Zone of the Enders: Dolores, i
In the future, the beginning of the terrforming and colonization of Mars has begun. After years of increasing population on the Red planet, the citizens of Mars have begun agitating for more independence from Earth and tensions are high. None of this particularly matters to ex-Army vet and space trucker, James Links. He is more interested in reuniting with his estranged wife and children. However, when he discovers a giant combat Orbital Frame made with the powerful Martian Metatron alloy aboard his ship, he is going to be dragged into interplanetary intrigue. If that wasn't complicated enough, the Orbital Frame, Dolores, has been equipped with a child like AI and seems to think of James as some sort of uncle.
This is one of the most entertaining mecha shows I have viewed in a while. While on first glance I was worried that it would just be another Gundam clone (colonial wars, mecha made out of mysterious alloys, civilians roped into conflict), it ends up being a totally different type of story and surprisingly entertaining and unpretentious considering it was adapted from a video game. After all, anime adapted from video games tend to, on average, to be less than stellar.
First and foremost, it is the characters that primarily make this show such an enjoyable romp. James, and later on his children (they are both in their twenties), aren't laconic action heroes or angst-filled mecha pilots bitter about colonial oppression. They are just a somewhat normal, albeit dysfunctional, family that has gotten inadvertently dragged into a situation well beyond on their control. James in particular is both endearing and amusing as his primary motivation seems to be a desperate desire to turn his current disappointing family situation into a more traditional loving environment. He even acquires a self-help book about fatherhood which he studies religiously during the show and often attempts to apply its advice with less than successful results.
Besides the humans, there is also Dolores. You would think that it would be a bit difficult to create a sympathetic character out of a giant super destructive combat Orbital Frame, but Dolores ends up being an endearing character. I have to give special credit to voice actress Houko Kuwashima for doing a fine job of bringing Dolores to life. Her performance makes Dolores seem more like a giant-sized cousin of Nuku Nuku than some cold impersonal combat mecha. While I am talking about non-human characters I should also mention Pete, the cat of James' daughter Noel. He's not particularly important to the plot or anything, but he's just an adorable cat and is as much a part of the Links family as any of the humans. It was a nice touch I thought.
Despite mentioning all these endearing characters or comic moments, ZoE isn't a comedy, but rather an adventure. The first half mainly concerns the Links family as they flee vengeful authorities and the second half covers their adventures on Mars. The background plot provides a number of mysterious people and shadowy factions that seem to be interested in Dolores. Despite the use of conspiracy as a plot device, ZoE's plot is still accessible and one doesn't find the "every episode brings a new question" syndrome that can sometimes plague shows that want to be less than straight forward with all of their factions. They do a good job of keeping up the mystery while letting the viewer find out more and more about what is going on. Many of these people and factions will stop at nothing to acquire Dolores and so, naturally, a number of battles erupt. This show is hardly non-stop action, but a sci-fi action fan will find enough to keep them satisfied.
Interestingly enough, if you eliminate the presence of Dolores and her fellow Orbital Frames, this show has a surprisingly hard science-fiction aspect to its world design work. It consistently and realistically addresses a number of issues such as operating in Zero-G environments, the developmental effect of growing up under Martian gravity, the difficultly in orbital entry, the difficulties in terra forming, and a variety of other issues. I appreciated the attention to detail and how they used these elements to enhance the plot and storytelling.
One other aspect of this show that struck me was the number of Western references. It is obvious that the writers have an affinity for many elements of American adventure and American films in general. They have, for example, a very Javertesque Terran inspector who is obsessed with capturing Links and keeps calling him by the name of an Edgar Rice Burroughs character. Later on, we even have an entire episode that is an extended homage to the Bruce Willis action flick Die Hard. Though the influence between America and Japan has always been two ways, shows like this particularly high light that fact.
On the technical side, ZoE is a newer title so most of the artwork and animation tends to be pretty good. The battle sequences are done well, but suffer from super-mecha syndrome. Except for when certain special bad guys show up, Dolores seems to be able to wipe out entire squadrons of enemies without serious difficulty. This is one of the few times that this series reflects its video game origins. Most of the background music is decent enough, but isn't particularly noteworthy. I must admit I did not care for the show's hard J-rock opening, but the soft ending theme is unusually lovely.
A fun sci-fi adventure with likable leads and an unusually endearing giant combat mecha. If you really don't care for sci-fi or mecha tales subtract a star. If you are a big fan of the video game that spawned this title, you might want to add a star. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: There are a lot of battles in this show, but most tend to be mecha battles so you don't see a lot of blood. The show has a few fist fights and people who get shot later. There is one Zero-G torture scene that is more suggestive than anything in that we tend to see mostly the results more than the torture. There are a few vaguely suggestive situations of a sexual situation (and if I remember correctly we see the cover of a few of James' adult magazines), but overall this title is safe for teens and above.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Partial (15/26)
Zone of the Enders: Dolores, i © 2001 Sunrise / VAP
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