Megazone 23: Part II is a more violent film than its predecessor, but it does a good job of providing closure to the franchise – which is almost unfortunate because three years after this film came out we got part III.
Part II picks up several months after the conclusion of part I. Shogo is on the run, having been framed for the murder of his filmmaker friend Tomomi in part 1. Further, B.D., is now the de-facto military dictator of the Tokyo-Ship, Bahamut, and is in the middle of fighting a war with another of the Arc Craft (though it’s not clear whether B.D. ordered the first shot, or if the other vessel shot first – the last film set up both scenarios as possible. The war is going poorly, with B.D. attempting to get complete control of EVE, the AI which controls the ship (and which appears to the public in the form of a pop idol), in the hopes of getting some additional technology that would allow them to win the war. Meanwhile, Eve is trying to get contact Shogo – leading him and his biker buddies to attempt to find a way to save her and end the war.
I did a blog post a few years ago, when I first watched Part 1 and then re-watched Akira. One of the themes I really observed in the first part was about a generational conflict, between the younger generations and their elders – paralleling the Japanese student protest movement, and the conflict between the effectively disenfranchised younger generation, and their elders who lived through the post-war reconstruction, and who had entered positions of power and privilege afterwards. In Part 1, the elders of the protagonists are clear antagonistic figures.
Part 2 carries on from there, with Shogo basically leading a guerilla uprising in the form of his band of Bakuzoku – another parallel with Akira (the manga in this case) – with youthful rebellion represented by not the Juvenile Delinquent, the angry young loner, but organized angry young people. Generally they stick it to the man by refusing to enlist in the army, and by picking fights with the police.
However, when Shogo’s biker gang (creatively named “Trash” in English) learn that Eve has been trying to contact Shogo, and they find a way first for him to respond, and then to meet with Eve, they willingly put their lives on the line to help him accomplish these goals, because it could end the war, and because he’s their friend.
It’s also notable that the bikers aren’t just “angry young men” there are women in the gang, and unlike the girls in Akira, they aren’t just groupies – they fight just as hard as the guys, take just as much of a risk as the guys, and get beat up just as bad as the guys. there aren’t as many of them – in terms of numbers of the bikers in group shots, but I’m pretty sure there are equal numbers of female characters (who all have lines) to men with lines – and of a variety of body types too!
By contrast, the war with the other colony ship, Delzag, is very much on the periphery for most of the film, until it suddenly isn’t toward the film’s conclusion. The soldiers involved are certainly competent, but very few of them are named characters, none of them have the same depicted passion for life that the bikers have, and most of them die bloody.
This leads me to the gore. Part 1 had one really significant scene of bloody violence, when Tomomi was murdered. It was violent and shocking because it was the one bloody moment in the film. It’d be like if you made an adaptation of The Outsiders which stayed very true to the text, with Bob’s stabbing death and Dally’s suicide by cop being bloody enough to get an R-rating purely on those two incidents. The violence is very violent, but it gets its power not just through the violence itself, but also through how sudden and how rare it is.
By comparison, in Part 2, by the fifteen minute mark, we’re introduced to the Delzag tentacle weapon, which we see dismembering people by ripping and tearing them apart, and exploding heads, including going in the backs of people’s skulls and out the eye sockets. It’s grotesque, gory, and exploitative – and the filmmakers show the first of these such sequences twice, within 10 minutes of when it happened the first time. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind exploitative violence in my anime – I’ve seen Ninja Scroll. However, this movie goes further than I’d like.
The film’s conclusion fits in nicely with the primary themes of the films. We learn that Eve, as an AI, is responsible for informing the Earth Defence AI on the moon (appropriately named Adam) if the people on Bahamut are worthy to return to Earth. If they’re worthy, then they get to go to Earth. If they aren’t, they are destroyed – and we see Delzag judged unworthy and destroyed. Ultimately, while we don’t see whether everyone on Bahamut is judged worthy of survival, we do see that Shogo’s biker gang is found worthy, and we don’t see any of the older people in positions of power in this new world (with B.D. in particular going off to die). It sends a pretty clear message, as clear as you get in anime – the older generations, who are responsible for the injustice which they’ve burdened their children, are found unworthy, while the younger generations who rebel and stand up against the injustices of their seniors are the ones who basically inherit paradise.
I’ve yet to watch Part 3 – it’s entirely possible that they screw up the metaphor there. We’ll see when I come to it.