Zen Pictures / Akiba Heroine – Site Review

21 175x116 Zen Pictures / Akiba Heroine   Site ReviewHM here…  Zen Pictures has just updated its web site with a brand new design, which is doubly convenient because Sidekick has written an in-depth site review in which he examines everything from the costumes to shooting locations to peril to “bang for your Yen.”  Check out Sidekick’s site review (and my additional comments) and then head over to Zen Pictures to check out the new redesign.

Sidekick: For the uninitiated, Zen Pictures is a Japanese production company that puts out a few dozen films every year. The films they produce are high end, big budget (comparatively) action/peril films whose production values surpass even the best efforts of the top British and American producers in the same genre.  Let’s take a deeper look at the Zen Pictures / Akiba Heroine web site.

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1. The Girls - When watching Zen Pictures, one begins to wonder whether there any unattractive women in Japan. They just run out one beautiful actress after another. A few girls of note that I like and that have been cast in different roles are Sayoko Ohashi, Haruka Nagase, and Arisa Taki. All are exceptionally gorgeous. All are incredibly talented.

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2. The Wardrobes - Top notch in every way possible.  I can’t imagine a costume fetish that hasn’t been serviced at some point over the years.  If you have never been to the site’s main page, I encourage you to visit Zen Pictures.   They have virtual DVD covers with images from their latest releases.  As I write this, the images on the main page feature a mix of the following costumes: spandex, leather, form fitting cat suits, bikinis, Power Ranger type uniforms, Sailor Moon type outfits, mini skirts, and a well put together version of a Supergirl costume. That’s all from just nine images.

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3. Peril – My Zen library consists of about a dozen titles, and every single one is filled with peril.  A lot of peril.  A ridiculous amount of peril.  Like the costumes, if there is a specific heroine in peril situation that you particularly enjoy, it’s a good bet Zen Pictures has done some form of it at one point or another.

4. Fight choreography – It’s almost always very good.  Often, it’s the best the industry has to offer.  With the exception of a recent release entitled Battle of Dead, I haven’t seen what I would consider below average fight choreography in any of the films I have purchased.

5. Locations – They do a fantastic job. They have well-designed interior locations and for a nice change of pace, they do a great deal of shooting outdoors.

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6. Writing/Acting – Tough one to rate for two reasons:  One, I don’t speak Japanese, and I’m guessing most of HM’s readers don’t either.  Two, when they subtitle a film the translations are sometimes a bit nonsensical or a bunch of run on sentences. Here are some sample translations from a movie I recently downloaded.

“What’s wrong? Are you Japanese ninja chicken”?

“Attack me like a maniac. Or it’s out of the question.”

“I thought Japanese would be good losers.”

You get the picture. On the bright side, the vast majority of the actresses sell the peril well, which is obviously important to many viewers.

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7. Storylines – Once again, the language barrier causes problems with properly evaluating this category.  However, it seems clear that almost every Zen film follows the same four-act structure.  First, the heroine shows up and dominates the bad guys. Second, a particularly powerful bad guy beats down the heroine.  Third, the heroine is tortured/placed in a great amount of peril.  Fourth, the heroine overcomes incredible odds and wins the day.

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8. Bang for your Yen – Zen Pictures probably offers one of the best values in the genre.  Every Zen film is generally 50 minutes to over an hour in length. You also get to download a behind-the-scenes video on top of the film.  American buyers are subject to the current exchange rates and can generally expect a final bill of anywhere from $25 to $30 dollars for a newer release.  That’s only slightly more than many producers charge for films that are half as long.  One more note: when I buy a Zen film, my credit card charges me a foreign transaction fee.  It’s usually a little under a dollar.

9. Rating – Most of the films are generally PG-13 in content.  Some films are rated “OVER 15,” which is the Zen Pictures version of Rated R.

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10. Sister site – For those looking for something a little more over-th- top, you may want to check out Giga Freeks. I have never purchased any of their films, but from what I understand they are basically Zen Pictures with hardcore sexual peril added. Please note that the films on this site sometimes run for almost two hours and can cost as much as $75.00.

————

HM again.  First, I want to thank Sidekick for that review.  Second, I’d like to add a couple of remarks since Zen Pictures is absolutely, without a doubt, my favorite production company in this genre.  I agree wholeheartedly with Sidekick that just about every aspect of Zen Pictures product is just top-notch.  Zen has the best costumes, the most attractive actresses (in my opinion), the best editing, the best lighting, the best set design, the best acting, etc.  Just about everything about their videos is top-of-the-line, and they produce high quality videos with remarkable consistency.

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The most frequent complaint I hear about Zen Pictures is that the language barrier makes it difficult to understand what the hell is going on and therefore makes it impossible to get full enjoyment out of their films.  This is, of course, completely a matter of opinion and preference, so if the Japanese dialogue is too much to overcome, that’s perfectly understandable.  However, I couldn’t disagree more with this issue, and I’ll try to explain why.

For one thing, I can understand the dialogue perfectly in about 99% of American-produced videos, and I have to say that much of the time, I wish I couldn’t understand it.  (Okay, that’s a joke… sort of.)  I don’t feel that dialogue is all that important in these videos and feel that the story should almost always be told visually and without a reliance on expository dialogue, which can be really boring after a couple of minutes.  This is something Zen Pictures does really well.

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While it’s certainly true that scenes sometimes consist of two or more characters speaking in Japanese to one another for several minutes at a time, there is usually a fairly easily identifiable visual goal the heroine is trying to accomplish.  In some cases, the bad guys have a hostage the heroine needs to rescue.  Other times, the bad guys are just really mean to innocent people, and the heroine tries to destroy them. Even if I don’t understand the details, I can follow along well enough to get the gist of it: the bad guys are bad, the heroine is good, they fight, she loses, they torture her, she comes back and wins in the end.  It doesn’t really matter to me whether her goal is to rescue the daughter of Japan’s Prime Minister, recover the “Lost Relic of Apollo,” obtain the “Staff of Ra,” or anything else.  I personally find that the absence of a clearly-defined goal explained through dialogue and made so specific and understandable actually makes the videos more enjoyable to me.  However, that’s only my opinion, and I can understand why others would disagree.

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Another aspect I enjoy in Zen Pictures videos is the tone.  The stories are, for the most part, meant to be taken seriously and are usually not “campy.”  There’s really no “winking at the camera” here and pretending it’s all a joke.  As ridiculous and absurd as the subject matter is (and it really, truly is among the most absurd stuff you’ll ever see), it’s almost always treated as serious fantasy, and to me, this helps to place the viewer into the story world.  This is not an easy task, especially when you’re watching, say, a giant robot placing a trash can over a scantily clad heroine’s head and whacking it repeatedly with a giant mallet.  (This really happened.)

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Aside from that, I find the models and actresses to be among the hottest in the genre, and sometimes capable of giving the best performances.  Actresses like Saki Yamaguchi, Sayoko Ohashi, Ayumi Onodera, Kanami Okamoto and others offer a mix of attractiveness and acting ability that is tough to match.  This probably has a lot to do with Zen’s obviously huge budgets (compared to most U.S. and U.K. productions).  They can simply offer more money and can go after really top notch models and actresses who have often times received training in acting and/or martial arts.  (I say this with all due respect to American and British performers who do a really great job as well.)

I could go on and on—about Zen’s awesome set design, filmmaking skills, production values, etc.—but I think Sidekick has covered several important aspects of Zen Pictures, and I hope this explains the appeal from the perspective of a self-identified hard-core fan.  I’d love to know what you think of Zen Pictures, so as always, feel free to leave comments below.

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[ Note: I do plan to review Giga-Freeks, the sexually explicit version of Zen Pictures, in the near future*, and I would like to note that although the content at Giga is more overtly sexual (to say the least), the same high level of production quality remains.  There are a few differences (notably, the actresses may not be quite as attractive in Giga videos, as some commenters have observed in other threads), but that's a discussion for the future Giga-Freeks site review.]

*Giga-Freeks site review posted here!

Visit Zen Pictures for more information

  1. sugarcoater

    Thanks for the review–I had been meaning to learn more about the site and how reliable the payment method is.
    What is especially intriguing is the caliber of the costumes and the complexity of the sets. The costumes are my favorite aspect, as too often the sites used in lesser American heroine videos are just the cheap Halloween costumes that are mass produced. As for the sets, the aforementioned heroine videos tend to be filmed in someone’s house. When some climactic battle for the galaxy is set in a residential neighborhood’s living room, my suspension of disbelief needs some serious focus (and then there’s the concern that someone’s high def TV might get damaged in the melee).
    Anyhow, thanks again HM for the review. May some of the newer heroine sites take the inspiration from Zen Pictures.

    -SC

  2. Thanks, sugarcoater. By the way, you reminded me about something I intended to mention in the review—I don’t believe it’s possible for Mac users (such as myself) to download movies from the Zen Pictures web site. I have to use a PC to do that. Unless there’s a way I don’t know about, I’m afraid Mac users, while superior to other people in almost every way (j/k), will not be able to download videos from Zen Pictures, which is really a huge disappointment, now that I think about it.

    However, I’ve had success purchasing DVDs here. On the left sidebar, under “Jungle Spotlight,” select “Indy Heroines” from the drop down menu. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve ordered anything there, but every time I did, shipping was super fast, and I usually got the DVD in about five days. There may be some other DVD options out there, but that’s the only one I’ve used to buy Zen DVDs.

    Also, Sidekick deserves most of the credit for this review as it was his idea in the first place. :)

  3. Lady Jane

    Thanks for that indepth review both of you. As a woman who watches these videoes to put herself in place of the heroine its important to my fantasy to understand the gloating of the villain. That’s one of the reasons I’ve held off on any Zen Pictures videos.

  4. Jose

    Thank you for the review. I have purchased several vids from ZEN and a lot from GIGA FREEKS in the past and have been satisfied with all of them. The Japanese surely do get the peril genre. Sure some of the girls look fugly, content is disgusting but Oh how I wish an American producer would match the quality of these videos. Great cinematography and the Japanese cameraman sure do know how to tell a story with their shooting techniques.

  5. Sidekick

    Thank you for the comments everyone. I am wildly interested in the feedback to this review. Zen Pictures is also my favorite peril site. On another message board I have seen a few posts stating that potential customers had worries about purchasing from Zen, given that they don’t know who their credit card information is running through. This is of course an incredibly valid concern. All I can tell you is that I started buying from Zen a little over a year and a half ago and have never had any problems. To my knowledge, HM has not had any issues either.

    I also wanted to add a little note under the bang for your Yen category. For most, if not all of their older films, Zen allows you to purchase a movie for seven to ten dollars. The catch is that you can only view the film for seven days before the file becomes unwatchable. If you wanted to give them a shot, this is a nice low cost way to do it.

  6. SpandexFiend

    I’ve enjoyed quite a few of the Zen and Giga productions. My favorites have been some such as Bat Lady, the Smart109 series, and a couple of the Rated-15 videos. Namely Sherry Heart and…one other that I can’t remember the name of at the moment. All of those are from Zen.

    I like Giga, personally, a lot more, but it’s hard to find a site where I can buy the videos from and the main site doesn’t offer a good method for my credit card.. At least it hasn’t in the past. I’ve gotten a few DVD’s from a few sites that sell them separately from Giga and Zen, but if I could, I probably would by them straight from the source.

    For the super crazy ridiculous hardcore stuff there’s also Zeus. But most of that is just disgusting to me, but I understand that some people like it.

  7. @McCreep – I don’t believe there’s any way to purchase a download from Zen Pictures without DRM. Hopefully, someone will correct me if I’m wrong about that.

    @SpandexFiend – That’s true, Zeus is really super hard-core. I may review that site in the future as well. I have to admit, I sometimes really like Zeus, when it’s not completely disgusting and repulsive (which it usually is).

  8. SpandexFiend

    Also great review! I’m not sure if I like the overhaul with the sites or not. I guess so? Heh it’ll take some time to get used to it. Also Giga tends to do stuff like oral rape that almost no one does State-side since it’s all simulated sex over here. And they do tons of different genres. I actually want to get that “Totally Clothed Heroine” but can’t get it from the main site.

    Giga and Zen also have *excellent* tentacle movies.

  9. deathcake

    Do you have a link for this Zeus site?

  10. Whoa, that site is sick.

    Gonna bookmark it. For educational purposes of course…

  11. ximi

    I don’t like their new web site design, it is more confusing than before and loads slower.

    HM: do you know any way to purchase the zeus product (educational purposes of course…)? they don’t seem to have english site.

  12. @ximi – The only way to order Zeus products seems to be at FemPower DVD. Actually, they seem to sell a lot of Giga and Zen DVDs there too for about $15 – $20.

    And yes, educational purposes, of course. That’s why we’re all here…

  13. I’ve been buying Zen pics for years and they are some of my favorites. Most of my purchases have come from Ebay, Fempower, and Ring divas use to carry some. Some of their movies are excellent, Space Heroine Mary is one of the better flicks in this genre period. My beef wiith them is they don’t support MAC OS, I have tried downloading and they will not download to someone who can’t repply with the latest Windows OS. So I’m stuck with secondary sources which may or may not get them on time. I have also bought from the link listed above in Japan. They have a great almost unlimited selection, ship in under a week, but they chage retail which puts them at $90 for Giga stuff and arround $45 for most Zen stuff.

  14. Scott

    I think Zen pictures is the best when it comes to peril because all of their actresses sell it really well. I prefer Giga though because in my own personal taste, I like the sexual domination they had to it. I know some of the readers on here think that some of the actresses are not attractive or have messed up teeth, that may be true but there is so many products and options, you can easily skip over it.

    My gripe is like everyone else and the uncertainty of purchasing content from the site. I usually have to scour the net to download material from web sites or buy them off FemPower. Now that we have seen a site review for Zen and heard that we will see a site review for Giga, I am hoping to see a review for the movie Super Lady 2. The first one is probably my favorite heroine movie of all time

  15. SpandexFiend

    FemPower has tons of other stuff too, not just Giga and Zen. Though that’s the section I frequent the most. The guy that runs it also responds pretty well to asking for specific videos especially if it’s in high demand (more than one or two people asking for it) so that’s something to think about as well. I’ve gotten a lot of Giga and Zen movies both from that site, they’re excellent quality and ship pretty quickly as well.

  16. Bert

    Scott,
    If by Super Lady 2 you mean Super Lady Zero, don’t hesitate. Most of the movie is typical Giga sexual stuff that holds no interest for me, but near the beginning Super Lady gets transported to some sort of alternate reality where she has to fight this giant invincible foe. She starts out well, but the monster is too strong for her and gets the upper hand. It starts to rain, she gets soaked and suffers an epic beatdown. The actress is astonishingly beautiful, the costume is perfect (before it starts getting torn up!) and her reactions and gasps are incredible. It’s the single best one-sided fight scene with a heroine that I’ve ever seen.

  17. Tony

    Bert,

    I think he does actually mean Super Lady 2 as opposed to Zero.

    Super Lady 2 has come out very recently (ie. last week I think). However, what’s putting me off buying it is that the focus appears to be on another actress rather than the one who appears in Super Lady 1 and Zero who in my opinion is ridiculously beautiful.

    I agree with you about Zero though. Its a cracking video!

  18. some kind of ninja

    Zen Pictures seems like a sweet studio with lots of interesting videos. Alas, I am on a budget and thus have to choose vids carefully.

    BTW, who’s that girl in the bottom 3 pics? The one with the black biker jacket, panties and white shirt holding a gun?

  19. Sidekick

    @some kind of ninja

    The actresses name is Yuuho Kitada and the name of the film is Star Decker. The direct link is here.

    I’ve seen it. She basically runs around in that outfit for an hour. And yes, she plays a cop in the film. Apparently, the Japanese police aren’t big on dress codes.

  20. Britt

    I know when I was a cop, I was allowed to run around half-naked….oh wait, thats right, I was just pretending to be a cop.

    Just wondering, if the heroine in question doesn’t have super powers and is just a strong female character, like a cop or something, does that detract from the hotness for you guys?

  21. There is no denying the quality of their productions, but any review that leaves out their horrible DRM protection is missing something essential.

    Here’s the deal: You must use Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 to watch a clip downloaded from Zen Pictures. Granted, this is a majority of computer users, but not all of us.

    What’s more, you cannot move the clip to a different computer. You can copy the file as much as you like, but it will only be viewable on the Windows installation where it was first downloaded. This means that it is effectively impossible to protect your downloaded clips against system disk failure, and should you wish to reinstall Windows (something most Windows users find themselves forced to) you will find all of the clips unplayable on the new system.

    I’ve bought two movies from Zen Pictures. I will lose them shortly since I mean to update my gaming PC from Vista to Windows 7. That’s some $100 worth I’m forced to just toss away.

    I will not buy from Zen Pictures again, not as long as they keep to this DRM scheme.

  22. Scott

    @ Bert and Tony,

    I am in fact referring to Super Lady 2. I have Super Lady Zero and that one sided fight scene is absolutely awesome, but that was about the only thing I liked from that video. There is the other video with the tentacles that is also out, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I think Super Lady 2 looks awesome because I would love to see bizarro Super Lady doing some bad

  23. Sidekick

    @Britt

    Two things.
    1. You are officially my favorite poster.
    2. The answer to the question you posed. No, at least for me. A pretty woman is a pretty woman.

  24. Stavros

    I love Zen and Giga, but probably love Giga more because I’m a big fan of the sexual domination and costume destruction.
    On that front I think the Japanese do the best costume destruction stuff in the world, there’s nothing better to me than ripped, shiny spandex.
    I wish the downloads were in higher quality though, plus the DRM is annoying. I’d buy them on DVD but it’s hard to find a site that sells them, plus customs.
    Anyway, good review of the Zen site, maybe one of Giga next eh?
    Love the site, keep up the good work.
    P.S I wish an American or British company could make heroine movies like these, it can’t be that expensive can it?

  25. Eagle

    Love both sites.
    1. One thing I’m a little worried about is the DRM. Will the videos I bought and downloaded be able to be transferred to a new computer when the time comes?

    2. The actresses are just lovely and don’t have tats.

  26. some kind of ninja

    @Eagle

    TM’s post above you says “No, not at all.”

  27. I recently had to reboot my Windows XP OS and, as anther poster has noted, was unable to get about a half dozen Zen Pictures I had purchased from the site to recover. This is definitely an issue, as their customer service, at least for Western users, is notoriously bad. Until recently there was one of (those) sites/blogs where fans shared Zen/Giga movies with the DRM protection removed..unfortunately, it seems to have bitten the dust!
    As for the films themselves, I am a big fan…for various cultural reasons, Zen is able to support seven independent retail stores as well as make movies that seem to be shown on Japaneese late-night tv! There’s a great Yahoo Group called “Japanese Heroines in Peril” I belive, run by an Austrailian gent who is a hardcore completist, I’ll see if I can find the link…
    Lastly, a movie of theirs called “Brave Girl” might have been the best SH/peril flick I saw all of last year…highly recommend it! Thanks, guys, for the interesting review!

  28. Britt

    @Sidekick

    1. I officially accept.
    2. Most excellent. Thank you for your answer.
    3. I loved your ideas.

  29. @tm and @Gil:

    Install tunebite (or similar app) then convert your download to none-drm videos, which you can watch everywhere.

  30. great topic HM. I’m part of the mob here that really enjoys Zen and Giga. They do some amazing AOH torture stuff. I have spent a good amount of yen on their movies and scenes, and probably have ~50 in my collection. For you guys worried about DRM who are on windows, someone recommended I used Danuisoft DRM converter which has allowed me to crop and save my favorite scenes without having 1GB files eat up harddrive space, although I sacrifice some quality. Although there are hotter actresses, my favorite is “Misaki”, who acts amazing in her AOH torture scenes in TZZ-10 and TDLN-08, both for giga. There is a PG13 version of TDLN-08 at Zen.

  31. Richard

    I’m a fan of Zen Pictures, their take on western characters especially. Both Astro Girl films were just super (any plans to review them HM?) and they usually find gorgeous Japanese actresses. But I hate DRM! If I buy a video I’d like the freedom to play it on anything I like, dammit! It’s a shame their DVDs cost so much otherwise I’d buy more. Oh and I’ve no interest in Giga, too extreme for my tastes. I like fights w/ a bit of peril and solid acting, delivered by attractive talent. Zen do it just right – just lose the DRM!

  32. The middle picture in the first line of three where the soldiers are choking the girl in the bikini…which zen picture is that from?

  33. Does anyone who downloaded a video have a mac? I downloaded the windows media component but the video still won’t load.

  34. Dangerman

    About the Wonder Woman pics, what’s the title of the Zen Wonder Woman title?

  35. @Dangerman – Exciting Heroine Super Woman in Big Crisis, WEHD-04 – Available here

  36. HM
    When you buy a dvd from FemPower.com, does it have a picture on the cover and back of the dvd?

  37. @Troy – To be honest, I don’t remember. :) It’s been quite a while since I ordered from there. You can probably contact them and find out (fempowerdvd@gmail.com).