Maze (OAVs) Anime Review
メイズ - 爆熱時空
Maze Explosively Hot Space-Time
US Release By
Sleazy Fantasy Comedy
2 28-minute episodes
1996-07-24 - 1996-09-21
What's In It
- Beasties (mostly silly)
- Magical Bio-Mecha
- Violence: 3 (significant)
- Nudity: 4 (heavy)
- Sex: 3 (significant)
- Language: 3 (significant)
Maze is pretty much an average anime girl: she's stuck in a fantasy world, transforms into a lecherous male version of herself after sunset, has a whole crew of warriors following her around (most of whom are more than platonically interested), and is protecting Mill, a princess on the run from some bad guys. In this two-part OAV side-story, the crew happens upon a kingdom, Babylon, in a sorry state of disrepair. The problem is, the king is so intent on finishing a tower that will stand as a monument to his greatness (like that ever works) that he's forsaken the people... and kidnapped Maze to sell for more construction funds. The crew, along with the help of a kind fairy and the king's daughter, will have to escape from a dungeon, rescue Maze, and maybe even save the kingdom. And, of course, the real bad guys are sending ever more minions after them...
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The Maze OAVs aren't really designed for people who haven't seen the TV series, but even with the wacky setup they're still watchable as a fantasy romp if you haven't. Like many OAVs, their content is quite a bit more raunchy than the TV series, making for a lot of nudity and rather blunt sexual themes.
Past that, the OAVs have some good silly-fantasy comedy, the variety of fun characters any good ensemble series demands, and something vaguely resembling a plot. The main character's simple likability helps make the whole thing work, and the nice animation, decent art, and lively voice cast rounds out the picture. Definitely worth a shot if rather sleazy fantasy humor is your thing, or if you liked the TV series. Probably too low-brow otherwise.
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This raunchy and amusing little two-episode OAV series fits somewhere around the middle of the Maze TV storyline.
In the event you're new to the series, they give you a 30 second rundown on the situation at the beginning (as an amusing finger-puppet show), which is probably enough to get you up to speed, and USM even kicked in the first episode of the TV series as a promo, which helps a bit more. The characters and situations will seem even weirder than they otherwise would, and the relationships won't carry as much weight, but as far as lowbrow funny fantasy goes, you should still be able to enjoy yourself.
If, on the other hand, you're already a fan, you should feel right at home, although it's noticeably raunchier and much looser with the nudity (when embedded in the mecha-thing, for example, Mill is exposed from the waist up). It also looks better--the art is a little nicer and the animation is more expensive-looking.
Taken on its own, the Maze OAVs are roughly what would happen if you recast Ranma 1/2 as a mild hentai fantasy series. Being a fantasy romp with some drama, the comparison to Slayers is obvious (or Tenchi Muyo--Ai Orikasa is essentially playing a lesbian Ryoko); the Maze OAVs are not of the same caliber, and have quite a bit more in the mature content department.
Though it's not exactly uncharted territory for an OAV to cut loose where TV censors wouldn't let 'em, this show doesn't pull many punches. There's a lot of groping (and more) by Maze's extremely zealous male form, and raunchy "innuendo" is barely the right word, since almost nothing is implied. Despite a lot of censoring for humorous effect, even the dialogue is surprisingly explicit--not crude, exactly, but certainly not embarrassed about putting things bluntly. Between that, the physical hanky-panky, and a lot of wholly unnecessary nudity (sure, the fairy can hide in Maze's shirt, but was the close up of her with a giant breast in the foreground necessary?), the sleaze-factor is way up there. It's nothing shocking, but if you're sensitive in that area, you've been warned.
As for the quality of the humor, these things depend a lot on personal taste; I found it pretty funny by silly and/or raunchy fantasy standards, but nothing really remarkable.
Plot-wise, it's thin and uneven. Aside from not knowing who the main characters are, even non-fans won't have much to keep track of--almost everything is standard fantasy fare. That's okay, since the meat is in the comedy and action, but it doesn't do the smoothest job of combining a more or less straight plot with characters that rarely take their own series very seriously.
For example, the king and his daughter are straightforward characters, but the king's worthless monsters (a quiz-show dragon guarding a labyrinth) aren't anything but funny (and plenty of that). The main characters are a little more balanced, but even they don't seem to be very involved in the plot--they mostly go with the flow, be it straight or comedy. Then there's some emotional stuff centering on Maze, which won't win any melodrama awards, but is kind of sweet in its own way. Coming back to the Slayers comparison, these OAVs don't strike as solid a balance between humor and story.
One thing I did like about the Maze OAVs is the main characters, but then that should hardly be surprising for a character-driven series of this sort. Obviously, they'll be more interesting if you've seen the TV series (and it spurred me to check that out), but for the benefit of those who haven't: Maze is quite appealing as a sort of nice normal girl in the middle of some pretty wild situations, and it was nice to see everybody chasing after a girl for once--Maze is the (half) female version of all those way-too-lucky anime guys. (Of course, the majority of the people after Maze are female, and they're not after her male form, either, but that's another story.) Male Maze is... well, kind of funny, although his lechery seems more unpleasant than Ataru-style hijinks.
Mill, Maze's main sidekick, is a lot less annoying than I expected her to be--really, really cute, and no matter what the situation she always seems to be enjoying herself, or at least really caught up in how other people are feeling.
The two characters that are introduced in these OAVs--the princess and the fairy--are passably likable as well, with a sweet but determined air in both cases. Even the mostly-insane king is just a tad more interesting than a simple villain caricature.
Visually, the OAVs are quite appealing. The art has the look of an older OAV, with a lot of detail in the character art and a slightly rougher style. As a result, some of the animation isn't quite as smooth as an expensive newer series, but it still looks very good--much smoother than many series of the same vintage, with natural character animation and fairly slick action sequences. The character designs are attractive and varied, and the costume designs are distinctive; apart from Maze's jeans and shirt, most are quite imaginative, not to mention severely lacking in substance (a very unusual dance outfit that looks a lot like three abstract gold statues glued to key locations, for example). The backgrounds and mechanical design are a little less remarkable, but the magical bio-mech things are actually pretty cool, both visually and in concept.
The music is somewhat less remarkable; a few decent background pieces and rather uninteresting old-school opening and end themes consisting of some guy singing classic J-rock.
Almost all the characters in Japanese have distinctive voices and are well acted. The particular standouts are Maze and Mill. The incredibly talented Kotono Mitsuishi gives (female) Maze a kind and even tone, providing a good center in contrast to most of the other more excitable characters. Sakura Tange isn't nearly as big a name, but she somehow manages to make Mill's extremely high-pitched and perky voice quite likable--full of genuine-sounding spunk, and backed up by some cuter-than-all-get-out vocal quirks (mainly her use of the non-word "uchu," which is even carried over into the dub). She doesn't do much here, but Ai Orikasa is also around doing her Ryoko shtick, which may not be original but is just fine by me--she's got one of the most distinctive voices in the business, and I love hearing it put to use.
In all, the Maze OAVs are an enjoyable diversion, but if you haven't been indoctrinated by the TV series I wouldn't highly recommend them. As a quite raunchy (and rather sleazy) comedy and a fantasy parody, it holds its own, but the semi-serious story is generic and uninteresting enough that it probably would have been better pruned to a minimum. On the other hand, it looks great, there are a lot of very likable characters, and even a tiny bit of emotional pull--enough to make me want to give the TV series a try. No doubt too crude, too weird, or too unoriginal for many, but it's worth at least a look from fans of Slayers-style light fantasy.
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Most of the light action series with a variety of characters have a lot in common with this--Tenchi Muyo, El Hazard, Ranma 1/2, Slayers, and Fushigi Yuugi. The most similar is easily Slayers (though that's less sleazy), and it also has a lot in common with Fushigi Yuugi (which is generally much more serious) and Ruin Explorers (which is more serious and much cleaner).
Notes and Trivia
Based on the light novels by Satoru Akahori, these OAVs were actually produced before the TV series (and the later movie), although they fit somewhere into the middle of the story. It's more like a re-telling of one part than a sequel or side-story. There's also a 6-volume manga series (also written by Akahori, with art by Rei Omishi) that roughly paralleled the novels, lagging by a year or so; both the printed incarnations were around the middle of their run when this OAV was produced.
Also a quick note about the translation: The country they're in is called Babylon, and the tower, true to Biblical parallel, is called the Tower of Babel--"Baberu no Tou." For some reason, though, USM decided to call it "the Tower of Babylon" in the subtitles.
The two episodes are called "Bold & Wonderful Challenger" and "Bold & Radical Adventurer."
US DVD Review
The DVD is a fairly standard old-style USM release; clean video, clean audio, and a minimum of special features: a "meet the cast" section where you can jump to a scene that showcases each main character's thing. On the positive side, had finally started to acknowledge the Japanese acting--you can switch audio tracks for those clips, and the Japanese actors are listed in the menu as well (a partial Japanese cast is given on the package, as well). You can apparently get to more special features (scripts, images) if you have a DVD-ROM drive. The disc also includes the first episode of the Maze TV series--it shows up looking just like a third OAV in the menu, on the 2nd page of the chapter index.
USM labeled it 13-up, but it should be 16-up on account of blunt sexuality, a lot of nudity, and generally crude behavior.
Violence: 3 - Some fairly serious and bloody fights at the beginning.
Nudity: 4 - Not particularly detailed, but there are several extended nude scenes, including one with a young male.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - A lot of groping and fondling, with more implied.
Language: 3 - A lot of humorous [machine-gun sound] edits, but also a lot of surprisingly blunt sexual language.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Female Maze: Kotono Mitsuishi
Male Maze: Tomokazu Seki
Mill: Sakura Tange
Solude: Ai Orikasa
Aster: Unshyo Ishizuka
Randy: Chinami Nishimura
Rapier: Yuko Kobayashi
Chic: Toshiyuki Morikawa
Gorgeous: Ryotaro Okiayu
English Dub Cast
Female Maze: Angora Deb
Male Maze: Greg Wolfe
Mill: Elisa Wain
Solude: Tara Jayne
Aster: Michael Schwartz
Woll: Tristan Goddard
Randy: Michelle MEdlin
Rapier: Suzy Prue
Gorgeous: Rik Guiltor
Director: Iku Suzuki
Original Story: Satoru Akahori
Character Design: Eiji Suganuma (Masayuki Gotoh, TV Series)
Script: Masashi Noro, Katsumi Hasegawa
Character Animation Director: Atsushi Aono
Animation Production: J.C. Staff
Formerly available in North America from US Manga Corps on bilingual DVD, and prior to that on a single subtitled or dubbed volume.
Though the DVD went out of print when USM shut down, it's still easy to find--RightStuf still has new copies in stock at last check.