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Spiral Zone title card
|Created by||Diana Dru Botsford|
|Developed by||Fettes Grey (pseudonym for J. Michael Straczynski)|
|Written by||Mark Edward Edens
Diana Dru Botsford
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||65|
|Executive producer(s)||Edd Griles
|Producer(s)||Diana Dru Botsford|
|Running time||20 min.|
The Maltese Companies
|Original run||September 21, 1987 – December 18, 1987|
Spiral Zone is a 1987 American science-fiction animated series produced by Atlantic/Kushner-Locke. Based in part from a toy line made by Japanese company Bandai, the series focused on an international group of soldiers fighting to free the world from a scientist who controls much of the Earth's surface. It only ran for one season, with a total count of 65 episodes.
Tonka acquired the license from Bandai and created a different treatment to the series, plus a short-lived toy line. Spiral Zone is known among fans as a series that stood out from other contemporary cartoons of the 80s because of its dark story. The series has not been officially released on DVD by Hasbro, who had acquired Tonka in the 90s, including all the copyrights to their properties.
On June 18, 2007, a renegade military scientist, Dr. James Bent, uses a hijacked space shuttle to drop his deadly Zone Generators across half of the Earth, a region called the Spiral Zone due to its shape.
Millions of people are trapped in the dark mists of the Spiral Zone and transformed into "Zoners" with lifeless yellow eyes and strange red patches on their faces. Because they have no will to resist, Bent - now known as Overlord - makes them his slave army and controls them from the Chrysler Building in New York City.
His followers are known as the Black Widows: Bandit, Duchess Dire, Razorback, and Reaper. They are immune to the Zone because of a special device called the Widow Maker. However, due to prolonged exposure to the Zone, they also share the same effects as normal people caught inside the Zone, which has dark skies and Zone spores growing in many places. Bent seeks to conquer the world by bringing everyone under control with the Zone Generators. The Zones feed off human energy, which is why Bent does not kill anyone inside.
With major cities Zoned, the nations of the world put aside their own differences to fight the Black Widows. However, only five soldiers using special suits to protect themselves from the Zone could do it. While easy to destroy, Zone Generators are impossible to capture because of booby traps. Overlord would drop more generators on remaining military and civilian centers and force the Zone Riders into a standoff.
Bent not only invents the Zone Generators but also an antidote process giving him immunity to the bacteria. He uses this process on his small group of soldiers. While immune to the mind-altering effects, each Black Widow still has lesions on their skin and have yellow dilated eyes.
- Overlord - Dr. Bent himself, commander and rebel scientist
- Bandit - master of disguise, a terrorist of Middle Eastern origin;
- Duchess Dire (formerly Ursula Dire) - assignment expert and hardened criminal.
- Razorback (formerly Al Krak) - bladesman
- Reaper - manhunter
Later in the series, French scientist Jean Duprey and truck driver Richard Welt join the Black Widows. They were codenamed Crook and Raw Meat, respectively.
Overlord rides the Bullwhip Cannon, an eight-wheel all-terrain vehicle equipped with a large laser cannon. The other Black Widows ride Sledge Hammers, a one-man minitank that has triangular caterpillar tracks and has whirling mace arms on either side. They also have a special delta-winged aircraft called the Intruder.
Overlord's initial strike put all the major capitals of the world in the Zone. The chaos sparks international cooperation even between the United States and the Soviet Union. To counter the effects of the Zone bacteria, British scientists create a rare material called Neutron-90. However, only a limited amount of Neutron-90 is remaining in the world after the British government orders the destruction of the only laboratory where the material is produced. There is only enough material left to build combat suits for five specially-trained soldiers called the Spiral Force, also known as the "Zone Riders."
- Cdr Dirk Courage - Zone Riders leader, United States
- MSgt Tank Schmidt - heavy weapons specialist, West Germany
- Lt Hiro Taka - infiltration specialist, Japan
- 2nd Lt Max Jones - special mission expert, United States
- Cpl Katerina Anastacia - medical officer, USSR
As the series advances, the Zone Riders discover that there is still enough Neutron-90 left over from assembling the five suits, sufficient to build two additional suits. They are issued to Australian demolition specialist Lt Ned Tucker and field scientist Lt Benjamin Davis Franklin.
The Zone Riders are deployed around the world from a mountain base called the Mission Command Central, or MCC. Dirk Courage rides the Rimfire, a monowheel vehicle equipped with a large cannon on top. The other Zone Riders ride armored combat monocycles and wear special backpacks.
Japanese Spiral Zone
The suits and some of the vehicles in Spiral Zone originated from a line of action figures produced by Bandai that was sold from 1985 to 1988. Conceptualized by Gundam mecha designers Kunio Okawara and Kazuhisa Kondo, the Special Force Group Spiral Zone series depicted a team of special operations soldiers fighting a war in the early 21st century. The line only had 12 items, organized into Acts. They include: three 1:12 scale six-inch figures with full equipment codenamed Bull Solid, Hyper Boxer, and Sentinel Bear, two Bull Solid cloth uniform and armor sets, two Hyper Boxer cloth uniform and armor sets, two equipment backpacks, two bare human figures, and one vehicle called the Monoseed. The figures had 30 points of articulation. Non-toy media included a notebook, a novel, and a LP/story compilation released in 1986 by Warner Brothers and Pioneer Corporation called a Hyper Image Album. The LP disc in particular contains songs composed by Toshiyuki Watanabe and performed by Tomoko Aran, with the accompanying stories written by Kazunori Itō. He wrote the novel with HEADGEAR colleague Akemi Takada as illustrator. The series' story and other machines, such as a mobile base and special transport for the Monoseeds, were also detailed in Bandai's Model Making Journal.
Bandai had plans to release a fourth action figure (codenamed Fireball) and additional vehicles before the line was cancelled. They include a tank, a small flight pod called the Beaufighter, a radio-controlled assault jeep resembling the Chenowth DPV called the Fat Lynx, a fast-attack vehicle called the Mad Lemming, a bipedal mech, two personal transport backpacks, and the Monoseed Mk II assault cycle, among others. The Monoseed and Monoseed Mk II were the respective basis for the Zone Riders' standard motorcycles and Courage's Rimfire Cannon, while one of the two unreleased backpacks, a monocycle called the Monodrive, was remodeled as Max Jones' Zone Runner backpack.
The unreleased vehicles later appeared in the series' gashapon line, which also had a special Spiral Zone super-deformed board game and other products not developed in 1:12 scale, such as new personal mecha units, weapon packs, and three figures (codenamed Zone Bolt, Eagle Eye, and Zone Acorn).
Because of their extensive detail and high-quality construction, the Japanese Spiral Zone figures are well regarded among toy collectors and often fetch high prices.
The American Spiral Zone animated series was dubbed into Japanese and aired on the satellite network NHK-BS2 in 1990.  The episode order for the Japanese broadcast was substantially altered from the order used in the United States. For example, US episode #1 was aired in Japan as episode #3.
Although best known for producing toys of construction vehicles, Tonka licensed the rights to Spiral Zone from Bandai and created a line of seven-inch figures that were later based on the animated series. The toy line, which hit the market in 1986, comprised four of the five original Zone Riders and all five original Black Widows, plus their vehicles, six cloth uniforms, and eight equipment sets.
However, the cancellation of the series left the figures of Zone Riders Anastacia, Tucker, and Franklin, Black Widows Crook and Raw Meat, and a Zone Generator playset out of Tonka's 1988 release. The figures were also highly detailed, but were not as articulated as the Japanese figures. Each figure has a special audio cassette tape.
Tonka first released Spiral Zone on VHS in 1987 with two episodes per tape. Only three tapes were produced before the series was cancelled. Tonka has not announced plans to release the series on DVD. However, an unofficial DVD set containing all 65 episodes and bonus materials was released in late 2006 by Spiral-Zone.com, with the cooperation of the show's supervising director, Pierre de Celles. The site's operator said that de Celles volunteered for the project by providing the original master tapes of the series, which were converted to DVD. He added that Tonka and parent firm Hasbro never responded to his offers to acquire the rights.
DC Comics released a Spiral Zone series in February 1987, but it only lasted four issues.
- Spiral Zone episode 4, Mission Into Evil
- Bandai Model Making Journal, October 1985
- Bandai Model Making Journal, June 1986
- http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm16789521 Japanese dub at Nico Nico Douga (account required for viewing)
- http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%82%B9%E3%83%91%E3%82%A4%E3%83%A9%E3%83%AB%E3%82%BE%E3%83%BC%E3%83%B3 Spiral Zone animated series info at Japanese Wikipedia (text in Japanese)
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oX0l5_GHGmo Japanese dub of "Holographic Battle" on You Tube.
- SpiralZone.com: The #1 resource for both the Tonka and Bandai SPIRAL ZONE series (unofficial)
- Reviews on the original Bandai Spiral Zone collection
- Spiral Zone Toys info
- Flashback Review: Spiral Zone