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Megazone 23 - Production History

 

The history and genesis of "Megazone 23" is a long and convoluted one. "Macross" and "Legend of Galactic Heroes" director, Noboru Ishiguno, thought up the basic plotline of the series in the late 1970's. When he showed his work to one of his staff members, they commented that it was similar to the Robert A. Heinlein stories "Universe" and "Common Sense", which were later compiled into the book "Orphans of the Sky". In that book, people had grown up inside a "generation starship", and had no idea there was a universe beyond their enclosed world. Despite Ishiguno's initial shock at his unintended plagiarism, he forged ahead and modified the storyline. The premise of his revised story was this; what if the reality we had taken for granted was all an illusion? Plans for a 26 episode TV series were developed by the studio Artmic.

"Omega City 23" was the first story developed out of these initial ideas. At this stage it was set some 13 years after a devastating nuclear war. Omega City 23 (named after the number of "special wards" or areas in greater Tokyo), was the last surviving human shelter on the planet Earth, which is nestled inside a crater. The authorities have created the illusion that the world outside the city is like it was before the war, and that it isn't a nuclear wasteland. To keep it's citizens under control and from finding out the truth, the city is constantly under martial law. All civilian activity, including using any source of power is banned after 10pm. The main character, Satoru Kiwami, is a 17 year old male who just floats along in life with no particular plans for the future. He works a part time job during the day, but at night rides his hover bike illegally in a biker gang. One night Satoru is chased by the authorities and crashes his bike beyond repair. He manages to escape and later discovers a message from a friend on his answering machine. He visits him and is given an activation key for a hover bike called the Garland. Upon taking the bike for a joyride, he is amazed at it's speed and handling, but is caught up in another police chase. Later his friend is murdered. The police claim the incident was an accident, but he suspects they are lying. He decides to leave the city and says goodbye to his 17 year old girlfriend, Rise Tomono. Satoru later discovers that the bike can transform into a robot. However he is later wrongly gaoled for suspicion of being part of the resistance. Once Satoru is released, he joins the resistance and fights against the authorities who run the city.

The second concept for the series was called "Vanity City". The plot was very similar to "Omega City 23", but this time included an Eve-like character who was a DJ who ran a pirate radio station. The story was also more militaristic in tone than the previous concept. In this version Satoru obtains the Garland (called Galiard at this stage) from a friend who raided a military transport to obtain it. The Bahamut also makes it's first appearance here, but how it is tied into the story is quite unclear. Many of the staff who worked on the "Macross" TV series and movie worked on "Vanity City". One of the unused concepts for the "Macross" movie had to do with the abduction of Minmay by the Zentradi. In an early draft of the movie, the abduction is covered up and a a holographic version of Minmay is created in order to keep the public unaware of this. Elements of this idea still appear in the finished film. In the scene where Misa and Hikaru return from the desolate Earth to Macross, they see a video of Minmay singing on a giant video scene (pictured left). But this idea was reused in it's original vision as "Vanity City" developed. The title of the project was soon renamed "Omega Zone 23" and was publicly announced as in production at a press conference to the media in September 1984.

It was expected that "Omega Zone 23" would replace "Genesis Climber Mospeada" when it came off air. However the main sponsor pulled out late in pre-production. The first 13 episodes of the series were already planed out and the staff were stuck on what to do next. The unusual decision was taken to turn the series into a feature length Original Video Animation (OVA for short, in other words a direct to video animation). Only a handful of anime had been released this way before 1985 and Artmic weren't convinced they would be able to recoup their costs. The story was severely truncated to fit the required time limit of less than 90 minutes. As a result many characters and situations were cut from the script, it had an ending which left a lot of questions unanswered and at that stage there was no intent of making a sequel. However the OVA, now renamed "Megazone 23", was a major success when released in Japan in March 1985, and sold over 26,000 copies, mostly in the rental market, a feat which would not be matched for an OVA release for over a decade. It was one of the few anime to be sold just about on every video format available in Japan at the time including VHS, Beta, Laserdisc and the obscure VHD format. An industry revolving around the OVA format sprang up after it's release, including a magazine solely dedicated to the format, Anime V. OVA releases jumped from around six in 1984, to over two-dozen in 1985, to over eighty titles per year by the end of the decade. Like many of the early OVA releases during that period, "Megazone 23" was also released in cinemas for a short period after it's release on video.

One of the biggest influences on "Megazone 23" was the 1984 US film "Streets of Fire". Though it was a box office failure in the US, it was a cult hit in Japan, especially with fans of anime. In fact a lot anime created by AIC and Artmic at the time also borrowed from "Streets of Fire" including "Bubblegum Crisis", which it has been suggested that it's opening song, "There's a Hurricane Tonight", resembles the one sung by the character Lane in the movie. "Streets of Fire's" music video style and lighting is very similar to "Megazone 23". Many of "Megazone 23's" scenes are set at night time or twilight, and of course there's many music video type sequences whenever Eve Tokimatsuri shows up. Shogo, Shigeru, Mai and Tomomi even go to see "Streets of Fire" in a cinema in an early sequence in "Megazone 23".

There's some really interesting tidbits of information about this OVA; during the creation of the computer readouts of the Bahamut, the only real computer script the staff had seen was the MSX, so they just copied a printout from an MSX machine advertisement from a magazine for the readouts of the Bahamut. After the OVA was released, fans ridiculed it and asked staff if the Megazone ships were running on MSX computers. In ancient Arabic mythology, Bahamut apparently is the name of an enormous fish on which stands Kujara (a giant bull), whose back supports a rock of ruby on the top of which stands an angel on whose shoulders rests the Earth. The English word Behemoth originates from the word Bahamut. Although not explicitly shown in the OVA, Eve's songs have a sort of subliminal calming effect on the population. According to notes in The Anime's "Megazone 23" illustration/databook released in 1985, the EVE program itself is apparently a semi-sentient 7th program in the Bahamut which is designed to shield the human population away from war at all costs. Apparently if the worst was to happen, EVE would euthanase the entire ship using nerve gas, so that they would not suffer the horrors of war. If that's true, it certainly puts the actions of the military into a different perspective within the film.

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