Region: 1 - North America
Length: 150 minutes
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
In an endless desert without a speck of greenery, Sam Coyne rides a motor bike, looking for something, when he sees a girl being chased by seemingly-hostile ships. Sam saves the girl, whose name is Maya, who might actually not be a criminal on the run, but royalty... Before returning to the safety of his group's base, he sees a giant monster rise out of the sand. It's the monster who is his brother's enemy... The sand whale Ozma.
A 6 episode series. A legendary anime creator writing it. A fantastic concept. Exciting, eh? Well, not really. But that doesn't make Leiji Matsumoto's OZMA any less interesting. It just means you've got to adjust your expectations. Setting the world in a future where the world is covered in deserts and where humans live in isolated pockets, avoiding the deserts is one part Ark II, one part Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and one part Dune.
I'm in two minds about the show. In one corner, it's a great world that Matsumoto has built with the Ideal Children (the elite of society who run things) and the Natura (the rebel scum) living a life of freedom. The concept of Ozma, a giant steel worm, roaming the dunes guarding a desert and secrets long since forgotten by either version of humanity is one that sci-fi fans will appreciate and the show's ultimate environment message is one that is gentle, sombre and even Matsumoto isn't beating us over the head that we're all awful wretches for destroying nature unlike, say, Shoji Kawamori. And the cast is great with his usual plucky young hero Sam Coyne (great Irish-sounding surname, by the way), mysterious whispish girl Maya, Esmeraldas-by-any-other-name Captain Bainas and Harlock-in-a-mask bad guy, Gido. If you haven't figured it out, Matsumoto's stock character designs are both a cliche and a welcome addition. The characters he builds all feel whole and don't feel parachuted in.
In the other corner, the plot, as a whole, is so generic, I am surprised that other creators haven't sued Matsumoto for sampling so liberally from their work. The sand worms, albeit steel ones, are taken from Frank Herbert's Dune and share design similarities with the Ohms from Nausicaa. They don't even try to hide how similar it is. On one hand, you have to admire the brass ones to get away with it and on the other, it's a bit lazy. If you're not a fan of Matsumoto (and I am) then you might feel that the series is threatened with the weight of the concepts it carries with it. But at least, you can say that OZMA's trying to be different than the usual fare. It's trying and Matsumoto's trying as well. His usual fare is people on ships, quaffing wine, pushing buttons while blowing stuff up. So for him to restrict himself to six episodes and ground it on Earth is brave, especially at his age.
This series tells a story, gets a bit muddled in the middle, and then recovers at the end, finishing our characters arcs with a little fireworks. If I, personally, had a problem with it, it would be the aforementioned parallel storytelling, it's too short and the final episode suddenly rushes through its last ten minutes. But it doesn't have a WTF moment for an ending so it is redeemed slightly. Although it probably will never get a DVD or blu ray release, it's a flawed show that is still enjoyable.
Animation is good with Matsumoto's trademark designs married to CG and computer cell animation. I spotted an older version of Captain Harlock's engineer, Tochiro as the chief engineer of Bainas' ship. As it's only six episodes, quality never flags even if the plot does. Voice cast wise, I found myself really liking Sam, played by Tetsuya Kakihara, with his endless optimism and of course I loved, loved, LOVED Miss Mokoto Kusanagi herself, Atsuko Tanaka, as the voice of Natura ship captain Bainas. She is sex on legs as Brian Blessed would say and under that tough as nails exterior, we see her in an earlier life with Sam's big brother and how she wasn't always that tough. The rest of the cast is solid and they work. That's all you can ask for, really.
This simulcast worldwide on a number of platform including Crunchyroll and new content platforms like Viki.com. While I could have watched it on Crunchyroll, I wanted to try out Viki and I have to say, it was a good service. I watched the bulk of it on my Android phone but you can watch it on iOS devices or use their web player. Subtitles were slightly wonky on one episode where the English subtitles had a different language for a few seconds but it got better with each episode. I'm looking forward to watching more of their stuff as new simulcasts are announced.
You can watch OZMA worldwide in most cases from either Crunchyroll or Viki on their sites or Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices (where available).