Apocalypse Zero, also known as Kakugo no Susume, is a manga by Takayuki Yamaguchi and two-part OVA from The '90s. It revolves about Kakugo Hagakure, a warrior of justice who protects a post-apocalyptic Tokyo from the mutants who keep ravaging it. Kakugo fights the with the help of a Powered Armor (powered by 3000 foreign victims of Imperial Japan atrocities) and other grisly technology developed by the former Imperial Japanese Army... But so does Harara, Kakugo's former brother, who leads the monsters to cleanse the world from the humans who destroyed it in the first place.
The series' appeal mostly comes from its eclectic mix of stylistic influences: Henshin Hero transformations and villains straight out of Kamen Rider and the Ultra Series, unsettling imagery inspired by Imperial Japan, glam flourishes for Harara lifted out of Shoujo manga like The Rose of Versailles, ridiculous arrays of over-sexualized monsters with a bizarre cartoony aesthetic that echo some of the stranger demon designs in Devilman, guts-spewing, blood-gushing, skin-melting, bones-sticking-out-limbs Gorn... And, most importantly, an old-school "good versus evil" narrative told completely in earnest, including even a good dose of The Power of Love.
This work, officially described as a "self-indulgent manga", was Yamaguchi's first long series, and it was published from July 1994 to August 1996.
The manga was followed in 2010-2015 by Exoskull Zero, a Broad Strokes distant sequel where Kakugo wakes up from a long slumber and meets other six armored warriors (each one a Hero of Another Story... And Harara.) who may have different approaches to justice than him. It was followed in 2015-2021 by Efu no Shichinin ("The Seven of Efu"), a pseudo-remake/prequel of Exoskull Zero in Edo-era Japan (in the style of the author's own Shigurui featuring cameos from some of his other works.
- Adaptational Attractiveness: The manga mentions a lot that Tsumiko is overweight, while the OVA does not, although it still retains her insecurity about her beauty. Not that this changes much her character design (see Informed Flaw below).
- Adaptational Jerkass: Mildly. In the OVA, Kakugo slaps Megumi (whom he believes to be a recent rape victim!) in midst of her seduction attempt because he considers it an indecorous behavior. In the manga, he pushes her away instead, and he does it because she was placing her bare ass in his kitchen sink.
- Adaptational Wimp: The OVA has an original scene where Mr. Zenigata cowers when threatened by Haoka. In the manga, Zenigata's perpetually collected demeanor would make this unlikely. In fact, he even taunts Haoka while the latter is forced to work to clear the rubble of the Eikichi attack.
- After the End: The series is set in and around Tokyo after a series of powerful earthquakes ravaged human civilization.
- A Father to His Men: Compared to most villains, Harara has an unusual love and appreciation for his minions, being forgiving of their mistakes and grateful for their sacrifices. He genuinely cares for the lives and wellbeing of the monsters under his command. He's not quite Affably Evil to people in general, but a homicidal mutant horror couldn't possibly ask for a better boss.
- Applied Phlebotinum: The Steel Balls.
- Art Evolution: Most notably with Haoka, whose face looks grotesque at the beginning of the manga, but much more humanlike and even handsome later on.
- Badass Boast: Kakugo's boast after besting the bear in the OVA.Kakugo: My appearance is of little consequence in the end. My duty is to win at any cost. My scarred flesh will be proof of my victory!
- Barbie Doll Anatomy: Kakugo doesn't show any... equipment when he fights nude with the Steel Balls technique (No Pun Intended, probably), though some faraway shots here and there do show him anatomically correct. Totally averted with some monsters, though.
- Bears Are Bad News: In the beginning of the anime (and Chapter 11 of the manga), Kakugo and Harara have to fight a mutated, radioactive bear with caustic blood... which has several pairs of giant breasts, for some reason.
- Big Bad: Harara Hagakure for most of the series... Or rather the grudge of Mei Inukai that lived in the Kasumi armor. Mei's newborn child was sacrificed to power the Kasumi armor without her consentment, and her husband was brainwashed to forcefully kidnap his own son from her wife at all costs: all of them, including the already-wounded Mei, were brutally executed later... No wonder she doesn't hold humanity in high regard.
- The Man Behind the Man itself is Shiro Hagakure, Kakugo and Harara's great-grandfather, and an Imperial Army veteran loosely based on Shirō Ishii. He was the mastermind behind the technology used by the Hagakure family (armors, weapons, techniques, etc.) and the monsters. Noticeably, he's the only villain which doesn't undergo a HeelFace Turn, a Death Equals Redemption moment, and/or gets revived in the end.
- Cain and Abel: Kakugo and Harara.
- Camp Gay: Dogumakuro, the giant blue leprechaun who dresses like a member of the Village People.
- Camp Straight: In the OVA, Haoka is a rather flamboyant dude and speaks with a girl's voice despite his delinquent status. This is only hinted in the manga, where he occasionally yells in a girly manner when scared.
- Canon Welding: Exoskull Zero retroactively retcons the author's 2001-2002 manga Banyū Inryoku (a Cyberpunk manga about traditionalist / craftsmen / low-class rogues who battle against a technological plutocracy) as an Apocalypse Zero sequel. Its highly technological setting is a contrast to Apocalypse Zero's After the End setting, but by Exoskull Zero everything has fallen into chaos again... Although, since Banyū Inryoku is barely mentioned in the story itself, it was probably meant to aknowledge it as a Spiritual Successor more than anything else.
- Cosy Catastrophe: Tokyo is basically ruined and has large sections of terrain where buildings just collapsed. However, it seems basic infraestructures are still functioning, such as Kakugo's high school, and school life itself has changed relatively little beyond the apparition of punks and gangs (and monsters). It's also mentioned that there are better districts in Tokyo, even with a functional police to boot.
- Dark Is Not Evil: The souls of the unwilling test subjects that power Zero. They appear as a mass of skulls but they are nothing but supportive of Kakugo, and repeatedly watch out for him during his fights, constantly giving him helpful advice on the best action to take.
- Dastardly Whiplash: Chidokuro, complete with the iconic moustache.
- Fan Disservice: Almost any time someone appears naked, it'll be Squicky.
- Full-Frontal Assault: Kakugo and Rai do it a lot due to their Steel Balls technique, which renders his body metallic while their clothes remain completely vulnerable to Clothing Damage. Also, for unrelated reasons, the mind-controlled Tsumiko fights Kakugo in the nude after having been groped by Chidokuro.
- Gag Penis: Some of the "Tactical Fiends/Evils" have mutated attack genitals. This is shown best by Eikichi, whose groin is an entirely different creature, the dragon-like 'Weenie'.
- Gorn: Apocalypse Zero has been called the most vile anime ever made, and not without very good reason. The very first bit after the titles has a woman being killed via being squeezed to death and vomiting her guts all over her boyfriend. And the kicker? The anime is actually tamer than the manga.
- Grossout Show: It features a constant stream of Ludicrous Gibs and heavily sexualized yet seriously monstrous villains, and its art style is made to maximize all the grotetesqueness.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Harara suffers this as a result of his own lack of forward planning, when he decides to merge his life-force with that of the last Tactical Evil he sent out, being Eikichi. However, Eikichi is already slowly dying from blood loss after being beaten almost to a pulp by Kakugo. This strategy works reasonably well for a time, but Harara ignores the fact that any injury Eikichi's body sustains will ultimately affect him as well. Once Eikichi's body dies and begins undergoing rigor mortis, Harara is left severely weakened by his host's ruined body, and quickly ends up in a coma after Kakugo gets the upper hand and destroys the corpse of Eikichi.
- Humans Are Ugly: Hamuko considers human girls ugly and wants to kill them all.
- Ideal Hero: Kakugo himself. His serious nature might make him seem unapproachable but he is a very empathetic, responsible, and compassionate teenager fighting to protect all of humanity, and notably sheds tears when the spirits of the test subjects powering Zero tell him their story, and immediately begins to mutilate his own mental body so that he may understand their pain.
- Idiot Ball: Harara, right after Kakugo beats all the demons that are thrown at him. Instead of going out and fighting Kakugo himself, Harara decides to possess the body of the last demon that he sent via a machine. The problem is that 1) Harara was told that any damage the demon's body takes will be transferred onto him, 2) the demon's body is stiffening due to rigor mortis, limiting Harara's movements, and 3) it was established that Harara was a better fighter then Kakugo and could more then enough take him in a full match. But no, Harara decides this is the best option. End result, Kakugo beats the demon's body silly and finishes by punching its head off, sending Harara to a series-long coma. Yeah.
- Informed Flaw: In the manga, Tsumiko is constantly referred as being overweight and not very beautiful. Despite this, she has pretty much the same character design as just every other female her age (she is somewhat thicker, but this is only visible whenever she's undressed and there's another nearby female character to compare), and her face and hair are drawn with a more flowery style than most of them. Tellingly, the OVA doesn't even bother to mention it.
- Japanese Delinquents: Haoka wears the classic attire, cap included.
- Jerkass with a Heart of Gold: A lot of characters, including Mr. Zenigata (who is a douchebag most of the time but secretly admires the students's resolution to live), the school principal (a perverted stalker who nonetheless is willing to give his life for a single student), Haoka (who is a bully, but also brave and loyal) and even Kakugo himself (as he can be very unempathic in his personal relationships, but ultimately means well).
- Mildly Military: The Hagakure family retains some Japanese Imperial military imagery even although they are civilians. Justified because many of their traditions were invented by the defunct Imperial military.
- Mood Whiplash: Kakugo is such a boy scout that he's in shocking contrast to his enemies, which are disgusting mutants with terrible puffy Gonk faces and oozing with Fan Disservice. His heroic speeches are better than anything you'd hear out of a standard superhero show... It's just weird.
- Naginatas Are Feminine: When Tsumiko jokes about wishing to know Karate to be as badass as Kakugo, he comments that hand-to-hand fighting is unfit for women and that naginata training would be better for them, presumably because women have generally less muscle strength and would benefit more from a weapon than bare hands.
- Named After Somebody Famous: Takayuki Yamaguchi is a huge fan of the legendary anime and tokusatsu singer (and occasional voice actress) Mitsuko Horie, so much that he named Tsumiko Horie after her note , and naturally Mitsuko Horie ended up voicing her in the anime version. You can note it in the times Horie starts singing for no reason other than to showcase her seiyu's talent.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The OVA series alters the order of appearance of the Tactical Fiends in order to create a climax with Eikichi in the second episode.
- Pronoun Trouble: Harara has a female body after merging with his armor, Kasumi, but is still referred to by male pronouns. Some of the art implies he is meant to be a hermaphrodite whose nether regions are censored, though.
- Puppeteer Parasite: What happens to Tsumiko in the manga when Chidokuro kidnaps her.
- Shout-Out: Enough to have its own page.
- Surprisingly Happy Ending: No, really. Harara ultimately decides to tolerate the existence of humans, find room for them in his vision of a healthy new Earth and uses his powers to bring all of his dead allies back to life, finally making peace with the humans. Surprisingly Happy Ending taken to another level.
- Take That!: While the hero's Japanese Spirit and clothing/armor seemingly lifted from Imperial Japan might give a pro-nationalistic vibe, the manga itself clearly condemns Imperial Japan's jingoistic attitude and acknowledges the nation's brutal war crimes, especially the ones commited by the controversial Unit 731: In Apocalypse Zero, the monsters are experiments created by a Shiro Ishii Expy, as well as Kakugo and Harara's weapons which were developed through inhuman experiments (noticeably, their armors are powered by slaughtered PO Ws or civilians, most of them being non-Japanese). In the end, the heroes manage to win against the misguided villains not by violence but through The Power of Love... And all of them ally to defeat the Shiro Ishii Expy, who is the one who caused all the chaos to begin with.
- Tear Off Your Face: The end result for the poor schmuck who gets a smooch from Hamuko.
- Transfer Student Uniforms: As he just moved to Reverse Cross High, Kakugo still wears the uniform of his previous school, which looks oddly like a Japanese Imperial Navy uniform.