Fans were quick to latch onto The Zeta Project when the series originally premiered on Kids’WB! almost ten years ago. Using Batman Beyond as the perfect springboard, The Zeta Project amassed a cult fan-following that remains strong even to this day. As strong as that following was, it wasn’t enough to allow the show to last more than a couple seasons, but it still left an impact on the DC Animated Universe and its fans. And now, the first twelve episodes of the show is finally available to own on DVD, which begs the question of whether or not, after all these years, the show still holds up as solid and entertaining programming. Thankfully, it does! We’ll take a closer look at this release after the synopsis below.
From the world of Batman Beyond comes Zeta, an experimental infiltration robot designed to be a government agent. With an arsenal od weapons and technology, including a holographic self-projector allowing it to assume any identity, Zeta is the ultimate assassin. But when Zeta’s programming evolves, he develops a conscience and refuses to perform for the government. Now, Zeta is the enemy and Agent Bennet wants to put this rogue robot down before it endangers humanity. Zeta tales to the streets and finds a friend in Ro, an orphan also on the run. These two form a wary alliance that grows to a friendship as they travel together through The Zeta Project‘s 2-Disc Set of 12 exciting Season One adventures. As pursuer Bennet’s anger and persistence grow, the question becomes: who’s the real threat to humanity?
I have Batman Beyond to thank for my interest in The Zeta Project. It wasn’t until the first season The Zeta Project episode “Shadows” that I gave this series a serious look. I dismissed it early on due to the bright and colorful look of the series, but, after checking out this episode, I opted to check out the rest of the season and was really surprised with what I saw. Thankfully, at the time, reruns were still quite frequent on Kids’WB! and I was able to catch the entire first season in reruns. While I wasn’t completely blown away by the series, it did have me hooked to at least see what was going to happen next. Even if the show wasn’t hitting every episode out of the park, I got invested in the characters so quickly and that alone fueled me to keep a steady eye on this series.
For me, the second season of The Zeta Project is when the show was firing on all cylinders and really ran with the concept. The first season is a bit hampered by the broadcast censors at the time, something that even the “Make of…” featurette included on this set covers, but by no means is the first season of the show bad, far from it. Personally, I found that, upon revisiting the first season of The Zeta Project, the show really embraces the serial format without forgoing the ability to make every episode accessible. There’s a good chunk of episodes that start with a brief “Previously on…” montage to keep viewers up to pace and, in fact, that’s kind of how my interest in the series grew when viewing the Batman Beyond-guest-starring episode “Shadows,” which opens with a quick montage to get new viewers up to speed. Of course, the opening credit sequence for the series also gives a quick rundown of the series premise so fans should be able to hop on with each episode.
Anyways, what jumps out at me this time is the hi-tech The Fugitive vibe the series gives off (something even referenced in the bonus material). Sure, I noticed this when originally watching the series, but watching all twelve episodes in one sitting really puts that side of the show to the forefront and, to me, really boosts the appeal of the series. The light-hearted aspect to it is still there, but the the dark, serial aspect nature to it really does creep around the edges. At times it seems like the show is intentionally lightened up to counter the darkness of the series, and it’s there. Surprisingly, it’s more noticeable now, as I sit through the first twelve episodes, then when I first caught it. Sure, the colors are bright and the blacks are never really purely black, but, boy that covers the sometimes heavy subject matter of the series. Just consider that the show stars a reformed robot assassin on the run from the law, and it’s amazing they were able to get that premise on a Saturday morning cartoon. Viewers who wrote this show off as just a kids show may want to consider giving it another spin. While the show can be a bit touch-and-go at times during these first twelve episodes, there’s still a lot of great stuff to be found in here.
As I mentioned earlier, I became invested in the characters quite quickly, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Zeta and Ro are excellent main protagonists, and two characters who have great chemistry with each other. They became increasingly interesting as we learned more about them, coming across as surprisingly multi-layered instead of the “mis-matched partners” cliches that tend to hamper similar series. Even the agents that chased these two characters had their moments, showing a testament to the work done on the series.
Overall, The Zeta Project is a bit of a mixed bag that leans more toward the positive than negative. It’s obvious that the show was somewhat fighting to find a solid tone in the first season, having to deal with an admittedly dark premise while trying to make it a kid-friendly series. Things are glossy and bright, designs are simple and colorful and the action can be very stylized at times, but, look past that, and you get a really ballsy premise for a Saturday morning cartoon. Any problems the show has in these first twelve episodes do get fixed in the latter fourteen (coming to DVD later this year), but those problems pale in comparison to the great character work and great serial premise to the series. The Zeta Project is a vastly underrated show that acquired a devoted fan following, one that’s still quite active to this day, and it may be time for those who haven’t checked out this series to give it a shot. Despite the occasional bump or weak episode The Zeta Project: Season One comes Highly Recommended to check out.
First off, I feel the need to acknowledge the great packaging work done by Warner Home Video for this release. The two-disc Amaray case is housed in a very sturdy cardboard slipcase, but not the usual slipcase. Instead of the typical “O-Ring” cardboard slip, we get a thick cardboard sleeve with access to the disc set from the right side. Much like the older cardboard digi-pack releases, The Zeta Project: Season One with the exception that we still get a sturdy Amaray case instead of cardboard disc holders. Solid work on the packaging!
Fans should be just as pleased with what they find inside. To start off, let’s take a look at the audio and video set-up for this release. While there is some compression and ghosting noticeable, it’s perfectly clean transfer with barely any noticeable defects to be seen unless you’re really looking for them. The Dolby Stereo Surround audio transfer is solid affair, as well, so fans should be pleased with what they both see and hear. Viewers will be pleased to know that this release also includes chapters stops for each episode.
The main draw for this set, for fans, will be the new bonus features and, in my opinion, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. The bonus material includes trailers, two episodes of Batman Beyond featuring Zeta, and an incredibly enjoyable “Making of…” featurette. Before I go further, if you have it seen it, I urge everyone to check out the Batman Beyond episode “Countdown,” featured on this release, for one reason: Mad Stan. An absolutely hilarious villain who unknowingly puts Zeta in his crosshairs. Anyways, to get back on track, the “The Making of Zeta” featurette is incredibly thorough for a 16-minute featurette. We get a look at production art, early conception art, promo material, episode clips, and some really interesting backstory information. On top of all of this, the cast and crew is front and center for this featurette, discussing their work on the show and how it all came together. There’s a lot of new information about the show itself that fans should find interesting, including the original episode to the Batman Beyond episode “Zeta” and the work that had to be done on the series when new management for Kids’WB! demanded changes. It’s really interesting stuff that production buffs and fans of The Zeta Project will get a kick out of.
Menus are simply and easy to navigate, though I think they could’ve found a better picture of Ro to use for the “Special Features” menu on the first disc, but that’s just my opinion.
Overall, the DVD release of The Zeta Project: Season One is well worth picking up, especially for die-hard fans who remember the show from when it originally aired almost a decade ago. But, for those who missed out on the series the first time around, this collection is well worth picking up. Not only is it safe to view for all ages, but it actually has something for everyone. Adults will enjoy the story and futuristic The Fugitive-vibe to it, kids will enjoy the action and humor, and everyone will get a kick out of the well-developed characters. Now, The Zeta Project isn’t perfect, it does have a couple flaws here and there, but it’s an enjoyable show and one that I’m sure fans will enjoy adding to their collection. The Zeta Project is a vastly underrated show, one with a dark story perfectly masked by the bright colors and humors of the series, but a show that I believe comes Highly Recommended to check out.
The Zeta Project: Season One hits DVD on March 17th, 2009.