Tuesday 12 August 2014

Anime REVIEW: World Conquest Zvezda Plot

World Conquest Zvezda Plot

If Pinky & the Brain taught five-year-old me anything, it was that watching someone try to take over the world was usually far more fun than watching someone save it. This is a mentality that's stuck with me throughout the years, even if series focusing on super villains are a bit few and far between. Thankfully A-1 Pictures decided to scratch my itch earlier this year with an original anime production that goes by the name of World Conquest Zvezda Plot (released in Japan as Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda).  

Kate Hoshiyama aka Lady Venera
Fearless leader in fearless clothing

Middle school runaway Jimon Asuta's life changes when he meets a young girl named Kate Hoshiyama, who shares with him her goal of world domination and invites him to join her secret society Zvezda. After witnessing Kate (who leads Zvezda under the name 'Lady Venera')'s astounding ability to persuade those in the way of her conquest, Jimon is inducted into the evil organisation under the name 'Dva'. Filling out the rest of Zvezda's ranks are eyepatched swordsman Lady Plamya, the crazed scientist Professor Um, gruff weapons expert General Pepel, troublesome soldier Odin and a strange robot that goes by the name of Roboko.

Zvezda sets their sights on conquering the world - starting with Japan's West Udogawa area, smokers and anything else that gets in their way. However also opposing them are White Light, a mysterious group dedicated to upholding peace and justice. When these two secret societies face off, hi-jinks ensue and Lady Venera becomes even more dedicated to her ultimate goal!

Jimon Asuta aka Dva
A suitable reaction to most of this series

Anyone who's ever checked out a classic superhero anime (or even just show in general) from the 70s or 80s knows that Japan are pretty big on their evil organisations and world domination plots, and those fond memories have been lovingly crafted into this comedy that puts a hilarious spin on some of those old tropes. Fully appreciating these does require getting over the fact this show involves watching a little girl walk around in typically revealing villain clothing though. Sure there are going to be people that take it the wrong way, but the show never tries to sexualise it. In fact, it barely brings it up as a topic of discussion.

White Light, guardians of justice
What's a villain without a good hero to fight against?

The plot is pretty basic, but the world is a very large place. So before Zvezda are going to be able to conquer the world they're going to need to conquer some things a little closer to home. Not only does this give way to the fantastically topical episode of Zvezda trying to abolish smoking, but also gives the audience a chance to get to know these characters a little better. Throwing a seemingly average lead character in with a strange group of people certainly isn't an original setting, but it does put the audience exactly in the same place as the story. And although Jimon may be our lead, Kate is the true star of World Conquest Zvezda Plot. She's an evil genius trapped in the body of a little girl, and can be explaining her latest scheme one minute to napping or riding a tricycle the next. It's utterly bonkers, but like the rest of Zvezda you can't help but root for her - wondering if she really is capable of taking over the world. The rest of Zvezda are equally mad, but fail to shine brightly without the aid of their fearless leader.

Zvezda isn't short of a monster or two
And some tentacle monsters. Always with the tentacle monsters.

World Conquest Zvezda Plot's unashamed insanity may be one of its biggest appeals, however as the story progresses it also serves to be one of its most notable hindrances. The relationships between all of Zvezda's members (as well as White Light and the final 'villain' of the show) are all hilariously convoluted, yet the show never makes clear enough light of them and is too preoccupied with throwing the next curveball before the last one has properly sunk in. Kate herself is perhaps the worst victim of this, even though her backstory is only really hinted at. Nothing is really made clear other than one thing - there's far more to Kate than simply being a crazed little girl with over the top aspirations. A more detailed backstory is one thing, but I can't help feel that Kate's impact would be that much more if she was literally just that.

Another slightly disappointing aspect to Kate's character (and Zvezda as a whole) is the emerging realisation that maybe they aren't actually that bad at all. Despite being centred around world domination, the show's location is very limited for a good reason. When this reason is revealed in a grand twist, it suddenly makes Kate not seem like a bad guy at all. In fact, if anything she comes across as pretty benevolent in comparison others. It's a pretty common trope in these sort of things to see bad guys turn out to be not so bad guys (Despicable Me and Megamind are just the same), but for once it would be really refreshing to have a show that focused on actual bad guys. They don't necessarily have to be doing really bad things to get to that goal, but taking down an even bigger evil threat just nulls it all.

Zvezda's infamous smoking episode
This needs to be a topic for more shows. Genius.

Even if it does get a little too carried away in its insanity, World Conquest Zvezda Plot is still an enjoyable series with great animation and wonderful characters. It doesn't have much in the way of a lasting impression nor does it feel like a series you'll want to revisit again and again, but it's never a dull moment and further evidence that the bad guys really are the ones that have all the fun. Ending on a suitable note that teases the possibility of a second season, if the writers can improve on what they've started here then maybe the light of Zvezda can shine across the world.

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