It is always more difficult to watch a master fail than an apprentice. Part of it is simply due to the expectations on the part of the participants. No one expects great things of a novice, but shame on the great musician who plays hesitantly or the astounding craftsman who uses green wood. Such is the case with Roujin Z. Katsuhiro Otomo is the man primarily responsible for Akira, and the man could probably sell bellybutton lint in Japan based on name recognition alone. (Hey, they sell stranger things in Japanese vending machines...) He wrote the story and created some of the mechanical desings, so in some ways he is responsible. However, he did not do any of the character artwork, and so it's questionable how much of this is really his and how much of it is simply sales based off his name. Nonetheless, it tries desperately to work, and just misses the mark. From a great, though, you expect more.
Roujin Z is a story plagued by one basic problem: it doesn't know what it wants to be. Black comedy, slapstick, drama - they all fall together, and it's left to the viewer to sort out the pieces. Part of my disappointment was that the beginning is darkly humorous, and it really worked for me. It was unique and different from most anime I'd seen. But after the first 15 minutes, it starts to degenerate.
Long story short: the government is trying to come up with ways to deal with the problem of taking care of the bedridden and the aged. (It's a real problem both in Japan and here, so it was more topical than most anime, and it drew my interest.) Hakuro, a young nurse in training, is taking care of an old gentleman who looks like he's just about ready to give up the ghost. It turns out his family has given permission for him to be part of a new experiment in caretaking, which turns out to be a nuclear powered bed equipped to handle anything an elderly person could possibly want to do. The one thing it's not prepared for is the old man's desire to go home. Haruko and her friends try to help, but they aren't exactly ready for what lies ahead.
The opening is great, and slightly sad. When the corporation first does its trial run of the bed's features for the press, it is hilarious, and it makes you think you're going to see black humor throughout. Surprisingly (and unfortunately), from there it turns into a mecha fight show with government agencies fighting each other, while this group of kids tries to rescue the poor old man. It loses focus and becomes almost slapstick. It's just really inconsistent, and I couldn't help but wonder what this could have been. As far as the technical aspects go, it's reasonably well animated, and the character design is OK. After Akira, though, this is a great disappointment. Not to spoil the ending, but you've seen something very similar to it before, if you're a fan of Otomo.
Roujin Z -- violence, adult subject matter -- C+