What's all the online bile about? I thought it was quite good.
So what's Apocalypse Zero? Answer: have you ever read reviews so horrified and venomous that you immediately want to watch the offending work? That's this anime. Imagine a super-perverted version of Fist of the North Star, with a post-apocalypse Japan in which insanely huge demons and mutants are killing the few surviving humans. The two series are roughly on a par violence-wise (so You Have Been Warned), but Apocalypse Zero is the only one with:
(a) Hamuko, an obese naked woman with a clown face, a bondage outfit, flapping saggy boobs, a spiked collar and what looked at first like a spiked codpiece. It's not. She's very hairy down there and she has spikes coming out of it. She weighs seven tons and her hobbies include biting men's faces off, or crushing women in one hand until their insides explode from their mouths.
(b) Dogumakuro, who's weird enough to be hard to describe. Start by imagining Hayao Miyazaki on a bad acid trip. (More than one of this show's Tactical Fiends reminded me of Miyazaki.) He's a turqoise frog with a biker's cap, false eyelashes, luxuriant white girly hair and a penis attack.
(c) A nymphomaniac nurse with no knickers and a flesh-dissolving vagina. I'm not even going to try to describe her transformed monster state.
(d) A ninety-year-old geezer in fetish gear, with razor-bullet saliva and a completely different penis attack. He goes around trouserless, with his penis in an eye-catching bandage and his scrotum enjoying the fresh air.
You've heard of fanservice? This is fan disservice. However there's also non-demonic nudity, including the hero's female brother. Yes, you read that right. Mind you, in fairness there's a ton of male nudity as well, with Kakugo spending more time undressed than a Chippendale and showing us his ball bearings. (That's not a euphemism. He has large ball bearings embedded in his body, which look faintly reminiscent of Kenshiro's scars for another Fist of the North Star callback.) Anyway, it's the combination of perversion and ultra-violence that will have you looking for Go Nagai's name in the credits, even though he had nothing to do with it.
Oh, and the anime's tamer than the manga.
All that's amusing, but there are points of interest too. The human survivors are clinging on to their old habits, for instance, so this blasted urban wilderness contains a standard Japanese high school with students, teachers and classes. Why do they do it? Two teachers even discuss this very point. Are they trying to keep civilisation alive? Is it just force of habit? Is it the best way of stopping themselves from committing suicide from despair?
Also the art style is unexpected. Horrific post-apocalypse adults-only content is being filtered through a style that makes the characters look like Olive Oyl. I'm thinking particularly of the hero's love interest, Tsumiko Horie, even if the red hair and ribbons also make her look like a windmill. It's a jolly, cartoonish style with some wild character designs, especially when it comes to the demons (aka. Tactical Fiends).
Then we have the protagonist, Kakugo. He's a stoic Kenshiro-like unstoppable martial artist, also similar to Kenshiro in that his ultimate enemy is his older brother. (Who's female, and killed their father.) However Kakugo's different in still being of school age, being more vulnerable and in having symbiotic power armour made from the souls of deceased warriors. There's a long bonding scene at the start of episode two in which Kakugo and his armour, Zero, have a one-sided conversation and get sort of intimate.
I quite liked Kakugo, with his rigid sexual principles and his genuine anguish about his father and she-brother. He's hardly chatty, but he's a perfectly decent hero for these two episodes. Harara's interesting too, with her nihilistic philosophy arguably being what leads her into self-destructive tactics and her eventual defeat. "I'm too bored with life to care if I die." Kakugo, in contrast, cares about people and so doesn't have that dissociation.
It's extreme, obviously, but there's worse out there. Whence, then, sprang those rabid reviews and comments like "the most vile anime ever made"? There were also plenty of commentators with a more balanced approach, in fairness, but even so I'm going to have to go through some of the complaints.
> "so heinous and so irredeemably terrible that anyone involved with this show really ought to be ashamed of themselves for putting their name on it"
Not meaningful criticism.
> "the ugliest, most distorted character designs I've seen in over twenty years"
I like the art. It makes the show more surprising and interesting.
> "the most bizarre, unattractive, and outright sexually offensive "mutants" ever to grace the screen"
Well, yes. And?
> "Post-apocalyptic Tokyo is clearly shown as being largely uninhabitable, and yet this show's characters are still compelled to attend school and go to class in full uniform, as if drawn by some Pavlovian urge to go through the motions of a normal series."
The characters themselves discuss this.
> "armor forged specifically to save mankind really shouldn't be evil"
Made from the souls of deceased warriors, remember? Hands up anyone who thinks that couldn't possibly go wrong.
> "half the time, Harara is referred to as being Kakugo's brother, something infinitely that would be more believable if she didn't have breasts"
Again, not a mistake. We're shown in flashback the characters being shocked by the transformation. (One struggles to imagine this kind of thing being done by accident, anyway. "Whoops, I just drew this male character with a naked female body! Repeatedly! In frame-by-frame animation!")
My best guess is that some viewers just overloaded. The content crossed the line for them. That's fair enough, but I think it's just flat-out wrong to imply that there's anything wrong with the writing, plotting or characterisation. It's fine. It's not brilliant, but it hangs together quite well and the character designs are clearly inventive. (That's not just the Tactical Fiends, by the way. I liked Bandage Schoolgirl, for instance.) The demons' genitals all being weapons, for instance, is just one of many quirks that you might either find interesting or horrifying, according to taste.
It's okay. I'd watch a third if they made one. It's memorable despite having only two episodes. If nothing else, I give it points for having one of the few flourishing post-apocalypse species be corpse-devouring giant cockroaches.
"It's impolite to splash something on a queen's face!"