Nazca Anime Review
Jikuu Tenshou Nasuka
Dimension Shifting Nazca
Ganco - Radix
US Release By
Reincarnated Incan Character Drama/Action
12 25-minute episodes
1998-04-06 - 1998-06-29
While watching his friend and mentor during a Kendo match, high school student Kyouji witnesses more than just a resounding victory--he sees a vision of his teacher Tate as an Inca warrior. As fate would have it, not only Tate, but Kyouji and several of his friends are all reincarnations of great Inca warriors and priests, dead since a bloody civil war engulfed their nation 500 years ago. But fate is cruel--not only were these friends on opposite sides of the war centuries ago, but Tate is now determined to resurrect Iryatesse, a powerful force that nearly destroyed the world during that war. It will be up to Kyouji, Tate's fiancee Yuka, and an unlikely band of compatriots to try and stop Tate and his rediscovered allies.
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Nazca is very nearly a melancholy, understated re-envisioning of a shounen action concept as a more adult character-driven drama about internal emotional struggle. Sadly, due to an apparent lack of confidence or vision in its direction, it fails to capitalize on its potential. It still manages deep, involving, and older-than-average characters, an unusually subtle emotional character, and some some very powerful dramatic scenes, but it jumps around at the beginning to get things going, then drags its feet waiting for the final episodes to roll around. It does fill space with some refined, impressively expressive character art and animation, a melancholy Andean musical score, and a rich, reserved set of Japanese performances, in particular Megumi Hayashibara's quiet, conflicted Yuka.
Those who appreciate subtle character drama or themes of reincarnation and the cruel hand of fate pitting friends against each other might well love this series. Otherwise, it's probably not worth the investment of time despite several quality chunks of drama.
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Nazca has a lot going for it: An interesting premise, a diverse, atypical group of characters, and a healthy amount of surprisingly understated drama for what is superficially a traditional action show. Unfortunately, despite some very good moments it never manages to get comfortable or build up much momentum, resulting in an intriguing but disappointing series on balance.
The story is a good one. The narrative of the Inca warriors, their war, and their long-dead relationships unfolds in bits and pieces as an ongoing series of flashbacks, slowly revealing secrets of all sorts. This involving, semi-nonlinear style by turns mirrors modern events and reveals important details about why the characters stand where they do, maintaining an air of mystery throughout the series. The modern end follows up with a bit of a detective story as the heroes try to figure out what the villains are plotting and exactly what is going on.
At its heart, though, Nazca is a character-driven tale, and for the most part the plot takes a back seat to the understated emotional drama. Despite outward appearances, the characters are not the average shounen action show cast. Kyouji is both somewhat more mature and more soft-spoken than your average annoying high school kid. Kyouji's quiet friend Daimon has "eventual bad guy" written all over him, but also has an interesting and properly creepy air as well as internal turmoil about the decision to turn on his friend. The other villains are more simplistic but equally unsettling.
Yuka, though, particularly impressed me--she is very quiet, strong-willed, and considerably more mature than your average anime heroine. This creates an unusual dynamic between her, the equally mature but now evil Tate, and the significantly younger Kyouji, who had been a romantic rival in a past life and isn't entirely out of that realm in this one. This works as a low-key but very interesting love triangle the likes of which I haven't seen before. On another level, Kyouji and Yuka share the pain of trying to let go of their respective feelings for Tate in order to stop him, which is subtle and effective.
Emotional pain of that sort is not only the central theme of the story, it is where Nazca is at its most effective--several powerful, understated scenes involving Kyouji, Tate, and Yuka are more than anything what stuck in my mind after I finished watching. Had the entire series been as good as those few scenes, it would have been an impressive (if angst-soaked) drama. Sadly, it isn't that lucky.
Tate is one big issue. He's an engaging villain--soft-spoken yet amiable, intelligent, and there are hints that there's more to his madness than just a guy who feels like being bad. The problem is that hints are as much as we get. He keeps spouting quasi-deep nonsense about how he wants to wipe the slate clean and reconstruct the world in his image, but everyone, himself included, seems fully aware that his plan is more or less to just destroy everything. This is completely out of character, and his selfless determination is so important to the story that the implausible motive hurts a lot.
Nazca's real problem, though, is that the series just isn't put together well. Great scenes are separated by long stretches that are either simple and heavy-handedly dramatic, or a little too slow to be gripping. And, while it's not terribly episodic by TV standards, every time it starts to build toward a crescendo, be it emotional or physical, the story veers off-course and loses momentum.
Length seems to be the enemy, and there is no sense of confidence in the direction; it rushes through its introduction only to run out of material and drag its feet waiting for the conclusion. During the establishing episodes the reawakening of each Inca soul is a perfunctory process, and at a couple of points the characters take trips (a jaunt to South America, for example) that have no more sense of epic journey than a drive to the local library. Later, the intentionally unhurried pacing works very well to frame the characters' internal emotional torment, but everything in between feels like we (and the characters) are just waiting for something to happen. Even the eventual climax, while powerful and poignant, closes too abruptly. Perhaps a wise decision, but a bit unsatisfying.
Visually, Nazca is inexpensively produced but surprisingly appealing. The character designs are superb--angular, refined, realistically proportioned, and quite attractive. The beautiful, mature, sad-eyed Yuka is the most memorable, and she and others are given life through unusually subtle yet believable facial expressions. The backgrounds lack detail, but the rest of the art is very good--fine lines in the character art, and plenty of detail in the flashy, exotic Inca costumes. The series mitigates its limitations skillfully--the slower parts, which are numerous, compensate for lack of motion with expressive character animation and art, saving the more fluid animation for the few action scenes.
Sadly, the impressive art is marred by a smattering of computer work that doesn't mesh well with the non-digital cel art. I'm willing to forgive the few primitive 3D models, since they are entirely separate from the characters. However, the character art occasionally switches from attractively hand-painted cels to noticeably different and more simply penned computer-composited ones. While I could understand trading detailed art for smoother animation in the action sequences, these switches sometimes happen several times over the course of a single non-action scene, which is subtle but relatively jarring for no good reason. On more of a nit-picky realism level, it also bugged me that most of the characters wear the same outfit for almost the entire series.
One thing that is consistently good about Nazca is the music, right from the cool techno-choral adaptation of one of Bach's fugues that opens each episode. Tsuneyoshi Saito's background score ranges from other classically inspired pieces, to more standard, decently orchestrated dramatic themes, to eerie vocalizing, to pretty, mournful acoustic guitar and Andean pieces. Among those South American treats is a non-vocal end theme that perfectly captures the melancholy feel of the series at its best. There are some cheesily dramatic or more standard tunes, but by and large the music is different and effective.
The acting in Japanese is fittingly reserved and extremely good. Kenichi Suzumura as Kyouji, Takehito Koyasu as Tate, and Yuji Ueda as Daimon are all standouts, and a somewhat against-type Megumi Hayashibara perfectly brings the emotional complexity of the quiet, conflicted Yuka to just below the surface. The other characters are broader, but are still cast and acted quite well.
The English acting, based on a cursory examination, isn't bad, but the casting is poor. Yuka and Kyouji are fine (though Yuka's emotions are a little closer to the surface), but Daimon isn't nearly as creepy, and the gruff mountain man Dan sounds rather meek and younger than the high schoolers he's supposed to be teaching. Not a bad dub, but it feels as off as the rest of the production and lacks the depth of the Japanese version.
In the end, Nazca is disappointing for how much potential it fails to capitalize on. It has substantive characters, an unusually understated emotional character, and some some very powerful dramatic scenes, but due to an apparent lack of confidence or vision in its direction, it jumps around at the beginning to get things going, then shuffles its feet waiting for the final episodes to roll around. Those who appreciate subtle character drama or themes of reincarnation and the cruel hand of fate pitting friends against each other might well love this series. Otherwise, it's probably not worth the investment of time.
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A similar reincarnation theme is done in Please Save My Earth, although that story is more shoujo style, has a sci-fi framework, and is more romance-oriented. Unlike Nazca, Please Save My Earth is very good until the end, when it completely falls apart. The much newer Persona: Trinity Soul has a very different story, but similarly twists a shounen action framework into a story even more single-mindedly about inner turmoil. I'm not exactly sure why I think so, but Generator Gawl and 3x3 Eyes, though both involve more action and much more comedy, share some emotional character with Nazca. Finally, for stories with similarly understated emotions but a completely different plot, you might check out the sci-fi series Macross Plus, or the samurai dramas The Dagger of Kamui and the Rurouni Kenshin OAVs.
Notes and Trivia
Nazca is an original concept developed for this TV series by Yoshihiko Inamoto. After the anime aired, there was a two-volume manga adaptation by the two-person team "Akira Himekawa," as well as a pair of novels by Chitaka Katou; none are available in English as of this writing.
The Nazca of the title refers to huge stylized images carved into a stretch of the Peruvian desert near the Andes by the Nazca people roughly 2000 years ago, likely as part of some sort of religious display.
A brief clip of one of the villains in Nazca shows up in a montage during the Malcom in the Middle opening.
US DVD Review
The DVDs are more or less standard Pioneer fare of the era, meaning not flashy but quite solid. They feature a very nice video transfer, though interestingly the cel art is noticeably grainy; not exactly a negative, since it gives the visuals a distinctive feel, but it accentuates the difference between the hand-painted and computer-colored work. The English and Japanese stereo audio tracks are both crisp if unremarkable, and there are thorough chapter stops for each episode. The extras include a small but attractive color image gallery on the first disc, and several complete mini-manga stories on the subsequent ones. These were a surprising, rather amusing treat--a silly SD-style parody of the characters and story very roughly paralleling the actual series.
Some strong emotional drama and several battle sequences, but little graphic content of any sort; Pioneer rated it 13-up appropriately.
Violence: 3 - A great deal of death and destruction, but much of it is implied and there is little gore.
Nudity: 2 - A couple of short, undetailed scenes.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - A few uncomfortably romantic scenes.
Language: 2 - A small amount of profanity in the sub.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Kyoji Miura/Bilka: Kenichi Suzumura
Masanari Tate/Yawaru: Takehito Koyasu
Yuka Kiritake/Aquira: Megumi Hayashibara
Shinri Shiogami/Jigumi: Akio Suyama
Hiroshi Daimon/Orehon: Yuji Ueda
Takuma Dan/Kamaros: Takehiro Murozono
Keita Seino/Amaro: Disuke Sakaguchi
Tatsuko Yanagihara/Elela: Aika Mizuno
Kariya/Garos: Kentaro Itoh
Huascar: Toshiyuki Morikawa
Atahualpa: Syotarou Morikubo
Yukinojo Miura (Kyoji's grandfather): Takeshi Aono
Miyuki Miura (Kyoji's sister): Sayuri Yoshida
Rena Asakawa: Chinami Nishimura
English Dub Cast
Kyoji Miura/Bilka: Ted Sroka
Masanari Tate/Yawaru: Wil Castillo
Yuka Kiritake/Aquira: Erica Shaffer
Shinri Shiogami/Jigumi: Thom Adcox
Hiroshi Daimon/Orehon: Tristan Fabriani
Takuma Dan/Kamaros: Rick Simone
Keita Seino/Amaro: Dean Shelton
Tatsuko Yanagihara/Elela: Victoria Fang
Kariya/Garos: Ryan Paregien
Huascar: Jack Barlow
Atahualpa: Rook Thomas Hine
Yukinojo Miura (Kyoji's grandpa): Jack Barlow
Miyuki Miura (Kyoji's sister): Aimee Nelson
Rena Asakawa: Sara Hennessy
Directior: Hiroko Tokita
Character Design: Hirotoshi Sano
Animation Director: Shigeki Kuhara
Art Director: Mitsuki Nakamura
Planning: Taro Maki
Production: Pioneer LDC - Kadokawa Shoten