with unwavering respect and gratitude. In tribute to his heroism, a television show is made about his exploits and this Zebraman rendition is even more ridiculous than the reality. Plus, the actor who played the hero on the show gets into the act, believing that he was somehow granted some of Zebraman's powers to very good effect. There's a little bit of winking at the audience, which usually bugs me, but they've so accurately made fun of themselves at the same time and it's so good-natured that I have a hard time really getting upset about that.
A lot of what makes it, though, is that Miike once again shows how solid a director he is, regardless of genre. Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City is the sort of thing that, done lazily, would still engender a following based around people who love cheesy pop culture from Japan. This is no lazy production, though. Miike combines the elements we expect from the genre with his own vision to make a high style, very flashy film that is enjoyable from start to finish. Even if you hate the music of the Zebra Queen, and that's pretty easy to do, there's no doubt about the skill behind the camera for the video. It looks like Lady Gaga entered an old Nine Inch Nails video, at Trent Reznor for lunch, and stole his outfit. It's J-Pop perfection in all its nauseating catchiness and insane lyrics. The movie is almost worth watching strictly on these moments
Doing her own singing, Riisa Naka is absolutely fantastic as the Zebra Queen. This is one of only a few pieces that she has been in, but she takes the role by the throat and is a wonderfully evil counterpart to Zebraman. Aikawa returns as the superhero and, as he was in the first film, he is very solid as the wide-eyed doofus who is forced to fight. He's completely sympathetic, silly, and perfect for the role. The A Clockwork Orange-clad governor is great in his small, but pivotal role, and young Mei Nagano is surprising good as the little girl with the alien power inside her. The performances aren't nuanced or perfectly executed, but they're perfectly suited to the matter at hand: striping evil and kicking aliens in the teeth.
I didn't realize that Funimation produced live-action DVDs, but here they are with a very solid two-disc set for Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City. The feature takes up the entirety of the first disc, and it's a fine piece of work. For a standard definition disc, the transfer is excellent, with very good detail and virtually perfect colors. The clarity accentuates the somewhat cheap-looking quality of the film, though that cheapness is part of the fun, so it's hard to complain about that. The Blu-ray should be even stronger, but this SD transfer will more than suffice. The sound, too, is quite good. The nicely mixed surround track is full and bright in all channels with good separation and solid use of the rear speakers, especially during the music videos; for as bad as the songs are, they really do sound great.
The extras populate the second disc and, while they aren't the broadest set of extras imaginable, they are pretty good. The main extra is a feature length making-of piece that eschews the usual self-congratulatory fluff for a detailed, day-by-day account of the movie in production. At ninety minutes, it runs long and feels long, but it's a perfect amount of time to hammer home just how tedious filmmaking can be, even (or especially) for something with such schlocky results. A second making-of shows some of the behind the scenes action for the music video production. It's not nearly as detailed as the first one, but it's a good little piece. Five interviews with cast and crew members and some trailers round out the disc.
This is far from the level of Takashi Miike's best films, but it isn't meant to be anything more than simple giddy entertainment and, on that level, the movie works out exceptionally well. Endearing, funny, and altogether senseless, fans wondering when evil would be striped once again need wait no longer. Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City is here for you, if you can handle the cheese.
Not striping guilty.
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