Armagideon Time

Zillion dollar baby

May 24th, 2018

Still gives me the chills.

I have previously discussed my love of Zillion, the Sega Master System’s consolation prize for folks who really wanted to play Metroid but backed the wrong side during that generation’s console wars. While the actual game was a bit thin compared to its NES counterpart (and owed more to the Impossible Mission PC game than to Samus Aran’s Big Adventure), its blend of action, exploration, and punching in countless strings of access codes was uplifted by visuals and music lifted straight from the licensed source material.

As a result, Zillion played a bigger role than Robotech or the era’s small wave of translated Japanese in fueling my passionate fandom towards all things anime and manga during the late Eighties and early Nineties. Even the game’s dismal sequel — which somehow managed to combine a transforming mechabike and some of the best graphics ever seen on Sega’s Little Console That Couldn’t into something that couldn’t clear Teen Andrew’s pretty low bar for adoration — couldn’t dim my love for the franchise.

The first Zillion game was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal time in my life, the vortex of domestic chaos which ultimately resulted in my mom’s death. Over the years, it has become a significant mnemonic locus, an odd but important reminder that things weren’t all bad back then and certainly didn’t lack moments of genuine joy. Again, it’s a strange vessel upon which to impart such significance, but it’s not as if I had a conscious say in the matter.

It’s why I can’t listen to either the original or in-game chiptune version of “Push” without lapsing into a state of pure nostalgic bliss.

Over the years, I’ve managed to assemble a small collection of Zillion-themed memorabilia. The franchise wasn’t exactly huge, so there isn’t much of it compared to Macross or Gundam or other of its cash cow contemporaries — some domestic and imported fanzines, a folder of fansubbed .avi files of the anime series, a run of the shitty Eternity Comics series, a copy of the original soundtrack LP, and a cel featuring one on the main characters I picked up for a tenner during my one of my earliest eBay forays. I still do some searching around every few months in hopes of turning up something new-to-me or interesting. Most of what comes up is either overpriced (e.g. fifty-buck laminated pencil boards) or not really my thing (e.g. a vinyl cheesecake figure of the one of the female characters).

But then I stumbled across this, resulting in a gasp of covetous shock…

Zillion was conceived in conjunction with Sega to be as marketing campaign for both the videogames and a Japanese attempt to cash in on the Laser Tag craze. That’s why the trio of heroic leads made such a big deal about the “Zillion” pistols they carted around in their battles with the evil Noza Empire and just so happened to be modeled after the Master System’s lightgun peripheral. The toy cartoon angle led to the series a bad rap (among the folks writing the Stateside fanzines, at least) for being overly simplistic and other sins real or imagined against the highbrow tastes of folks who wrote filk tributes to Fist of the North Star.

I’ve seen photos of the Zillion laser tag sets on fan sites before, but never in my three decades of attending cons, visiting Japanese import shops, and browsing eBay had I seen one offered up for sale. It would’ve been an insta-buy, but a glance at the asking price set off an internal war between the parts of me that want the damn thing, thinks that’s way too much to spend on a hunk of plastic, knows it’s technically affordable, can list a dozen other more pressing needs, and recognizes that I have few truly deep fandoms of which this one is especially significant on a deeply personal level.

They’ve got a week to determine a victor. I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out.

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