When I first became an anime fan back around 1986, it was because everything I saw was fresh and interesting. There were so many new ideas, so many new worlds, so many new characters. At the time, I thought that this was somehow unique to the field of anime, but I was wrong. Every medium has its brilliant moments, but each has its own failings as well. After watching Love Hina recently and seeing what amounted to an excellent but complete retread of better series gone by, I've become a little cynical. Unfortunately, Maze does little to break that pessimism. Maze is a fantasy that takes parts in equal measure from Bastard!, The Slayers, and Ranma 1/2, without adding any unique ingredients whatsoever. Although it has a few funny moments, its reliance on fan service to distract from the minimal plot shows just how desperate this show really is.
The Maze OVAs are set in the middle of the story told by the manga version. As such, we get a rushed, two-minute intro to the characters. Princess Mill, a young naive girl, is the only hope for the Bartonian Empire to survive an onslaught by the evil Jaina Holy Group. As she escapes from the JHG's clutches, she meets up with Maze, a beautiful and charming young woman who might be able to help. The only problem is, from sunset to sunrise, Maze turns into a lecherous, hormonal man! Along the way, these two pick up other companions as they plot to return Princess Mill to Bartonia and help her claim her throne.
As the show starts, we get a brief battle complete with mecha, a topless girl, and ninja slaughter, all done lightheartedly. Once the damage is assessed, the crew heads down to where the Tower of Babylon is being built. They are disgusted by the area's abject poverty, caused by the monies being spent to complete the project. However, the Grand Duke of Babylon and his son, Nuts, invite Princess Mill and company to dinner. Afterwards, it turns out that the Grand Duke has plans of his own for the group, and if they can't escape from his clutches, foes from the Jaina Holy Group will be upon them as well. None of this dark subject matter will keep them from finding hot springs to play around in nude, however.
Maze is ruled by fan service. Lots of nudity in lots of forms in this one, and there's sexual discussions as well. There's also a brief sequence that raises questions of consent. Was I offended by it? Not exactly, but many more sensitive readers would find this title crude. The titillation doesn't really extend the plot at all, but serves just as a device to keep viewers in the seats. Ranma 1/2 played out the gender-bender joke years ago, and it really hasn't gotten funnier since that show overstayed its welcome in its later seasons. Keep the kids far away from this title, which due to some of its designs might appeal to them.
Besides the accent on sex, Maze has serious problems in getting a novice into the show. The intro to the first OVA plays like a recap that you might find 10 episodes into a series. We then plunge into the action headlong, and for me, it felt very rushed. Although Record Of Lodoss Wars took a full episode in media res to get started, it went back and filled in the origins of our characters quickly. No such luck here (though the TV show of the same name apparently covers this ground.) As such, there are tons of unanswered questions. Why are there mecha in this world? Why does Princess Mill have to be topless in one of them for it to fly with Maze at the controls? Why is the Jaina Holy Group trying to take over the Bartonian Empire? Who are these bad guys and why are they so intent in killing this party of adventurers? No answers for you...they aren't there. Even most of the characters we meet don't have enough time to get real personalities.
Now, in all fairness, this show is animated extremely well and looks great. The soundtrack is decent, and frankly, there are a few really funny spots, particularly a bit where a dragon hosts a game show with our characters answering questions to save themselves from oblivion. In that moment, I fondly remembered why parts of The Slayers was so funny...and clearly, the show was trying to establish the vibe that The Slayers captured, at least part of the time. However, it's that same comparison where Maze falls behind. It simply isn't that good.
Plenty of comedic sword-and-sorcery shows exist so that you really don't have to bother with Maze. If a short fantasy comedy is your bit, I'd easily recommend the hilarious Dragon Half instead.
Maze OVAs -- nudity and strong sexual content, brief but graphic violence, rough language -- C