Zoids Anime Review
US Release By
Animal-shaped Gundam Wing with less angst and no bishounen
67 25-minute episodes
1999-09-04 - 2000-12-23
Van Flyheight is a kid who likes to ride his flying surfboard around the desert. One day, he stumbles across an abandoned compound with two huge tanks inside. Inside one is a girl who can't remember anything (gee, how original), and inside the other is a robotic dinosaur. Since neither has a name, Van names the girl Fiona and the dinosaur Zeke (probably edited from the Japanese version). When bandits attack, Van finds a giant robot shaped like a cat called the Shield Liger (a "zoid") and fights them off. It turns out Zeke can actually fuse with the Shield Liger and control it, making it more powerful (assuming the pilot can actually do something in the first place, which Van can't). Eventually, they meet up with Moonbay, a transporter (a trucker in a zoid) and Irvine, an evil guy who wants to steal Zeke. However, there's also a war blazing between the evil Empire and the Republic, and due to events in the war Irvine ends up becoming their friend. This is only the first story arc, though. There's another one that takes place after the war, in which Van and Fiona are called to form a "Guardian Force" to fight off mysterious bandits (if you've ever read the book Rainbow Six, the Guardian Force is like the Rainbow organization, but with zoids). There's also the underlying goal of recovering Fiona's memory and finding the mysterious "Zoid Eve," which she sees in patchy flashbacks of a life thousands of years ago.
Zoids has a stupid name. Zoids is an obvious marketing tact. But Zoids is also not such a bad show (the first season; we'll go into the second season some other time). But it's not the greatest, either. I'll be the first to say that the characterization is pretty hacked, the story was first done in 1977 (in a little movie called Star Wars), and the giant robot battles are some of the most boring ever seen. But actually, if you watch a bit of the show, you'll see that it's mildly entertaining.
The main storyline (every facet of it, from the war between Empire and Republic to the search for Zoid Eve) is painfully cliched (not as much as Kikaider, though). But the way events play out in the first story arc is actually very entertaining to watch. Our heroes aren't actually members of the Republican army, they only help them for money. It turns out about halfway through that the Empire is having succession problems and corrupt minister is trying to seize control. The Empire doesn't actually turn out being that bad, and in the end neither is destroyed; only the bad people within the Empire are stopped. The second story arc has boring progression and a lot of pointless filler, but it does eventually end up being all right as well.
The characters are all archetypes, but they're not badly done (not as good as Digimon, though). Van is like Ash in Pokemon, Luffy in One Piece, Genki in Monster Rancher, etc. ad nauseam. I didn't enjoy his character anywhere near as much as G Gundam's Domon Kasshu because Van doesn't really have any depth; he's doing exactly what he wants, and everything is perfect for him. Irvine (who, incidentally, has the same voice as Domon Kasshu) is rude and boorish, but not really evil; it seems pretty obvious from the minute he shows up that he'll be a good guy eventually. Moonbay is your typical money-obsessed opportunist, but she also cooks and does mechanical repairs. I didn't like Fiona very much, aside from a few "That sure was stupid!" Mihoshi/Miyu Menazaru type moments. She didn't have much personality (especially in the second story arc, which is supposed to take place a year after the first but, judging from the difference in the looks of Fiona and Van, takes place more like five years after the first). The characters were all shallow and cliched, but they were also entertaining to watch. Van was always accusing Irvine of trying to steal Zeke, Irvine was always making snide comments, Moonbay tries to hatch half-baked money-making schemes, and Fiona just does whatever they say. The character designs are pretty original, though. Van was actually ripped off by the Disney movie Treasure Planet (Zoids was made at least a year before that accursed movie), and if Moonbay sounds like the name of a hippie, nothing about her looks is going to make you think she's not one. The character designs also have a tendency towards weird markings and tattoos on people's faces.
The regular animation is pretty average, but every zoid and zoid battle in the show is done with computer graphics. These are actually pretty good computer graphics, although they would have worked better if the robots had been shaped like people because then the walking animation wouldn't look so artificial. The computer animation also sticks out a little too much from the regular animation (although nowhere near as much as in Blue Submarine 6). This is especially apparent when a zoid shoots at another zoid in computer graphics, and then they show the shells making cel explosions all around the computer graphics zoid. However, in the few instances when the cel and computer animation actually interact, it's done seamlessly. The dub is average Ocean Group fare. It's about the same as Inuyasha, not quite as good as The Soul Taker, and nowhere near G Gundam (how many people have you met that could actually spout out those speeches that convincingly, without breaking into a laugh every three seconds?). The opening and ending are cut out and replaced with the usual chanting, keyboard music, but the BGMs could conceivably have been in the original.
Zoids is still on TV, so if you actually care to see it you might as well watch it. I wouldn't recommend planning your day around it, but if it's on you could catch it to kill some time. My biggest problems with the show were the animal-shaped mecha (it reminded me of Power Rangers) and the boring fights. The fights pretty much had one guy shoot a bunch of missiles, then they would all miss, then Van would shoot one shot and hit, taking down the other guy. If it was Irvine or that other guy in the second story arc, they would always miss and be shot down themselves. A drawn-out fight looked a lot like a real animal fight with preposterous leaps, which isn't a good thing (animals usually fight by jumping up on each other and scratching and biting). The mecha are more like The Vision of Escaflowne or Gundam Wing, rather than the military-made gundams of Mobile Suit Gundam with their tech specs all in place, so those people won't like Zoids. I can't really see anyone but very young children becoming a huge fan of the show, but it's a better way to waste a little time than Gatekeepers Full Throttle.
There is also a corresponding review of season 2
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Notes and Trivia
It's worth noting that the two seasons were initially aired in reverse order on US TV; this season aired second on Cartoon Network. In the US it was split into "Chaotic Century" and "Guardian Forces" halves, though the DVD release uses "Chaotic Century" throughout. There are also two newer Zoids spin-offs, Zoids: Genesis, and Zoids: Fuzors.
The original idea for Zoids apparently came from a series of motorized plastic models produced by Tomy in Japan in the early '80s. These were discontinued, but the idea was revived in 1999 and used for the animated series.
US DVD Review
The first season is available on dub-only DVD as "Chaotic Century." The discs have six episodes each, except for the final disc (11), which has seven.
Perfect for kids seven to ten.
Violence: 2 - People do die, but they're in mecha or exploding bases.
Nudity: 1 - A couple unrevealing shower scenes (you only see the naked girl's feet).
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing at all.
Language: 0 - It's on TV.