Remember that one anime featured in Malcolm in the Middle? That would be Nazca, one of the strangest anime of the ’90s I’ve seen yet.
|Genre||Action, suspense, drama|
|Number of episodes||12|
|Purchase Volume 1 DVD (there are 4 volumes in total)||Purchase from Amazon.|
You probably never heard of this anime. And for a while, I haven’t either. I didn’t even watch that much anime by the time this series came out. So where exactly have I learned about it?
Yeah… from a popular sitcom of the 2000s about about a young smart boy and his incredibly dysfunctional family. But for whatever odd and random reason, the show’s intro has clips of Nazca. I don’t get it. I guess showing random anime clips is a symbol of childhood adolescence? But then again, the opening of Malcolm in the Middle is just weird.
So, that’s pretty much why I decided to watch this series. Much to my disappointment, there’s not much to dig up regarding Nazca before my first viewing. It’s a 12-episode anime series that is apparently based on a very obscure two-volume manga titled Jikuu Tenshou Nazca. But does that mean it’s worth a watch?
Hmm. Well, I guess that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Might as well see what this obscure anime is all about.
The Remnants of Thauatin Suyu
Nazca stars a young Japanese student named Kyoji Miura, a kendo (Japanese sword-fighting) practitioner studying under his friend and teacher, Tate Masanari—and that’s pronounced “tah-teh” for you plebs out there. During a kendo tournament, Tate participated in his final match and mysteriously destroyed his opponent’s breastplate, mortally wounding him in the process. However, Kyoji saw him taking the form of another person during that event.
Afterwards, Kyoji learned that his master took a leave of absence from school and that the school’s kendo club was in danger of shutting down. But the next time Kyoji hears from his master?
A fight to the death.
Tate challenged his own student to a duel, using real swords. Understandably, Kyoji was unnerved about his master’s change of personality and the duel ended abruptly when his friends put a stop to it. Since then, all of the major characters learned that they were reincarnations of 15th century Inca warriors from the land of Thauatin Suyu.
Let me go over that again…
Ancient Inca warriors of the 15th century.
What else can you say, but…
So we have all of these Japanese people who happen to know each other, but they were all reincarnated Inca people who also knew each other in a previous life? That’s got to be one of the outlandish premises I’ve seen from a ’90s anime. Why the Inca? What motivated the creators to make such a decision?
It doesn’t make any sense because the anime feels like it doesn’t know what Inca culture is. In various flashbacks throughout the series, this is what we saw.
A town in Thauatin Suyu.
Let’s compare this to a shot of the ancient city of Machu Picchu.
Studio Radix, I’m pretty sure ancient Inca towns don’t look like Renaissance era European towns with a big cathedral at the center.
And what do the ancient Inca people look like in this anime?
Oh, come on, guys. You’re not even trying!
I swear, it looks more like an alternate Fire Emblem or some generic fantasy series. Who would actually connect this imagery to the Inca?
Furthermore, the show is called Nazca, a name based on the city in Peru. The city itself was named after the Nazca people, a separate civilization that predated the Inca Empire by several centuries. The show also featured patterns loosely based on geoglyphs called the Nazca Lines, though they’re not quite the same as the ones in real life.
The research and historical accuracy are by far the biggest problem in Nazca. It feels like the studio only borrowed a few concepts from ancient Peruvian civilizations (as in spending only a few minutes of actual research). I know research doesn’t really make a series and I’m complaining about an anime of all things mucking this up, but this is one of the biggest plot holes in the anime. I’ll explain when we’ll get to that whole ordeal.
So anyways, Tate explained to Kyoji that they were once Inca warriors in a past life. Tate was a warrior named Yawaru, who served the ruler Huáscar. And Kyoji was a warrior named Bilka, who served the ruler Atahualpa. Huáscar desired the power of a god called Iriyatesse to destroy the world and create a new one in his vision, to which Yawaru strongly agreed with. So a civil war broke out between Huáscar and Yawaru, resulting in many old friends fighting each other.
Now, here’s a little bit of history. Huáscar and Atahualpa were actually real-life figures in Inca history. They were half-brothers who each ruled their own kingdoms, until Huáscar decided that he wanted Atahualpa’s throne as well. Atahualpa retaliated, eventually defeated his brother, and seized his brother’s kingdom. Atahualpa then became the next emperor of the Inca Empire, right before the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro arrived and conquered the Inca Empire. The Empire collapsed soon after, marked by Atahualpa’s execution. Since then, the Spanish controlled the Empire and placed in puppet emperors to make their people think they were still safe.
Unfortunately, the Nazca anime didn’t show this at all. There were no Spanish people in the anime (despite some episode titles having Spanish words in them). Atahualpa died by sacrificing himself to appease Iriyatesse’s wrath and Huáscar perished in a disastrous event that killed all of the Incas. This lack of historical accuracy is pretty damning and shows that the people working on this story had no understanding of what they were basing the anime on.
Also, the Inca didn’t fight with swords. They fought with spears, axes, clubs, bows, and throwing weapons. Why the art of kendo is somehow connected to Inca military tactics, I have no idea.
Alright, no more history lessons. You already see my point. The reason I make such a big deal out of it was that some of the anime’s lore was fictional. There was no such Inca god as Iriyatesse or an Inca location called Thauatin Suyu. The anime could have easily invented a fictional civilization loosely based on Inca culture and take its own creative liberties. Hell, even give the civilization a different name. That way, no critic would need to point out how half-assed the research was.
So let’s move on and focus on the actual plot.
Friend vs. Friend
Shortly into the story, Kyoji meets a young Japanese woman named Yuka Kiritake, a freelance journalist who was engaged to Tate Masanari. Soon after Tate’s betrayal, Kyoji befriends Yuka and the two set out the investigate Tate’s motives and the mysteries of the Inca Empire. We later learn that Tate intends to continue his past life’s goal to awaken Iriyatesse and destroy mankind, in a similar manner to the story of Noah’s Ark. Tate’s obsession with this goal made him into an apathetic fiend who would slaughter people senselessly to see things through.
It was later revealed that Yuka was also a reincarnation of an ancient Inca, a priestess by the name of Aquira. And soon, more of Kyoji’s friends and acquaintances have discovered there were also awakened souls.
Among them is Daimon, Kyoji’s best friend and a socially awkward young man with a practical approach to life. Daimon was a priest named Orehon in a previous life, who served both Huáscar and Yawaru. After Tate reawakened Daimon’s soul, Daimon joined him and broke his friendship with Kyoji.
Tate later recruited one of his kendo disciples, a violent and sadistic young man named Shinri Shiogami. Shiogami was the rival of Kyoji, who wanted nothing more to be Tate’s best student by any means. Even if it means killing people for it.
And yes, this is the guy you’ve seen in Malcolm in the Middle. This image and the one of the skateboarder were in the anime’s episode 3, by the way.
Shiogami was a warrior named Jigumi in a past life, who possessed one of the STUPIDEST hairstyles I’ve ever seen. But I gotta admit, Shiogami is probably the most memorable character in the show. He’s a violent thug who wouldn’t mind impaling his rival Kyoji with a real sword, though Kyoji is the more skilled swordsman. But he’s also notable for his sickly pale skin and predator-like grimace.
Other characters include Dan (Kamaros in his past life), a husky but jolly man who was friends with Kyoji; Seino (Amaro), a young man who loves nature and wildlife; and Tatsuki (Elela), the half-sister of Shiogami with whom she had an incestuous attraction to.
At one point or another, Tate Masanari attempted to recruit these young people into his new group of warriors. Ultimately, he failed to bring Dan and Seino over to his side, but succeeded in bringing in Tatsuki since she wanted to be closer to Shiogami.
And so, this is where things get interesting, more or less.
The art and animation are a mixed bag. The character designs of the present are quite mundane as characters go, and their past incarnations have hilariously over-the-top attire. I mean, good lord. Shiogami already stands out with his weird appearance, but his past incarnation Jigumi looks utterly ridiculous with that feather duster hairstyle. However, the landscapes and scenery can be quite gorgeous to look at.
The animation is pretty good at times, usually the best portions of it being saved for the sword choreography. And at other times, it’s choppy. But there is also some early era CGI that can be quite noticeable, and it doesn’t blend that well with the cell-shaded artwork. The CGI looks like it was skipping frames and the textures were noticeably low-resolution.
For whatever reason, the violence in Nazca is quite subdued. For an anime that has quite a few fight scenes with characters being slashed and stabbed, there’s no bloodshed whatsoever. And the characters seem to shrug off these injuries like they’re nothing. Every time we see someone getting impaled, the shot cuts away from the actual wound and we never see blood. But why? Was the production staff afraid that it would be too violent? Fist of the North Star came more than ten years before this anime, so I have no idea what the deal is.
The soundtrack is interesting, to say the least. For whatever reason, the opening uses a variation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “The Well Tempered Clavier Fugue (in B Minor).”
Yech. That’s quite a mouthful.
While I definitely like the opening song, using a remix of Bach’s composition seems random.
There’s also a mix of subtle piano background music, with some bits of chanting and harmonizing. Even the credits song is pan flute music. If there’s a strong point to the Nazca anime, it’s that the soundtrack is quite pleasant to listen to.
The Japanese voice acting is well done too, with the actors emoting properly during specific situations. Their performances help hype up the drama.
Nazca’s plot is slow-paced, especially during the first few episodes. At this point, you had to sit through quite a bit of exposition while the characters remained boring and underdeveloped. The exposition itself wasn’t terribly interesting either, so getting into this anime is going to be a tedious beginning.
But starting with episode six, the exposition becomes less frequent and we see a lot more action. The anime also begins to flesh out the characters and their relationships more, exploring both their past and present lives.
And I’m not gonna lie. This is probably one of Nazca’s best qualities: its complex characters.
Kyoji Miura lost more than just a master. He lost a friend in Tate, simply because they were mortal enemies in their past lives. Though Kyoji knows that he has to stop Tate and even kill him, he couldn’t bear to take his former master’s life. Knowing this, Tate took advantage of the situation and even tried to turn Kyoji’s own friends against him. This is some brilliant drama without being overdone. There’s a surprising amount of depth to it and leads to one thing; Kyoji and Tate were destined to fight one another, due to a conflict of interest. Things would never be the same between them again.
But if there’s a criticism I need to make of Kyoji’s character, it’s that he tends to be a bit spineless. The world is in danger of ending, and he’s complaining that he has to go kill some people to prevent it from happening. Damn it, kid. Just grow a pair.
Yuka Kiritake was also a mystery herself. Tate’s betrayal shook her up and she wanted to put a stop to his evil plans. Despite this, she is still in love with Tate. She (as Aquira) was also very close to Kyoji (as Bilka) in their past lives, to the point where Aquira developed romantic feelings for a young Bilka and gave him his first kiss. While she doesn’t show the same kind of affection to Kyoji in the present era, it’s clear that the two deeply care about each other. This brings Yuka into another conflict: the lives of both Tate and Kyoji being at stake. She doesn’t want to lose either one, just as Kyoji doesn’t want to take Tate’s life.
Unfortunately, this romantic subplot went unresolved. Even though Yuka knew what Tate doing was wrong, she still considered working together with him because she still loved him—despite that Tate would use her as a means to an end. Furthermore, there was no real spark between Kyoji and Yuka, despite them having feelings for each other long ago. As a result, Yuka’s character arc felt incomplete by the final episode. I don’t know why else they would establish this romantic connection, unless Kyoji and Yuka would end up being a new couple at some point.
More and more problems built up with the plot and characters. It’s like the anime’s script had plenty of ideas, but forgot to resolve some of them. Nazca brought up more questions than answers, which became painfully apparent by the final episode.
Speaking of which, the ending is HORRIBLE. It felt so anti-climactic and it ended so quickly. The final monologue wasn’t worth anything, simply saying that everything returned to normal. After all the shit that went down in the anime, there were no apparent consequences. The remaining characters should have changed from the whole experience, but the anime treated it like nothing changed at all.
And if you want more spoilers, read on:
- At random points, the anime cuts to a screeching buzzard. There was even one during the ending. What is this supposed to represent?
- What caused Tate Masanari to remember his past life as Yawaru?
- When did Tate gain his magical abilities as Yawaru? How did he “awaken” the other reincarnations?
- Why was Tate even obsessed with eliminating humanity anyway? He kept talking about how humanity was the absolute worst and how the world would be better off without it. Was it because Huáscar brainwashed him? Or Tate truly believed what he was doing was good? Or was he just a misanthrope who acted upon his extreme views?
- What’s the point of showing Kyoji’s school life? It’s easily the most boring part of the anime, alongside his home life. He had a schoolmate named Rena, who we later learned that she had a crush on him. However, this potential subplot completely dissipated since Rena was never seen again after some point.
- Yuka Kiritake talked about Tate’s childhood to Kyoji. She mentioned that his parents were killed by terrorists (huh?) and he had to live with his uncle. What relevance does this backstory have to do with his character? Is it to somehow get Kyoji to relate, since he doesn’t have parents either?
- Why is Kyoji’s family so lenient anyway? He lives with his grandfather and younger sister Miyuki. However, his grandfather lets him do whatever he wants, even going as far as travel to Peru all the way from Japan, claiming that Kyoji was just trying to “find himself.” That can’t be cheap at all. Furthermore, Kyoji had been behaving noticeably more distant but the family doesn’t question this at all.
- What’s the point of the childhood romance between Kyoji and Yuka’s Inca counterparts? Sure, it was a cute scene, but that subplot went nowhere at all.
- Why did Daimon agree to working with Tate in the first place? Was it because Daimon was loyal to Tate in their past lives or did he believe in Tate’s cause at first? Daimon had no qualms of killing people earlier in the series. But then a new antagonist named Kariya (Garos) rose up and proceeded to take the souls of every human being he “healed.” Then Daimon started questioning his actions after that.
- There was a subplot between Dan and Tatsuki, regarding their past lives. During the Inca time period, they were romantically involved. But in the present, Dan didn’t show any feelings for Tatsuki despite that he held his past memories. But it was implied that Tatsuki’s affection for him rekindled after saving her from Shiogami’s wrath. The ending was even more disappointing in this regard. Dan and Tatsuki looked at each other briefly. Tatsuki had a hopeful look in her eyes, but Dan looked away. Does this mean that Dan couldn’t forgive her betrayal and her actions?
- Out of all stupid things Yuka could have done, why did she decide to help Tate summon Iriyatesse during the final episode? She joined Tate in order to save the lives of Kyoji and his friends. But because she was such an important part of resurrecting Iriyatesse, how come suicide is not an option? Logically, this would put Tate’s plan to a grinding halt. And furthermore, it was clearly explained by Tate that summoning Iriyatesse would kill EVERYONE, including those Yuka cares about.
- Why is Kyoji so damn spineless at times, especially after he finally defeats Tate at the climax of the final episode? He decided to spare Tate because he couldn’t bear taking anyone’s life. Tate even called him foolish for it. I would, too. Don’t give your enemies a window of opportunity to repay your kindness with a blade through your stomach.
- Why the hell did Tate decide to sacrifice his life towards the ending, after performing such ruthless and inhumane deeds throughout the anime to resurrect Iriyatesse? He betrayed the trust of his best student, killed many people in pursuit of power, manipulated Yuka to work with him and fought for his cause until the end. Was it because that he had some honor left after Kyoji defeated him, so he decided that suicide was the right option? Or did he actually care about the fates of Kyoji and Yuka at that point?
- Shouldn’t one of Kyoji’s consequences be his strained relationships between his friends at school and his family? He had noticeably grown distant from them due to Tate’s and Yuka’s actions. I’m sure that girl Rena was quite sad that Yuka, a woman Kyoji just met, basically “took him away” from her.
- What about everyone else? Both Tate and Shiogami died (alongside the priest Kariya). Daimon and Tatsuki survived, but they were partially responsible for taking the lives of thousands of people while working with Tate. Did they truly feel guilty about their crimes and did they face any consequences as a result of them?
- During the final scene, Kyoji and Yuka grieved together for the loss of Tate. Did this moment bring them closer together at all?
- Kyoji ends the final episode with a short monologue: “Then, our ordinary lives had returned. Everything was the same… but something was different. It was something that…” Then the monologue ends with a scene of a buzzard and the credits roll. I felt like this monologue implied that everyone pretended that events didn’t happen at all and went their separate ways, ultimately leaving behind their past lives. But the heartbreak and guilt remained with them. However, the monologue is too ambiguous to confirm this.
In the end, Nazca was a show that had the potential to be amazing. It felt like it had a lot of ideas for a grander plot. However,the plot suffered from a ridiculous premise and it missed quite a few nuances regarding its character development. The idea of reincarnated souls meeting again in the next life, only to turn against each other, is certainly a great idea ripe with conflict and drama. It’s one of those anime that had some brilliant points to it, but during other times flubbed at. Not to mention that damn ending was a major slap in the face, which treated the plot and character arcs as inconsequential. So many questions left unanswered.
I don’t think Nazca is as bad or terrible as some people make it out to be, but I do think it’s a big disappointment. It already had the foundation to be so much better, but strangely didn’t take those avenues. As a drama, some of the scenes are well done. And if you read my list of questions, you may even notice that the show may have quite a bit of subtext lying around, telling an even deeper story. But because the plot lacks urgency at times and the subplots end abruptly, it can be hard to get into the moment.
It’s one of those shows that I feel is deserving of a reboot. There may be quite a bit of work to be done, but I do truly feel that Nazca can be amazing with its own lore that pays more attention to its subplots. But considering it’s been about 20 years since the anime first aired, this probably won’t ever happen. Regardless, I am glad that I did get to see it despite its major flaws.
- The story can be compelling at times, the characters even more so.
- The character designs can be hilariously ridiculous, in a good way. Nice for a good laugh. However, the scenery looked gorgeous.
- The animation, especially some of the fighting choreography, can be pretty good for its time.
- The soundtrack is done well and the voice acting is top notch.
- In another light, some of the unanswered questions can be seen as hidden subtext shown through the animation itself. For example, the status of the relationship between Dan and Tatsuki.
- The whole premise about reincarnated Inca warriors was absurd, not to mention the actual research on the Inca was very shallow.
- The plot had slow pacing from the beginning, though it picks up later on.
- For the first half of the anime, the characters were flat and dull. But this did get better in the second half, where their characterizations were more fleshed out.
- Lack of blood in an anime where people cut and stab each other.
- The plot raised more questions than answers, ending subplots abruptly and leaving character arcs incomplete.
- The ending sucks. The plot was inconsequential and most of the characters seemed to not have developed from the experience.