Although The Matrix recently popularized the concept of virtual reality in a mainstream concept, the concept of humans living in a created illusionary world has existed for some time. Anime examined the same plotline way back in 1985 with the introduction of Megazone 23, an infamous title that arguably launched the OVA format and spawned two sequels. Close to twenty years later, the animation comes off as heavily dated, but Megazone 23 contains all the core story that made Keanu Reeves' vehicle such a success.
Megazone 23 is set in a city not all that unlike the present day. Shogo, a young hothead biker, gets himself involved with Yui, a girl he nearly runs over in a high-speed accident. She and her friends (as well as the rest of the city) are enamored with a new idol singer, Eve, whose music is found almost everywhere. Meanwhile, a friend of Shogo's wants him to see this great new bike he's gotten secretly--the Garland. It turns out that this bike is something special, special enough that the friend is killed for knowing too much about it. Shogo runs off with the bike, and through using it finds out the secret that will change his life and the life of his friends forever. Turns out they don't actually live on Earth, but in a city manipulated by the military through virtual reality. Eve is a part of that virtual lie, but her program might hold the keys to more secrets held within Megazone 23. As he becomes Operator 7G, Eve's link with the real world, Shogo becomes more dangerous to the government, and the deadly agent B.D. is sent to stop him at all costs...even if it means the lives of his friends.
Megazone 23 was a huge hit when it came out, in part due to the appeal of the virtual idol Eve. Designed by Haruhiko Mikimoto, riding high off the success of the original Macross series, Eve became extremely popular as an icon. Several albums of Eve's music (voiced by Kumi Miyasato) from the show were released, and an homage of sorts was paid to her in the form of Macross Plus' virtual star Sharon Apple. With a fresh storyline uniquely ahead of its time, tangents through government conspiracies, and flawed but determined and realistic characters, Megazone 23 was a sterling success. These points are still true of the show, despite its age. Modern fans may bemoan its artwork, which is thoroughly mired in the early 80s and lacks a high frame rate, but for some of us, the look adds somehow to its enjoyability.
Despite all the accolades, it is still deserving of its B+ grade that I gave it in my initial pocket review. A few things included to sell the video--namely, a couple of love scenes--slow things down a bit too much and don't keep pace with the rest of the show. Also, despite my acceptance and appreciation of ambiguity in anime, the film revels in being intentionally confusing at times. Overall, there are too many holes and unanswered questions with the film to make it really great. That ambiguity extends to the ending, which while leaving things open for the sequels makes for a somewhat disappointing close.
Megazone 23 might be slightly disappointing on its reputation alone, which at one point was quite high. However, placed in context as a sci-fi action feature ahead of its time, it's actually a solid entertainment even today. I've actually been a fan of it for some time, and even with its rough edges, it has my recommendation.
Megazone 23 -- violence, nudity/adult situations -- B+