Director Takashi Miike returns to his superhero saga and turns the dials up to 11 for Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City.
At first glance, Zebraman 2 looks like your run-of-the-mill dystopian action movie. One group of people holds an unrealistically high level of control over another. The living situation ranges between bleak urban life and the dusty wasteland. The bad guys all wear black and the good guys all wear white. The evil governor preaches about balance, black and white coming together like a zebra’s stripes. And now you know the film’s climax.
Thankfully Miike’s cinematic skill and patented brand of surrealism save the film from being too by the book. What looks like it could be a modern homage to Hakaider turns into a grotesque dark comedy. Miike illustrates the difference between the two sides of the conflict not just in how they look, but also in how they’re filmed. Life is quieter at the refugees’ White Horse House, so the camera stays locked down more often. In the always overcast Zebra City the camera is more frantic to cope with the twisted lives of the city’s elite. Miike also gets to put on his music video hat for some segments, and his amateur TV director hat for others. This variety is a fun way to flesh out the film’s otherwise standard setting.
Zebraman returns from the first film, this time without his memory. There’s a prologue that takes place immediately after the first film that basically handwaves away most of the original supporting cast. This sets the precedent for the kind of character Zebraman is this time around. Even after he regains his memory, nothing that happened to him as Shinichi Ichikawa matters this time around, and his character suffers for it. He’s pretty one-note, spending much of his time as a fully formed Zebraman who doesn’t really have to earn or learn anything.
It would appear that all of his potential character development was handed to the new villain, Zebra Queen. She’s got shades of your classic spoiled rich girl, stretched to absurdity in the context of the film, and she gets progressively darker and maniacal as time goes on. Her redemption comes from probably the funniest “power of love” scene I’ve ever come across. It’s a tired trope, sure, but the film’s tone keeps it from being too painful.
A few faces familiar to toku fans pepper the film. Masahiro Inoue (Kamen Rider Decade) plays Zebraman’s former student Asano, now a doctor for the White Horse House. Fans of Gaki no Tsukai will recognize Naoki Tanaka as former actor Junpei. Kazuki Namioka, everyone’s favorite cherry-based Rider from Gaim, even cameos as an unlucky stylist.
Zebraman 2 is a pretty interesting film. Most of the enjoyment I got out of it came from Miike’s stylistic choices. The costume and set design are top notch. The cinematography is great, clarifying the action instead of obfuscating it. I could take or leave the story itself. The characters are interesting on their own, but I feel like they spend too much time waiting for the real story to start. The humor doesn’t really vibe with me personally, but I can see how it would work for others. It’s a perfectly okay film, but I much prefer the first.
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