If one doesn’t find much sources about Hariken Ryu in English (his career with Godzilla gives him a lot of leverage over other of his contemporaries, Aran Rei is barely recognized in any degree. While Aran is known as one of many people who made up the best era of Comic Lemon People, and thus one of those who influenced then-current Japanese popular culture, and to that extension modern Japanese pop-culture, his name is all but lost in the Western front. He was at his most active in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, having an influence over stylistic sensibilities as well as contributing to the OVA scene.
I have discussed his original Iczer-1 to some degree previously, so in this entry I’ll be concentrating on Aran himself rather than retreading old ground.
Born in 1960, Aran’s first published work was Fairies of the Star in Comic Lemon People #6, 1982. Whether or not he had released doujinshis before this is unknown. The one work he seemed to like the most and kept working on between 1983 and 1993 is Galaxy Police Patrizer-3. If any of his works, it is this one that shows how Aran refined his self-taught skills within one decade to a whole new level.
Above you can see the original 1984 collected release compared to the 1992 reprint with completely new cover. While at a glance the two seem to be from two different people, there are numerous spots where you can see Aran’s style, e.g. comparison between hair and eyes. Monica’s design also shows how Aran ultimately moved himself away from the asymmetrical designs, and were dropped during the decade’s change.
Aran has numerous works under his belt, of which almost all are unfinished due to the workload he gathered unto himself. This seems to be a typical problem for comic creators of the time, something Hideo Azuma suffered as well and illustrated his misadventures in Disappearance Diary, which also won the 10th Osamu Tezuka Cultural Award. I recommend looking it up, it’s a damn good read. You can see an exhaustive list of Aran’s works here, and an archived version here. Both are, of course, in Japanese.
Because of the fact most of his works are essentially unfinished, including his very first publication, very few of them have been collected into books, Fight! Iczer-1 and Galaxy Police Patrizer-3 being the most published, Iczer-1 because of its cult status and Patrizer-3 because of its length.
I would also like note that Rei Aran’s mechanical designs were absolutely fantastic. While some of them look like they were designed in the 1980’s, others look ageless pieces that would work well in modern era as well. This applies very much to his space ship designs.
While Fight!! Iczer-1 is based on Aran’s original work, it was largely revised and revamped by the animation staff. The only time Aran’s character designs would shine on the screen would be in Makyou Gaiden Le Deus, a 1987 OVA. For whatever reason, the UK VHS release renamed the flick as Ladius. It’s nothing worth mentioning as an OVA, but it’s a nice watch with some beer and friends. It’s a show that could be easily shoved into a Super Robot Wars game with ancient civilisations and magical mechas, like The Vision of Escaflowne or Break Blade.
1983 was supposed to be the year Gekisatsu! Uchuuken was supposed to see its animation, but never came to be. This was also the year Fight! Iczer-1 was first time published in #21 of Comic Lemon People, which had a cover design by Rei Aran himself.
The answer to the question why was Iczer-1 chosen to be animated over any other work in the magazine at the time is one that’s most likely completely lost in time. Aran was a popular name at the time, and Iczer-1 hit that certain sensibility of the time with its 80’s as hell designs, somewhat outlandish story and very short lenght. It seemed to be the perfect thing to adapt, even when Toshiki Hirano essentially redesigned and rewrote it from the ground up.
Some of these changes were for the better, and some changes axed or combined characters. Cobalt, for example, was originally a male character, but would serve in same role as Sepia’s lover.
Aran had a tendency to redesign some of his characters in his works. Nyan perhaps shows this the best. For sake of comparison, here’s a small gallery comparing Iczer-1 ‘s designs, starting with the original from the comic and ending with Aran’s 1990’s remake, THE ICZER ONE.
Aran’s original, Hirano’s OVA redesign, Aran’s redesigns, Adventure! Iczer-3 redesign, THE ICZER ONE redesign.
Notice that smiling face on Nagisa’s hair. That is actually a laughing pumping head, something he used his own avatar of sorts.
I have to mention that it is a bit sad to see Aran’s name associated with just Iczer-1 franchise, but the fact is most of his works never penetrated the mass market in that way, and to the same extension, neither did the original Fight! Iczer-1. I can’t help but to wonder whether or not Aran is bitter towards the Iczer-1 OVA’s success. After all, Iczer-1 is his production originally.
Nowadays Aran’s works are very rare to see in magazines. 2010 seems to be the last time he had a work published in an anthology piece xalled Hinnyuu ga Kiru! The story’s name is Courage of Lemon, and looks much like his 1990’s style. It is very short, only eight pages long, and lacks the vision his works carried earlier, resorting in sexploitation only.
Personally, I’ve grown to like the man’s work. While some of them are bizarrely hardcore, others are wonderfully detailed and interesting. While action scenes are unsophisticated and lack the same sort of impact as e.g. Gekisatsu! Uchuuken‘s, Aran’s visuals are very clear and stylistic. The immense amount of evolution he went through within one decade is impressive, but it seems the style he ended up with took more time and work than previously, and further undermined action from his comics. Aran shined with science fiction and fantasy, and the rest of his works tend to run a bit short. The sheer amount of uncollected comics is stupidly insane, and I’m afraid we’ll never see a book of any sorts due to the amount of different companies having their rights.
But for now, we can at least take solace in the fact that Iczer-1 will be remembered out of all his works the best, for better or worse.