Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City
aka Zeburaman: Zebura Shiti no gyakushu aka ゼブラーマン ゼブラシティの逆襲
Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Kankuro Kudo
Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City is Miike’s followup to the 2004 film Zebraman, and like Zebraman before it, the sequel takes what could have been a straight story about a guy dressing up as a tokusatsu hero to find himself and takes it in unexpected directions. Zebraman 2 goes far beyond its predecessor, and has so many things going on it that you will be blown away by the result. Miike takes inspiration from the black and white stripes of the zebra and spins it into a yarn about the duality of man, good and evil, but sets it in a futuristic dystopia with fascist imagery and an MTV sensibility. The film is just frakking crazy. And brilliant. Brilliantly crazy.
Miike has a lot of fun inverting color schemes while still keeping up the black and white dichotomy. Governor Aihara Kouzo dresses in an all-black version of Alex the droog’s costume from A Clockwork Orange, his footsoldiers wear mostly black (with a stylized white zebra face on their masks – both showing their zebra origins and showing where George Lucas got the design for General Grievous!) as they stomp their way through town. In contrast, the hospital that serves the victims of the Zebra Police is the White Horse at white horse, all white, everyone dresses in white. Zebraman becomes whiter and whiter, beginning with his hair, while ZebraQueen becomes increasingly blacker in costume as the film commences, even commenting on how she wants more black. As their powers develop and they become more of a threat to each other, the characters are threatened with becoming more striped, a sign of weakness as they strive for their more purified forms.
The video direction is great, the pop star videos of ZebraQueen are indistinguishable from the stuff that should be playing on MTV (if garbage like Jersey Shore and Teen Mom wasn’t polluting the airwaves and forcing us to retreat to YouTube to watch actual videos!) Zebraman 2 is like a hyperactive music video at times. The songs aide you in throwing you right into the crazy world of the future, making you just as disoriented as Ichikawa as he wakes up in a world he doesn’t know. The violent imagery of the video matches the violence he encounters in the street.
Much of the action takes place in the future in Zebra City, which takes parts of various dystopian novels and stories throughout pop fiction. The city is ruled with an iron fist by the Governor Aihara Kouzo, who implements Zebra Time for five minutes every morning and evening, where the Zebra Police a free to eliminate “criminals” with lethal forces as they march through the city. The Governor’s daughter Yui Aihara is known as ZebraQueen (or Zebra Q) and is a pop star who will be belting out tunes while dancing with dancers dressed in fascist costumes, which is transposed against scenes of the brutal violence of her father’s thugs cleansing the streets during Zebra Time.
Did you not see the original Zebraman? Don’t worry, because Zebraman 2 opens with a handy recap of the last film, and the mob of fans outside Ichikawa’s house. The stress from his new-found fame causes Ichikawa to enter an asylum, except the institution is run by infected alien guys! He’s put in a crazy machine contraption, and wakes up in 2025 in the middle of Zebra City, lying ragged in the street, hair white and memory gone. And as it is Zebra Time, the Zebra Police are marching and shooting everyone they see. Ichikawa runs, but amidst all the confusion and music he’s gunned down. Zebraqueen’s lyrics explain partially what is happening, thrusting us into the violent world just as ill-prepared as Ichikawa was. The connection even extends to her subconsciously feeling Ichikawa’s wounds.
Ichikawa is taken to House of the White Horse, a hospital made from a converted playground for those injured by the Zebra Police run by his former student Kohei Asano. There are hundreds of other victims at the hospital, and volunteer Junpei Ichiba dreams of turning them into a resistance army. Junpei Ichiba gives Ichikawa Zebraman dvds, because Junpei was the star of the revival show made after the real Zebraman appeared, not that he knows that Ichikawa is Zebraman. We see an awesome parody of modern crappy tokusatsu – complete with a hilarious ending to the final episode. What the original Zebraman got right in terms of mocking 1970s tokusatsu, Zebraman 2 gets right in mocking the modern tokusatsu.
Thanks to the magic of flashback, we’re told two years ago, Aihara Kozou won the governorship, and Tokyo changed its name to Zebra City. At Zebra time – everyday at 5am and 5pm for 5 minutes – zebra police can shoot anyone they want and powerful people can commit crimes with no repercussions. Somehow this is supposed to bring crime down.
Aihara Kouzo was responsible for cleaning up the aftermath of the exploded school. An infected girl escaped and he has been searching for her ever since. The governor wants to kill her, but ZebraQueen wants the girl to begin an alien breeding program to spread fear and Zebra Time around the globe. Neither are aware that the infected girl is a child named Sumire, who despite her unaging appearance is 25 and spends her time at the White Horse hospital, each week growing plants and then destroying them. Her touch causes Ichikawa to become Zebraman again for the first time, giving him white stripes while ZebraQueen gains black stripes.
ZebraQueen beats up her father and tosses him in the streets to become a victim of Zebra Time. His ironic (but wholly expected) death loses some of its significance as he’s killed by the Zebra Miniskirt Police – whose hatred of the governor doesn’t makes sense unless you’ve seen their spinoff film Revenge of the Zebra Miniskirt Police. In fact, they’re barely in Zebraman 2, and disappear shortly after killing the governor. The White Horse is blamed for his death, and Zebra City absorbs the district that the White Horse hospital is at into the city so they can purify it with Zebra Police. ZebraQueen and Zebraman (Black and White) prepare for their eventual confrontation.
During the Zebra Police attack, Zebraman becomes a true White Zebraman. He defends the alien girl, and goes all Matrixy with his powers until ZebraQueen arrives and we see she’s become a true Black ZebraQueen. We’re also treated with the last part of the flashback, as Aihara Kouzo separates the black and white from Ichikawa using centrifugal force, the black goo that is removed forms into ZebraQueen. She’s evil enough she can win fights with Zebraman and leaves with Sumire.
Zebraman sets off to rescue Sumire, who is being centrifuged by ZebraQueen in order to get to the alien goo. The alien is released…which becomes a huge huge huge alien that blasts a ton of buildings and causes havoc in Zebra City. ZebraQueen is saved by her servant Niima, who dies protecting her. She does shed a teardrop.
We know this must end at some point with the two becoming one – and thankfully not by getting it on. The united Zebraman must defeat the alien the way he did in the last episode of the revival series. So…it’s chow time!
As for the final fate of Zebraman, I can only say – Holy Violet Beauregarde, Batman!
Will Zebraman 3 be even better? Will Zebraman ever deflate? We’ll find out in 2025 I guess, if the previous pattern holds.
Rated 10/10 (White Horse, Zebra Logo, pop princess who will totally not be beaten to death by ZebraQueen, not at all *thomp* *thomp* *thomp* *thomp*, Zebraman Pokemon cards, tv show goon, Miniskirt squad, Japan pervs out again, Love Love, Zebraball)