11-Dot Obfuscate (And Why it Made Mazinger Awesome)
I think I’ve mentioned it before, but the first episode of 2009’s True Mazinger Z has to be one of the greatest single anime episodes of all time.
What’s remarkable about this episode is the fact that despite being pumped up about what’s to come (and what transpired before said episode), I never felt compelled to go back and watch the rest of the series. I’ve had the entire series sitting on my computer for quite some time, but I’ve never felt the need to watch the rest of the series.
This isn’t due to some misguided idea that I don’t want to “ruin” this episode or anything like that. I haven’t watched the rest of the series because that one episode was so all-encompassing and satisfying that, as far as I was concerned, I had already seen the entire series. In this one episode we see threads of relationships, friendships, rivalries, and conflicts. We see enough of the greater picture that we can piece everything together without sitting through 25 other episodes in the series. From a storytelling aspect, that’s pretty damn impressive to pull off in the span of a single 20-something minute episode. In that regard it does what the first episode of Haruhi does: It tells us the entire story in a stylized, somewhat-perplexing, almost impressionistic manner.
The key difference between the two is that Haruhi’s episode only makes sense in that way after you’ve seen the rest of the series, while Mazinger’s episode works regardless of your prior knowledge. Other than a few tidbits of info (I’d heard of the Big Bang Punch and I knew it was a Go Nagai series), I knew next to nothing about Mazinger before watching this first episode. After watching this episode, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the series that was of importance. Granted, I doubt I really did have that level of knowledge, but I certainly felt that way after I processed everything I saw in this episode.
The episode functions much in the same way that Dance in the Vampire Bund did, and excels for many of the same reasons. There’s a deliberate attempt to toss a lot of information at the viewer, and there seems to be some degree of relying on the viewer to fill in the holes on their own. Part of this can be due to relying on familiarity, since from what I understand True Mazinger is playing off of a lot of Go Nagai’s catalogue and is playing up to his fans, but at the same time I can’t help but think that this is another “fill in the blanks” game that I enjoy immensely. Why is Zeus here? Why are we seeing these seemingly evil gangsters fight alongside the heroes? Why is there a… person who is half man and half woman? These questions didn’t make me fear what I didn’t know, it made me all the more curious and fascinated.
At the same time, the episode “fails” because it pulled all of this off a little too well. The episode covered so much ground and painted such a broad but complete picture that I felt no need to press forward in my viewing. By obfuscating so much and attempting to create a huge mess of plot holes and the like, it ironically created such a full picture in my mind that I didn’t really want to watch the rest of the series. I was satisfied. I was content. I needed nothing else.
I’ll probably get around to the rest of the series at some point, but it’ll be awhile. Until then, I can bask in the awesomeness that’s the first episode of True Mazinger Z.