No, I have not rescinded my punishment for your paying me with the smaller Klondike bars from the squad room vending machines. It is just beginning.
I’ve even made a name for this punishment. You know how they have National Sibling Day, National Speak Like a Pirate Day, National Chocolate Day, etc.? Well, I’ve started something similar….
Torture Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo Week!
What are you complaining about? This is like Garfield’s National Fat Week celebration. And it has your name in it, for cryin’ out loud!
So, let’s get to business, shall we?
You’ve been to the desert. I know you have; I saw that particular case – the woman with the uranium paint. You really ought to take horseback riding lessons, Tony.
That aspect aside, do you know what I like about deserts? Not the ones with endless sand dunes but the ones with high canyon walls, narrow arroyos, and plains of red sand?
What I like about this kind of desert is it makes the world appear wide open. It feels like you can go anywhere. No foliage blocking your view, no high rises hemming you in on all sides, nobody telling you to hurry up or slow down –
You don’t seriously think I’d go into a desert without water, do you? I’m not that much of a tenderfoot, DiNozzo. Unlike you, that is.
What, you may ask, makes me look at deserts this way? The answer is the Japanese cartoon series Zoids: Chaotic Century.
Yeah, I knew you would say that. Be quiet and let me talk!
Written and drawn in Japan, the series of sixty-seven episodes (yes, 67 episodes) takes place “in the far reaches of the Milky Way, on the planet Zi.” It was eventually translated into English in Canada and played on Cartoon Network in America in the early 2000’s. It focused on the adventures of fourteen (mistakenly translated as seventeen) year old Van Flyheight.
Van is a headstrong young orphan in the care of his older sister, Maria, at the start of the series. He wants to become “the best zoid pilot ever” because of the example of his dead father who was a zoid pilot. Van regularly sneaks away from his village, the Wind Colony, into the nearby desert. One such trip – the first episode of the series – begins with him being chased into a long-ruined military base by a hotheaded bandit about three years his elder.
What this young bandit, Bol, is trying to prove matters little to Van. His problem is getting back to the village without the knucklehead following him. Or acing him out when he attempts to escape.
Trying to get away, Van is instead chased further into the ruins where he discovers a small zoid in some sort of stasis pod.
Okay, wait. I can see that I’m going to have to play dictionary and give you the definition of a zoid.
A zoid is a mechanical animal about two or three stories tall (on average) with hidden weapons in its body. A zoid is pilotable; that is, a human can pilot or ‘drive’ it. Usually the cockpit for a zoid is a cab situated in the forward part of the zoid’s head. As with height, this feature also varies from zoid to zoid (some have the cockpit in their chests). Most often, though, it is in the head.
The zoid Van discovers is a dragon/T-rex type nearly six or seven feet tall. No cockpit on this guy! (He and similar zoids are referred to as ‘dragon-type zoids’; this may stem from their three claws on each ‘hand’ and foot. Only Japanese dragons have three claws which is why these zoids would be referred to as dragon-type in this series. At least I think that’s the reason for this description.) With pink eyes and silver armor, the zoid is initially not friendly to Van since it considers him to be a threat.
However, Van’s good nature soon leads the zoid to realize Van will not hurt him. Van dubs this small zoid Zeke, after his father’s white Command Wolf.
Ugh, DiNozzo!!! A Command Wolf is – obviously! – a wolf-type zoid. Sit down and let me finish!!
As I was saying, he names this small zoid Zeke after his father’s white Command Wolf. The two are on the way to becoming fast friends when Bol literally barges into the room in his continuing pursuit of Van. Spotting Zeke, Bol decides to take him and sell him “for a small fortune.”
In order to protect his new friend, Van attacks the blue Guysack (scorpion-type zoid) that Bol is piloting. Quickly overcome, Van believes he is finished when Zeke intervenes –and takes a beating for his bravery.
Things look pretty bad. But Zeke has some special talents that neither of the boys is aware of. Escaping Bol with Van on his back, Zeke finds a wrecked Shield Liger (lion-type zoid) outside the ruins. Dumping Van in the coverless cockpit, Zeke glows white, jumps into the air, and then ‘fuses’ with the Liger, “bringing it back to life.” (Yes, zoids are living creatures, Tony.)
In the Liger, Zeke’s power and Van’s own natural piloting skills allows the two to drive Bol and his partners off. After the bandits leave, though, Zeke returns to the ruins. There Van discovers a second stasis pod adjacent to Zeke’s destroyed casing. He opens it, expecting another small zoid (called an ‘organoid’ because of the ability to merge with larger zoids) to pop out. Instead, when it opens he finds a girl of about his own age inside.
I might add that, mysteriously, she and Zeke share the same eye color.
Taking her back to the village, Van learns the girl has no memory of anything – not trees, not fruit – except the name ‘Fiona.’
Guessing this is her real name, Van calls her Fiona. Some time after this, the bandits attack the Wind Colony to get Zeke. Van again defeats them and drives them off. But with the possibility the gang may return in the future to harass his village, Van leaves home to protect the townspeople from these aggressors.
Out in the wide world, Van quickly makes friends and enemies through his strong belief in “the difference between right and wrong” as well as his naiveté. Among the traveling companions he acquires is the transporter Moonbay, a sassy, independent young woman roaming the desert. She carries cargo for whoever will pay her a large sum. Another member of the company is Irvine, a young mercenary who travels with them initially only to steal Zeke. Republican Captain Rob Herman (who arrests Van after an encounter with ‘sleeper’ Guysacks gets the bunch in trouble) also comes to respect the hotheaded youth. (No, he does not travel with Van’s group.) Many other characters also learn to count Van as a friend.
Van’s strongest opponent is Raven, an Imperial soldier his own age. A master pilot, Raven is a terror in battle and a scourge to the Republican ranks – so much so that even the Imperials do not trust him. Hating zoids and practically everyone else, his abilities are sharpened to a fearsome degree when his black-armored, blue-eyed organoid Shadow fuses with his blood-red Zaber Fang (a Saber Tooth Tiger-type zoid). Van and Raven battle several times because of these opposing natures: Van’s love of zoids and his friendships versus Raven’s hatred of these machines and condescension toward everyone.
Although Raven is Van’s most deadly enemy, he does encounter others. The villains include all kinds, from low-brow bandit riff-raff to the Regent of the Guylos Empire. Van and his friends soon find themselves deep in adventure and peril. The underpinning theme of the series is Fiona’s mysterious past, her capability to communicate with Zeke, and her ability to read the writing of an ancient civilization that once thrived on Zi.
Fiona’s past coming back to ‘haunt’ her, and by extension everyone she cares about, eventually takes precedence in the series. When the credits role in the last episode, Van has achieved his wish and become “the greatest zoid pilot ever.” Zi, just like its deserts, is once more open to adventure for all. I like to think Van and Fiona have a lot more fun after the screen goes black, as is proper for any series.
Zoids: Chaotic Century seems to take a lot of elements from Star Wars, with the addition of other, less noticeable themes and motifs. The most prominent idea, and this is what really makes the show, is that the pilots have to fight to ‘reach their full potential.’ Every zoid has the capability to be a stronger and greater creature, a capability that is usually accomplished in battle. This is impossible, however, without the proper pilot. Only as a team can both the pilot and the zoid achieve their ultimate potential.
Watching Van get there is a thrill and a million, DiNozzo. You have got to take a look at the series.
Altogether Chaotic Century is a very well thought-out, well-executed show. It is no wonder it had three sequel series (Zoids: New Century Zero; Zoids: Fuzors; and Zoids: Genesis). Chaotic Century is so detailed that it demands more stories from Zi. Unfortunately, I don’t believe these three series lived up to Chaotic Century’s legacy. But that’s a topic for tomorrow in this stellar Torture Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo Week.
In parting, I will say only this, Tony: “See you on the battlefield!”