Number of Episodes: 6
Production Company: LandQ Studios, Gonzo
Brief Overview: Sam Coyne lives in a vast desert. One day he sees a young woman being chased by the authorities, and rescues her, learning that she may not be the criminal that she first appears to be.
This review contains minimal plot spoilers for the series.
Review: Some anime series become problematic when they attempt to stretch a small amount of material across a large number of episodes. Others, like this one, commit the opposite sin - they cram too many characters and too much plot into too few episodes. Ozma is a six-episode series written by anime legend Leiji Matsumoto that attempts to tell a story much larger than its brief runtime allows, and while many of the concepts and technologies introduced during those episodes are compelling, none of them are given the attention they warrant.
The story takes place on a future Earth where the land has been scorched dry by the sun and there's no longer any surface water available. Sam Coyne is the young crewmember of a sand ship staffed by Natura - naturally-reproducing human beings. One day he observes a young woman named Maya being pursued by military forces, and manages to rescue her. This, as one might expect, gets him embroiled in all sorts of trouble, but also brings him ever closer to confronting Ozma, the gigantic sand whale that Sam's older brother, Dick, pursued until his disappearance. Eventually, after several confrontations with the military and some near-deaths and captures on Maya's part, Sam and his companions discover a secret hidden beneath the sands of the desert above, which may hold the key to restoring the balance of life on Earth.
There are certainly a lot of things going on in this series, as even a brief plot synopsis should make clear. While many of the plot elements could serve as the basis of a fairly compelling anime series, tossing them all together into the mixing pot results in a final product that's pulled in too many different directions, to its detriment. Another unfavorable result of this is that the under-developed bits and pieces seem like half-hearted rip-offs from several other anime properties, most obviously Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The Barren Earth, secret underground repository of life, and giant, misunderstood creature at the center of it all are particularly reminiscent of the Miyazaki classic. Additionally, the conflict between the genetically-engineered upper classes and their naturally-born counterparts is extremely predictable, as is the revelation that the obsession with immortality and perfection among the elite is the primary reason for their impending downfall. Despite agreeing with the message that it's never a good idea to try and place humanity above or outside of nature, I found the expression of that idea here to be heavy-handed and without nuance.
The show adheres to a lot of character tropes, and while that in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, there's not enough time to develop the characters around them. Sam is, for lack of a more perfect descriptive term, a complete and total shounen who never has anything useful to say. Maya is a mysterious waif whose role seems to be limited to being the object of several kidnappings - until she morphs into a deus ex machina (in anime is it called a "desu ex machina?"). Bainas, the captain of the ship Bardanos, is a cool hardass who secretly still pines for a man she can no longer have. Sorry, Ozma, but Xam'd did that one much better. The military always seems shifty and evil, and the roguish rag-tag rebels are always the good guys. There are no complicated motives in play here, no subtle bits of character development nor any emotional connections. Most of the characters simply exist.
It may be petty to say this, and perhaps I just missed some sort of explanation, but I thought that the first episode made it fairly clear that there's no surface water left on the planet, yet somehow it seems as if water is not some sort of treasured resource to the characters in the show. There's never any moment where food or water seems difficult to obtain, and there's booze all over the place, which takes water to produce. Though I may not be directly important to the plot, it's something which really bothered me as I was watching.
On the upside (and yes, there is an upside), the series does have some positive traits that leave me feeling as if this would have been much better in a lengthier format. The most exciting parts of the series are, in my opinion, the under-sand submarine battles. It's during these portions that we get strange and wonderful experiences like "tension" and "excitement." The way in which the two factions continue to outsmart one-another was enough to keep me pinned to my computer screen. The problem is, strangely enough, that the two major conflicts in the show take up too much of the run time. The second episode is, if I remember correctly, almost entirely taken-up with one of these battles which severely cut into the time needed to develop the other parts of the plot.
The major bit of technology introduced in the show, the use of certain types of energy waves to alter the density of the sand and therefore cause it to behave like water, is also an interesting concept that's served well by the setting. Though some sci-fi properties tend to make their tech elements the centerpiece of their property to the detriment of everything else, this show strikes a decent balance by not allowing the technology to outshine what exists of characters and plot.
I had hoped that this bite-sized anime series might do a bit more to get me excited by Leiji Matsumoto, a creator who I respect from a historical standpoint, but whose work I'm not personally that familiar with. Unfortunately, with its recycled story elements and convoluted, clunky plot, I don't think that this was really the best example of his work to sample. Though it's mildly-entertaining and a minor time commitment, there aren't really enough good reasons to recommend the series on its own merits.
- The technological elements of the show are interesting and incorporated well.
- The under-sand battles are exciting to watch.
- The show draws from too many other, better sources and tries to incorporate too many disparate plot elements.
- The characters are underdeveloped and gimmicky.
Recommended? For completionist Matsumoto fans or non-picky viewers with some time to kill, this might be a decent diversion. I think that others would be bothered by the show's many problems, though.