#1 Animation so cheap it might as well be static
Toei Animation was producing some amazing anime around this time… at least, I seem to remember they did. I was super into Yu-Gi-Oh!, Digimon Adventure, and Bobobo, but I don’t remember those shows looking anywhere near as bad as Shinzo does. Then again, most of these I haven’t seen since 2003 at the latest.
This show loves to cheap out on its animation, which is never as apparent as during the big fight scene between Mushrambo and Gyaza, by all accounts a major turning point for the series. While there are some good shots in this multi-episode fight, a lot of moments are just static images of the characters floating around, which doesn’t exactly take a trained eye to notice. Even when characters are moving around, it often looks stiff and unnatural, with only a handful of scenes featuring actually noteworthy choreography.
Most sinful of all is how blatantly and frequently the show recycles animation, with characters often filling time in episodes by reminiscing about events from past adventures that we have already seen. It’s almost hilarious, like a character will begin thinking back to all the bad guys they fought and they seriously fill up 3 minutes repeating the highlights of past battles… which they do more than once across the entire series.
#2 The cheese is difficult to tolerate
If I had to describe Shinzo, I’d say it feels like a shounen anime made to advertise a line of merchandise that doesn’t exist. All the main characters have this action figure look to them and rather than dying, characters first turn into a plastic card with details like elemental types noted on them, which other characters can then absorb to mutate and combine their powers. Card games based on popular series were so present in the 90’s and early 2000’s that it left me perplexed to find none of that stuff for Shinzo.
These elements just feel so misplaced in the show, like the over-the-top cheesy shounen dialogue doesn’t often fit the more serious and violent subject matter. Likewise, the whole deal with the cards is just unexplained. I can buy into the idea that a meteor struck earth and the large amount of radiation gave birth to mutants, but the whole deal with the cards just seems to exist to facilitate morphing bad guys together, in which case Dragon Ball solved that issue years ago in a manner that is much more organic and has attained meme status since then.
I love the show and I find the story fascinating, but I admit it’s awkward to watch when characters are shouting about going into their “HYPER MODES” and all that. For a show aimed at kids I’d say it’s to be expected, but Shinzo is distinctly not kid-friendly in any other area.
#3 The start and ending
Conventional wisdom is that the two fields that are the most important to a story’s success are the start and ending, as these are likely the segments people will remember the most. Regrettably, Shinzo shines the most in the middle portion and particularly the opening two episodes are an absolute mess to follow.
As far as I understand, for the dub they decided to make cuts in the first 2 episodes and paste some of their scenes together, making these episodes really confusing and disjointed to watch. After episode 3 there are no more edits on this scale, and in general I honestly wonder what the point was of mixing two episodes in different locations together like this. I remember trying to rewatch Shinzo two or three years ago, but giving up because I thought the episodes I had downloaded were messed up for some reason.
The ending is another matter entirely. After 21 episodes of travelling in search of the city, the anime just kind of ends in the middle of nowhere and proceeds to quickly explain that Yakumo did, in fact, end up finding Shinzo off-screen. We never get to see it or what she does with it, as the show instead begins to retell the story as if a time loop has just started, with Mushra being saved from his imprisonment in episode 1 by a different character than Yakumo. The following 11 episodes are a different version of the story with entirely different villains and a conclusive ending.
It feels like the writer had two different version of the story in mind, and rather than picking one he opted to tell both. This is a shame, because I was invested in the original journey and it feels lame to not get an ending for that. It took some serious motivation to get on with watching season 2 and while it has some fantastic moments of its own, it doesn’t really capture me the same way season 1 did.