Zeguy is the anime equivalent of an indie gem. Low on budget, high on imagination. It also scores points for originality by including Leonardo Da Vinci as a crackpot supervillain. A runaway bus somehow brings schoolgirls Miki and Sayaka to the magical kingdom of Zeguy, where time-travelling samurai Toshizo, Gennai and their mystical cat Kuro, must prevent evil Princess Himiko from opening a gateway to our world. Sayaka is mistaken for an ancient priestess and kidnapped by Himiko’s henchmen, slimy Lord Kumei and mad inventor Da Vinci, who has a marionette mini-me that mimics his every move and a steampunk arsenal of tanks, cannons and flying contraptions. But the real world-saviour is Miki, who joins the good guys to save her friend, the Earth and the kingdom in the clouds.
Writer-director Shigenori Kageyama creates an intriguing parallel world that mixes actual historical events with ancient myth and science fiction. The real Toshizo and Gennai were members of the fiercely nationalistic Shinsengumi organization in 19th century Japan, while Princess Himiko was a semi-mythical ruler subject to her own live action biopic, Himiko (1974) by Masahiro Shinoda. Sadly, most the historical references have been dumbed down in the English dub, but Da Vinci remains a hoot and there are nods to fairytales and Gulliver’s Travels. Toshizo and Gennai travel in a flying barge named Brobdigput, running on a “organic mineral power unit.” Kageyama’s kooky concept involves a pregnant sea urchin whose vibrations keep the craft airborne, provide hot running water and produces exploding excrement for use as bombs! “You mean shit?!” gasps Miki, before being chastised for bad language - a rare occurrence in a Manga Video dub.
Miki is given a Minnie Mouse voice in the dub, but still proves a brave, resourceful heroine. Someone who actually figures things out, instead of screaming helplessly, and wields a mean dragon-bazooka. Teenage insecurity provides the basis for her back-story. Miki is first seen quarrelling with Sayaka over an innocent comment about her looks. Thereafter, she is driven to overcome her self-centredness and set things right. An amusing scene has Miki hypnotised by Kumei, but only witters on about the quarrel and her crush on a boy until the vexed villain snarls: “I don’t care about your goddamned relationship!”
In a lift from Romancing the Stone (1984), as Miki grows in confidence, her appearance becomes more overtly sexual. The summery colour palette evokes a schoolgirl’s daydream, with a vividly drawn fantasy world of rainbow skies, funny looking animals and friendly peasants who communicate by telepathy (“because it’s harder to lie”). A slender running time does the film no favours. Zeguy crams plenty of ideas, but is too short to explore them fully. Yet one must admire its ambition and, despite the low budget, there are action-packed visuals and wonders to share. The huge gateway in the clouds, surrounded by wrecked aircraft and an ocean liner (!), provides an eye-catching backdrop for the breathless finale. Kageyama keeps trying to top the last thrill, going from duelling airships, a giant griffin that when slain returns as a moving skeleton, and a deus ex machina with Miki finding her own superpowers, before a romantic coda straight out of Bunty. Zeguy is a fine anime for teenage girls, but guys shouldn’t feel left out. There are sword-wielding werewolves, punk-haired androids on motorbikes, and a cute heroine whose skirt gets shorter as the film goes along. What’s not to love?