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Tuesday, 24 April 2012 00:00

To mark the 20th anniversary of Japanese satellite channel WOWOW, for many years a regular home to anime (although less so these day, apparently), we get the latest outing from Leiji Matsumoto: OZMA, where the fate of the dying Earth hangs in the balance. Naturally.

It's a post-apocalyptic future, where the oceans have dried up and the world turned into a single massive desert. Sam Coyne is out hunting sand whales, when he stumbles across a much bigger prize: a mysterious woman on the run from a fleet of destroyers. Her name is Maya, and while Sam's first instinct is to ride to her aid, the arrival of a sand whale - a creature of gigantic proportions - makes his rescue attempt even more difficult. Except in this case the "sand whale" is the Ozma, a creature of immense power. Sam's older brother Dick had once tried to find the Ozma, and never returned from the attempt - which gives Sam a natural interest in the creature. But its Ozma's connection to Maya that proves to be important...

Maya's not exactly insignificant herself. The 'goddess' to the people of Theseus (the self-styled Ideal Children who are the world's elite and ruling class), her decision to cut ties with them and head out to find the Ozma has caused a certain amount of concern - Theseus would like her back, and they're not about to let a young boy like Sam stand in their way. Fortunately, Sam comes with the backing of the pirate ship Bardanos, who under the command of their hard-nosed captain Bainas are more than capable of putting up a fight themselves.

A confession: Ozma is the first Leiji Matsumoto series I've ever actually watched. Sure, I'm familiar with some of his previous work, and the visual style of Ozma makes it clear that this is his work (and gives the series something of a "retro" feel), but past that I'm in no position to compare and contrast this to his other works. Given the setting and the involvement of GONZO in the production of the show, the first comparisons my mind did make were to Desert Punk, an old GONZO comedy series that shared a post-apocalyptic desert setting with Ozma - but fortunately that didn't last too long.

Turns out it's more Hunt for Red October. The use of technology ('distortion fields' to use the in-show terminology), the Bardanos and similarly-equipped ships act more like submarines than anything else - the distortion fields turn the oceans of sand that make up the setting into something far more akin to water, giving us the chance to see a number of rather neat set-piece battles. Sonar, depth charges, torpedoes, and other ideas familiar from a more aquatic setting all get used, and while there's a certain amount of mental gear-changing needed to accept the idea - it took me a while to stop thinking "This is sand, it shouldn't work this way!" - the battles are proper showpieces, and impressive to watch.

The rest of the story, though, not so much. The Ideal Children, having been in the position of undisputed rulers for so long, are reluctant to give that up - but they're clones, and after generations of cloning and recloning they're beginning to suffer from degeneration. Think of the effect you get when you keep making photocopies of photocopies. Maya and the Ozma possibly have the solution to this, but if there's a chance that it'll mean knocking the Ideal Children off their perch, they want no part of it - which on the surface is a decent enough idea to work with, if not all that original.

The problem is that the series doesn't give itself nearly enough time to work that idea into a compelling story. There are only six episodes, and by the time you take out the time used by those impressive battles, there's only half of that to use to build the story and explain what's going on. Take away further time that goes to Sam clumsily trying to impress Maya, the efforts of his would-be love interest Mimay to keep track of him, and a few other sidelines that are fun as far as they go but that don't really contribute anything to the main storyline, and there's not nearly enough time to fully explain who / what Maya really is, or what the Ozma is and represents - and without that, the conclusion to the series feels rushed, incomplete and forced.

Perhaps with a full 12-episode season, there would've been the time to flesh everything out to the extent that it deserved to be (no guarantee, of course) - but at 6 episodes, the series is simply too short to do itself proper justice. It's good as far as it goes, but the potential was here to go further and be better, and it just didn't have the time to do that.

Rating - ***