Anime Spotlight: Leiji Matsumoto’s OZMA

Leiji Matsumoto’s OZMA is based on one of Matsumoto’s unpublished manga. It aired on Japanese television from March 16-April 21, 2012. As of this writing, no one holds the North American distribution license for the series.

The series is set on a future Earth, where the oceans evaporated and the land has become an arid desert. There’s a sand whale that’s known as Ozma, and main character Sam Coyne is out in search of this life form.

Sam is a member of the crew of the Baldanos. His older brother, Dick, was originally a member of the crew, but he disappeared while searching for the Ozma. Sam has joined and hopes to capture the Ozma in his brother’s stead. But Sam tends to bring trouble along with him, which causes him to be made fun of by most of the other crew members of the Baldanos.

One day, while out hunting for the Ozma, Sam encounters a mysterious woman named Maya as she’s being chased by the Theseus Army. Sam rescues Maya and takes her back to the ship. Sam seems smitten with Maya, which annoys Mimay, a female member of the crew.

Over the course of this six-episode series, there are revelations that shake up the status quo of the characters’ world. I don’t want to give out any spoilers, but what I will say is that it’s a good thing this series was only six episodes long. There’s no way this story could have been told with more episodes.

When it comes to the animation, many of the characters have the looks and designs that have become associated with Leiji Matsumoto. When it came to Sam, I had to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t Susumu Kodai from Space Battleship Yamato (who is probably better known to some of my readers as Derek Wildstar from Star Blazers). But it wasn’t just character designs that felt recycled here. Just like in Space Battleship Yamato, there’s a doctor in OZMA who likes drinking and has a cat; the only difference is that the doctor in OZMA is female rather than male. And the basic idea of a futuristic Earth undergoing a dramatic change due to a catastrophe felt recycled from Space Battleship Yamato as well.

Unfortunately, OZMA is slow to get going. There’s not much in the way of character development in the first episode, and truly not much of a hook to make a viewer want to come back for the next one. The second episode spent more time on a battle between the Baldanos and a ship from the Theseus Army instead of progressing the story. While it was nice to see how their ships fight in an ocean of sand, I felt that too much of the episode was spent focusing on this. It’s not really until the end of the second episode before there’s truly any character development that makes the audience start to care about what they’re watching. The story finally gets going by the end of the third episode, but by that point, the viewer is already halfway through the series.

There’s also a major character reveal that takes place in the fifth episode. However, because of the tropes that Matsumoto uses in his storytelling that I’m familiar with, I already guessed what this big reveal was going to be by the end of the third episode. When this revelation was made two episodes later, it was anti-climactic for me.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed Leiji Matsumoto’s OZMA more if I wasn’t already familiar with Space Battleship Yamato or Matsumoto’s other works. However, with the slowness of the series’ beginning, the curiosity of what Matsumoto would do in this work was the main thing that kept me going through the series. If not for that curiosity, I potentially might have dropped OZMA after the second episode.

Leiji Matsumoto’s OZMA will probably be best enjoyed by viewers not already familiar with Matsumoto’s work and have more patience for a slower pacing of character and story development than I do.

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