A local question

Astro Boy, Gigantor and Eight Man are classic shows that have a place in American pop culture, even thou Eight Man is probably the most forgotten piece of the bunch. This was the 60’s, and a cartoon with robots flying in the sky, high-speed androids and robot boys fit the era fine. From what I’ve gathered from what people who grew up with these shows, nobody questioned their origin. They were entertaining shows on the telly and that’s all that mattered. I’d throw Speed Racer into the mix as well, thou it arrived just a tad later to the mix, but met with the same treatment.

Video and computer games have a similar history, all things considered. Nobody really cared where from arcade games came from, they just rocked the place. Not even the name Nintendo raised some eyebrows, it was just some exotic name cocked up in a meeting. Pretty much what Herb Powell did in The Simpsons.

Games had a shorter gestation period than robot cartoons when it comes to finding the source to some extent. US saw the mid-1970’s Shogun Warriors, a toyline that used wide variety of toys based on Toei’s show with some changed names to fit better the American market. The NES era is relatively infamous of its localised games, and much like how American reception of these Japanese cartoons ultimately was felt back in Japan, so was the localisations and changed made to games. Perhaps the best example of this would how Salamander became Life Force in its arcade re-release and effectively became its own spin-off from the base game.

This, of course, has been largely in America. Europe is a bit of a different thing, with France, Italy and Spain having their own imported animation culture to the point of Spain having a statue for Mazinger Z. I remember reading about a tennis comic that a French publisher continued after its end in Japan. This was done by hiring an illustrator who could replicate the original style and saw healthy sales for a time. Something that like probably could never happen in modern world, unless the original author has died and has made it clear that continuing his work is allowed. Somehow I can see titles like Mazinger  and Dragon Ball still gaining new entries to the franchise long after Go Nagai and Akira Toriyama have left for Mangahalla.

Sadly, I am not as well versed in pan-European phenomena when it comes to Japanese animation in the Old World, but there are numerous resources in both online and book format, often in native tongue. Perhaps worth investing time into for future entries.

While things like Robotech and Voltron made their names around the American landscape, the 1980’s saw a growing appreciation for the original, unaltered footage. This was the era of Laserdisc, and people were mail ordering cartoons solely based on the covers. Can’t blame them, LDs tend to have absolutely awesome covers. Whenever these shows were shown in a convention, a leaflet explaining the overall premise and the story would be spread among the visitors or a separate person would enter the stage and give a synopsis of the events on the screen. There were those who felt, and still feel, that localisation demeans the original work.

Similarly, game importing became a thing in the latter part of the 1980’s and in the early 1990’s with NES’ success, though it should be mentioned that Europe saw PC game importing across regions far more. The Nordic countries began importing NES games anywhere they could and specialised mail service stores popped up just to service this part of the population. It wasn’t uncommon to see Genesis and Mega Drive titles sold side by side in-game stores. Appreciation for the original game saw a rise, either because of it was simply cool to have shit in Japanese or from America, or because some level of censorship was present. However, more often it was because Europe was largely ignored when it came to releasing certain games. Importing unavailable games to a region is still relevant, perhaps even more so than previously now that companies are investing in English releases in Asian versions and region free consoles are becoming an industry standard.

The question I’ve been asking myself for a long time now, longer than I’ve been writing this blog, is that whether or not wholesome localisation like Space Battleship Yamato and Starblazers was a necessary evil of the time that we can be do without now, that we are grown culturally to accept the original work as a whole, or whether it’s just hubris of the people who are too close to their sub-culture and co-fans. A person who is tightly knit with music’s sub-culture doesn’t exactly understand the sub-culture of pinball or golf.

By that I mean that pop-culture in general doesn’t give jackshit whether or not panties are censored in a video game, it’s irrelevant in macro-scale. Even in a localised form a product can impact pop-culture in ways that the original couldn’t, the aforementioned Speed Racer and Robotech being highly impacting examples in American pop-culture. I guarantee that these shows would not have their impact without the localisation effort.

Is it a necessary evil then? Perhaps this is the subjective part with no answer. Those who value original, unaltered product without a doubt will always prefer the “purest” form of the product, whereas someone who doesn’t have the same priorities will most likely enjoy the localised version just as fine. It would be infantile to assume that people who don’t know better can’t appreciate the original piece or lack in intelligence somehow. It is merely a matter preference, and like assholes, everyone has one.

If it matters, I personally vouch for unaltered products whenever applicable for the sake of keeping the integrity of the product and the intentions of the creators intact. However, also see complete localisations having their valid place in e.g. children’s cartoons. While it would be nice to have two or more versions of everything for the sake of options, that’s not always an option for budgetary, marketing or some other reasons.

Perhaps that’s what could be argued; when it comes to Western culture, we are more acceptable to unlocalised products more than previously, but total localisations still have their place. Even without knowing much about the source, we can appreciate the intentions and look past the cultural difference.

Or at least we should be able to, and appreciate the differences and intentions without resorting to raising a hell for nothing.

Review of the Month; Schwarzesmarken TV

To preface this review, I do have a bias for Schwarzesmarken as a fan of Muv-Luv overall. However, because of this bias I’ve decided to approach this series from the point of view that it is a singular entity without any ties to pre-existing franchises. This decision also stems from the fact Schwarzesmarken was marketed with that title alone without any naming connections to Muv-Luv. Within the fiction there is no pretence about the connection, and one can only guess why this decision was ultimately applied. Whatever the case may be, the show still needs to stand on its own and deliver a solid show for a positive review.

To expand upon the series needing to stand on its own, this review could compare Schwarzesmarken to the Light Novels and the Visual Novel, and to Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. This wouldn’t allow the work to present itself as it is. A comparison between different versions of Schwarzesmarken is worthy of its own post altogether.

A television series is a different beast to literal works. Total Eclipse is a lot of people’s first experience with the franchise and Schwarzesmarken served the same role to some extent. Because of this, in this review, I won’t hold against the staff for the changes that were made during the adaptation. Whatever is on the screen and how it is conveyed to the viewer are the only things that matters, supplemental and source materials be damned.

This’ll  be more or less in-line with the Kimi ga Nozomu Eien and Muv-Luv posts I’ve done. Expect a general outline of the whole series with commentary running along with it. Not the best way to make a review, but never thought I’d go over this episode-by-episode basis. Expect loads of terrible jokes to boot. If you want a short tl;dr version, you can slip straight to the end paragraphs.

Now that you know where this review will have its base stance on regarding the series, let’s start with the show.

Continue reading “Review of the Month; Schwarzesmarken TV”

Monthly Three; WAR-ER ONE

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, Arain 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.

Continue reading “Monthly Three; WAR-ER ONE”

Monthly Three: The laugh of Iczer-3

Adventure! Iczer-3, or as the old U.S. Manga Corps release renamed it, Iczer Reborn, takes me back with its old subtitle style and the use of M.D. Geist as their mascot character. Outside that, I feel that this series is just so damn unnecessary. It’s been a long time since I watched this, so maybe now I can reassess Adventure! Iczer-3 and give it a bit more credit.

It’s a six episode OVA, so unlike with Fight!! Iczer-1, I try to keep from going into details all that much. Unlike with the original OVA, the information I have on the genesis of Iczer-3 is lacking, but that’s mostly due to personal choice. Why?, you may ask and the answer to that would be because Adventure! Iczer-3 lacks almost everything that made Fight!! Iczer-1 a cult classic. It’s even lacking those two exclamation marks. The sound novel version would have that.

The show starts with an exposition fight between Iczer-1 and Neos Gold. Neos is a creature created by Big Bold’s core terminal, but how and when is not expanded on. What we know is that Iczer-1 is now on a planetary system busting in power levels and sports a redesigned armour. We never learn where her reality/time altering powers went after the end of the first OVA, but that’s the least of the show’s problems. It’s main problem is that it changes how the ending of the Fight!! Iczer-1 ended. Neos Gold refers Big Gold as being destroyed, but maybe that’s just Evil Alien propaganda working for you. As a side note, Neos Gold looks a lot like a random Lucifer Hawk from Silent Möbius when it comes to design. Maybe it’s just the design sensibilities of the time.

Maybe the opening shows some of the problems I have with the series.

The opening contains a lot of spoilers, basically showcasing all the minions, the return of Iczer-2, Atros and the return of a Nagisa. Sir Violet has also been replaced with Sister Grey. It feels and looks like a TV-animation opening instead of something out of an OVA. It sets a very different to tone series to the point of effectively abandoning the atmosphere of original OVA. Granted, let’s just allow it stand on its own. Despite that, the four minions look like something straight out of Sailor Moon, despite Iczer-3 bring older.

The show is set years after the death of Big Gold, and the humanity has moved further into stars. We had super technology already in the original, and now we’re even further out there. We see a spaceship being destroyed near Saturn’s orbit. Humanity has a space station on Moon, where Nagisa’s granddaughter, Nagisa, lives. In a surprising move, Neos Gold just announces her invasion intentions, and then proceeds to take over satellite weapons and shoots the shit out of Earth’s defence forces bases around the world with them while spreading alien insects. Alien invaders are pretty competent in Iczer series, but Neos Gold just ends up being petty and lets the lot of them live out of spite for Iczer-1.

The moonbase is soon after razed over, but unlike with Iczer-1’s body horror, Iczer-3 opts for straight up bloody massacre, but that’s pretty much it. Neos Gold then sets up a base on Earth, and the wounded Iczer-1 curses her. Sister Gray, a new character recommends sending Iczer-3 to Earth.

IN tank

Iczers are artificial life forms, and there’s no reason to raise them. Iczer-2 was developed and built in matter of days, or overnight, the original OVA really doesn’t give any timeframe, but it is fast. It’s sort of twisted to make Iczer-3 this sort of little brat in size and looks, but aesthetics for the series mattered more for sure than making sense.

The moonbase is still being screwed over and Iczer-3 comes in just in time to save everybody. When she announces her name, Nagisa thinks she knows the name Iczer, which she shouldn’t.

The concept of child soldier who takes war and fighting as literal child’s play is a good one. Her introduction seemingly hits the right beats, her not giving a damn about anything, wrecking the place while going on a killing spree. However, it lacks any punch to it. As with the opening, all of it feels very TV-safe. Maybe if body horror had come back and Nagisa with her crew would’ve witnessed her slaying their old possessed friends while laughing manically as blood sprayed everywhere. That’s the whole show really, not bad in itself, just very, very safe in its execution and not doing anything special.

It doesn’t really help Iczer-3’s voice actor was a Joshiprowres named Cutie Suzuki. She was relatively popular in the early 1990’s and even has a Mega Drive game after her. It’s not very good. Iczer-3’s voice does grow on you, but in the end it just doesn’t cut it. Not to say the second episode has its moments character. Iczer-3 goes around destroying those satellite weapons, and accidentally punches one in the wrong place and causes it to shoot towards the battleship Queen Fuji Nagisa’s in, causing it to entry the atmosphere in the wrong angle and into wrong place.

Speaking of Nagisa, almost all characters have these Seed-mode/rape eyes that are completely blank
Speaking of Nagisa, almost all characters have these Seed-mode/rape eyes that are completely blank. Nagisa’s friend on the right is named Kawai, btw

We get some body horror in the second episode with the surviving people finding cocooned humans in the empty city they crash landed. Alien insects were using them as breeding caskets, but it’s very TV-safe again and less than explicit. The body looks something like from the Moomins. Another good moment for Iczer-3 is when she is sleeping next to one of the surviving soldiers, Rob, without any care in the world. The scene would’ve been nicer, if it wasn’t just exposition and plot convenience.

Much like everything else in Iczer-3, the episodes follow how a TV-series would pace its shows. Nothing really stands out from the animation or the like, though the new Iczer-Robo is reasonably well animated despite being a complex design.

It's a mix of Obari's and original Iczer Robos's design with a healthy dash of late bubble economy flavour
It’s a mix of Obari’s and original Iczer Robos’s design with a healthy dash of late bubble economy flavour

Monster of the Week is killed with a renamed Get the Hell Out of Here! beam. I have to give it to them that they kept Nagisa nude in the new Robo, and despite her sitting inside a metal harness, it’s has influences from Aran’s cockpit design. The episode ends with Nagisa collapsing from powering Iczerio Bomber too many times.

If Adventure! Iczer-3 was a TV-show, we’d now spend about fifteen episodes adventuring around the globe and beating up MOTWs, but this being the middle point of the OVA, we’re introduced the the Rival character Atros being produced from energies from Iczerio Bomber. Before that we of course need a fever dream to explain how Nagisa remembers the name Iczer in form of a flashback. It’s really hamfisted, blame it on genetic memory or something.

Meanwhile Iczer-3 is running with animals and finds a stadium that was set up for her to fight against this week’s monster. No, seriously. Of course, she gets her ass handed to her, because this week it’s Nagisa’s turn to realise things while everyone else tells her not to. The whole battle ships arrives to the scene, and of course the enemies attack Nagisa & co., giving Iczer-3 a reason to fight better and goes toe-to-toe against the Boss of the MOTW.

Notice that swords the Iczers use are now just beams of energy, instead of lightsabres. I like this, but them being just sticks of light seems lazy
Notice that swords the Iczers use are now just beams of energy, instead of lightsabres. I like this, but them being just sticks of light seems lazy

Of course, Iczer-3 is almost winning, until the Boss’ pet sacrifices herself, giving the bad guy some humanity to her. Every thing’s fine and the Boss, Bigro, is now having a change of heart, which means Neos Gold kills her and her pet. Straight after we’ve introduced to Atros, the only real doppelgänger in the franchise.

Iczer-3 even commments YOU LOOK JUST LIKE ME
Iczer-3 even comments YOU LOOK JUST LIKE ME

At this point you may have noticed that the series, by its third episode, has set into a pre-established formula. Similar things would pop up later in Toshihiro Hirano’s TV works, and it feels like this OVA was supposed to be a TV-show originally, but for whatever reason it was turned into 6-episode OVA. Another reason is that this doesn’t look or feel like an OVA. There’s nothing explicit, nothing that stands out, no violence going over the top and even the animation quality is on-par with the higher budget shows of the time. Anyway, on to the next episode.

Atros is more mature than Iczer-3, further showing that Iczers can be pre-programmed with more mature disposition towards life. She’s the smug bastard for the time being to Iczer-3’s naivety. Turns out Nagisa just throws exposition out after their fight, mentioning how Iczers are born of something called Iczerio. A type of energy? Nobody knows, because this is the first time in the series and proceeds to function has a plot device from thereon. Nagisa’s kindness throws Atros into spastic headache like with all evil clones that really are good guys.

Atros’ self-confidence is lacking with the newfound confusion over what or who she is, and Neos Gold scolds her for that. She’s fallen into generic evil mastermind stature by now, and the last Boss of the four Heavenly Kings has what people can only call as Anime Hair.

Golem, go get a haircut
Golem, go get a haircut

This episode really is just all about exposition on the origin of Iczers, going how the Cthulhu have advanced technology, what’ the source of their power and the like. Rob shows some data screens on Iczer-3 and Nagisa really wants to ride him.

Queen Fuji arrives in Japan, we probably skipped about fifteen episodes of this was a 2 cours series. Queen Fuji and Golem do some fighting, before Iczer-3 meddles and gets her ass handed to her while Neos Gold laughs with her next plan.

GUESS WHO'S BACK
This might be an interesting surprise if they hadn’t spoiled her in the opening or in the case of the DVD

Something had happened between episodes 4 and 5 in the production, as the quality jumps here and there in regards of the animation. This is very apparent in the fight between Golem and Iczer-3, and these two episodes feel very stretched. They could’ve shaved some off from both ends to shove them into one piece. Atros makes Golem retreat and tries to make Iczer-3 fight, citing that they are made to fight and that’s what weapons do.

This shows that the Iczer-3 we saw in the first episode, the fight-happy child, isn’t there any more. Her characterisation is an inconsistent, but can be attributed to her character growth, but neither writing or the voice actor really makes this clear. Nagisa’s face doesn’t really do any favours, and despite her trying to turn her side. Just like all confused evil clones, she runs away.

Iczer-2 is reintroduced in a very dull way, just pointing her Hyper Sword towards Golem. She’s not a copy or a clone, but a full-blown resurrection. her armour has a very slight update to it with new racing stripes and bigger, unsymmetrical shoulder armours. The light up pieces on her chest armour has been redesigned as well. She also got new boots!

Nagisa is also having those flashback dreams about the death Iczer-2. There’s a pretty damn neat moment right after, where Iczer-2 walks on-board Queen Fuji in the dark, just to greet Nagisa, and just proceeds to shoot a laser to Iczer-3’s forehead, throwing her on the ground. The two take it outside, just as Neos Gold’s deformed Macross Cannon defences begin to shoot around. While Queen Fuji is fighting Golem and Iczer-3 is fighting against Iczer-2, it’s Atros who picks up Nagisa.

fight

The fight between Iczers is really damn nice, showcasing that while their power is comparable, Iczer-3 takes like a game while Iczer-2 is a seasoned veteran. In the end, she doesn’t play with the kid, first beam-gut punching her to the ground and the shooting a beam stright through her when Iczer-3 gets up. In the meanwhile, Atros has come to terms who she is and goes against Golem’s fabulous hair.

Iczer-2 doesn’t understand why an Iczer like the third one would be made, but we all know why; to become more human to experience life outside war. Atros didn’t really deal with Golem, and as she tries to kill both Iczers, Iczer-2 just blows her up. The episode ends in Iczer-1 getting back to the field after her fight in the first episode opener. She also flies faster than light, because we see her flying into our galaxy from incredibly far away.

The last episode sets clear that Iczer-2 has changed somewhat from her origin. She was always under Big Gold’s commands in the original, yet here she claims not to be anyone’s soldier. She just wants Iczer-1 dead. Atros’ character development is filled with her resurrecting Iczer-3 and changing sides completely. It’s not a bad moment at all, and is one of the better warm moments.

Y’know what’s been lacking in this series thus far? Sub-space, which makes its glorious return when Iczer-1 arrives to the orbit and gets challenged by Iczer-2 straight away. While the two fight, Queen Fuji makes approach towards Neos Gold’s defences. They manage to break through the defence parameters with difficulties, and I doubt I need to mention who sacrifices herself to make that happen. That’s what evil clones turned good are for.

Iczer-1 is well handled overall with her fight. When she becomes focused again, it’s clear that the difference that existed between her and Iczer-2 in the end of the original OVA is still there. She avoids, parries and moves from Iczer-2’s attacks and showcases her compassion, and ultimately, refuses to kill Iczer-2 again. If the animation quality was higher end here, this would be a crowning moment.

Why am I getting Rayearth vibes?
Why am I getting Rayearth vibes?

Neos Gold comes out with her upgraded body, and Iczer-3 just can’t touch her. The final battle starts with Iczer-1 and 3 fighting against her while Queen Fuji just sits there doing nothing. Just as Neos is going to kill the smallest Iczer, Iczer-2 steps in to save her and changes her sides. This shot also releases Iczerion, which allows the summoning of Iczer Robo once more. However, Neos can’t be killed here as she is using Earth itself to resurrect her form, a thing she does to spite Iczer-1 further.

So what to do? Combine all the Iczers’ power lift her from Earth and the blow the Neos to pieces with that combined power. Despite that, wounded Neos tries to escape, but Iczer-3 just uses her Iczer Bomb to tackle her body to bits.

Too bad the final death looks something like out of Sailor Moon
Too bad the final death looks something like out of Sailor Moon

Earth is saved and Iczers are going to return to space to destroy all the evil Big Gold has spread across space. Except, y’know, the entity known as Big Gold is part of Iczer-1, but that’s just one of the retcons. While Iczer-1 and 3 return to Cthulhu, Iczer-2 goes on her own path. Her tory is yet to be told.

With this watch, I reassessed what sort of show Izcer-3 is. It doesn’t have the charm or the atmosphere of the original, nor even the characterisation outside key scenes. Nagisa Kasumi is the granddaughter of the original Nagisa, but she couldn’t have those memories from her granny due to how the original OVA ended. There are little retcons like this in Adventure! Iczer-3. It also overstays its welcome just a bit too long at times, but it keeps things more cohesive and together than its predecessor. This is a guess, but it would seem like Icer-3 was supposed to be a TV-show originally, as Hirano had some troubles to get other Iczer related TV-shows off the ground, namely Iczer-4. You can check Rayerth’s 2nd season for some of the designs he was going to use, and Nova is essentially just a refurbished Iczer-4. She even uses the same swords made out of light.

Fight!! Iczer-1 was something with an attitude, whereas Adventure! Iczer-3 lacks in uniqueness. It established what a mainstream Iczer series would be like, but a mainstream Iczer series wouldn’t work because it would lack the edge. Someone described Iczer-1 as an OVA that was about horrific invading aliens and space lesbians. It’s not too far from the truth.

Iczer-3 is a fun watch, much more entertaining than what I want it to give credit for, and it’s a feel good series even if the Earth is completely fucked in the end. It’s not exactly what I’d call a successor due to how different it is, but maybe it didn’t really need to be. Deep Space 9 was a step away from the spirit of the original Star Trek and TNG, and that wasn’t a bad thin in itself, and I tend to view Iczer-3 the same way. I may not prefer it over the original OVA, but I am glad it exists to entertain those who like more than I.

Both OVAs appeared in Super Robot Wars L, and the way they handled the two series was simple; they were alternative universes to each other, which negated any problems between the two products. Honestly, that’s what I tend to think too.

Adventure! Iczer-3 wasn’t the last animated Iczer piece, however, and next week I’ll dive into Iczer Girl Iczelion and stop using ks sounds for a while because holy fuck writing and saying Iczer three weeks in a row is starting to feeling stupid.

cassette drama iczer-3There was also an audio drama for Iczer-3, but that’s a whole another can-o-worms in another continuity. Maybe I’ll open this up a bit when the Fight!! Iczer-1 BD releases

Monthly Three: The Horror of Iczer-1

Seeing how Japan’s still buzzing about Iczer-1’s 30th anniversary with the upcoming Blu-Ray release and TV Kanagawa’s censored broadcast last Sunday, the theme for this month might as well be the Iczer series. I went through the conception of the franchise in the 30th anniversary post last year and then some, so may have some repetition. This will be spoiler country.

The original Rei Aran’s Fight!! Iczer-1 comic was a thirty page, two chapter story. Very tidy, very neat, very different from the OVA. It is by far the most exploitative version out of them all, with Aran’s THE ICZER ONE following in suit in the 90’s. Nevertheless, certain elements exist in the original comic that would appear in the comic, and other elements would be completely revised for the better or worse.

The first episode of the OVA is essentially retelling of the comic, having the same basic structure; showcase enemy base, moving to Nagisa having normal, then getting attacked and saved by Nyan/Iczer-1, ending with them two fighting against invading enemy.

The two versions are superficially similar when described that way. Of course, reading and watching the two is night and day, just like Nyan’s and Iczer-1’s designs.

Nyan is one of the most stereotypical 80's character design you'll see in your life
Nyan is one of the most stereotypical 80’s character design you’ll see in your life, thou OVA Iczer-1’s hot pink screams the same

I recommend you to look up a book called Robots and pretty girls Best Works Selection – Lemon People 1982-1986 as it has the original two-parter in it among other Lemon People goodies. I intend to go deeper into the original comic at a later date.

TV Kanagawa’s censorship brought up a comment that struck with me. It was something along the lines of How can anyone call this representative of Cream Lemon? It’s a good question, which also shows how the original OVA, or the first episode at least, stands apart from the rest of the OVA crowd. Much like Megazone 23, Fight!! Iczer-1 was one of the first successful OVAs, and both balanced between themes you couldn’t depict on television without troubles. Unlike Cream Lemon, which was porn through and through, Iczer-1 and Project A-ko were projects that were deemed to have a very different nature to them, A-ko seeing even further changes and removal of all sexual themes outside girl love.

Iczer-1’s edge is that it was one of the first of its kind in many ways for home release anime, or Japanimation as it was called at the time in the West. It had Cronenberg-esque body horror with Lovecraftian themes, it’s music was excellent, animation quality was a thing to behold and it hold you in its grip. It was serious enough with some rare moments of comedy and was handled superbly. It’s main mechas were one of the earliest cyborg-like hybrids, containing an organic being inside while clad in armour mechanics.

Let’s get into the first OVA.

The very first scene in the whole franchise is about a man running down the street as if he was being chased by something. He stops, and sees a silhouette of a golden-haired woman standing above him. His face becomes distorted, until it breaks apart and a red creature rips through his skin, only to be killed by a beam from the woman.

It’s an effective first scene.

After a short girl on girl love and establishing the invading enemy, the show continues from here to follow our second heroine and her morning routines.

I'm betting she was watching porn
I’m betting she was watching porn. Note that the newspaper reads Fight!! Iczer-1 in Japanese

Nagisa passes Iczer-1 on her way to school, where she’s just leaning to a tree. Nagisa doesn’t give two damns about her, thinking Iczer-1 is just some sort of cosplay deviant. At school she’s blanking out, until she sees a ball constantly bouncing up and down, with no one bouncing it. The ball flies towards her, breaking the glass and dropping her into a sub-space. Then, she sees her friend’s skin complex getting worse.

Most of the body horror has a very Japanese flavour to it
Just add few tentacles and a mouth extending from there, trying to eat her

One of the main elements that keeps you on your toes in the first episode is that you barely know what’s happening. Much like how Demon in Devilman are able to posses human bodies, the Cthulhu in Iczer-1 take over a human host. They moult out of the human, ripping its flesh apart and sprinkling blood everywhere to show themselves for full mobility, and it seems they can take that shape back to some extent. It’s not just living things these Cthulhu can possess, but at least two houses are taken over as well. The scene above has a blue gradient to it, as the horror element adds another layer to it with sub-space, a space where the Cthulhu can freely travel to and from. It starts as a very abstract space at first, but then become a generic battlescape later on.

Nagisa’s being attacked, but the golden-haired woman saves Nagisa first with pure intimidation, then from falling to her death when her turned classmates ditch her from the roof. She runs from her saviour, only to be captured into the sub-space once again.

Nagisa offers some slapstick with her reactions
Nagisa offers some slapstick with her reactions

In the sub-space, Iczer-1 kills the Cthulhu and returns Nagisa home. Sir Violet, the leader of Cthulhu has a discussion scene with a the mysterious golden child in a sphere. What makes this scene effective is that everything looks organic and there is a constant heartbeat in the background.

Nagisa has a nice, normal night while Iczer-1 looks after her. Well, her last normal night, as in the morning during her family’s normal morning routines both of them moult. Even the house is being possessed, and Iczer-1 is fighting a Void, a high-class enemy trooper, inside sub-space. She manages to beat the Void just in time to stab the house and kill whatever spirit is being possessing it.

Enemy plans move onwards as Cobalt, one of the characters we’ve seen from the enemy side before, is being dispatched.

GGGAAAAAYYYYY

Cobalt and Sepia are directly lifted from the original comic, as is Cobalt’s demise. Cobalt walks around the city in her Delos Theta and taking down the military’s super weapons without any hassle. She takes it all in good humour, laughing at how weak humans are. Nagisa, who still doesn’t want to fight, turns her head around a bit, and is dragged into the fight by a summoning.

ICZER ROBO KENZAN

Iczer-1 doesn’t understand why Nagisa wouldn’t want to fight. She is her partner, and she’s facing their enemy. After they’re getting their collective asses handed down to them, Iczer-1 pushes Nagisa even further, making her recall her recent parents death she still hasn’t dealt with. With that she only seeks to kill everybody around. With Iczer Robo’s Get the Hell out of Here! beam. Delos Theta is still functional after this, but is severely hurt. Nagisa, not Iczer-1, walks Iczer Robo next to it and punches through the cockpit, crushing Cobalt. The episode ends in Nagisa crying her eyes out in Iczer-1’s arms.

The first episode alone has a death count of Nagisa's classmates and her parents, alongside loads of townspeople
The first episode alone has a death count of Nagisa’s classmates and her parents, alongside loads of townspeople

Second episode is all new material, starting with Cthulhu dropping their invasion pyramid Nova in the middle of city. Nagisa’s still in Iczer Robo and wanting out, and the invasion spreads to military bases.

Accompanied by a lovely sound of cracking skulls
Accompanied by a lovely sound of cracking skulls

However, one thing the OVA does right and garners a special mention is that it keeps the antagonists human. Cobalt, the pilot of Delos Theta that Nagisa and Iczer-1 defeated at the end of episode one, is lying dead in what essentially is an open coffin. We never see her face, or the lack of her head, but we don’t need to. We see the horror the cannon fodder enemies do in order to understand how shitty the situation is, but with moments like this we don’t need to see to what a character reacts. Sepia’s shocked expression is enough.

Sepia sees Cobalt
And if that’s not enough, seeing her lover all crushed up makes her vow revenge, even thou we already know how emotionally soft she is. She’s more like Nagisa in that regard

We return to Nagisa’s, with Iczer-1 giving her a bracelet that protects her and gives her access to Iczer Beam. While she dallies around, Iczer-1 fights a Void, one of the Cthulhu’s higher level peons, inside a sub-space that looks like a desert instead of something a Russian expressionists would paint. Meanwhile, Iczer-2 is prepared to be born.

Nagisa has found a safe place with a little girl and her mother, all the while Iczer-1 now fights in another sub-space that looks proper, but then is thrown into Japanese painting with a ninja. All this happening while the military fights against its own troops as well as against the fortress Nova.

There is a serious feeling of hopelessness about, Iczer-1 fighting to her best, humans essentially losing the war and now the little girl’s, Sayoko’s mother is being taken over.

dun
And oh, the house is possessed as well

Nagisa’s ring protect her and whoever is close to her for sure, but even it has its limitations. She manages to save Sayoko, but her mother is dead deal. At least Iczer-1 manages to defeat the second Void, but is then confronted by Iczer-2.

Iczer-2
Sometimes I whistle her theme while walking in the snow

 Iczer-1 and the main villain Big Gold are two sides of the same coin. The two share the same origin, whereas Iczer-2 has no such connection. She is built from the same basic blocks as her elder sister, but much more powerful. In straight up 1-to-1 fight, she would dominate with her power, but she is less experienced. Still, Iczer-1 is tired from fighting two Voids and while she is getting her ass handed to her, Nagisa is trying to protect Sayoko from possessed townspeople. She ultimately realises why Iczer-1 chose her as her partner and wishes for power to protect Sayoko, which summons Iczer Robo and devastates all the possessed people.

Iczer-2 takes this like a good sport she is, summons her own robot Iczer Sigma with Sepia as her partner and the fight is on! Well, in the third episode, the second episode ends in this screen.

end2
The ending song for the second episode is NEVER RUNAWAY

The third episode was produced later than the first two, as OVAs were usually produced in batches of two in the 1980’s.  It starts with retreading how Sir Violet was wondering through space, until she met with Big Gold. There is a clear change in animation and slight tweaking character designs, but the mechas are completely redesigned. Masami Obari had his hands all over this, and it shows.

There is much less horror elements in the third episode to the point of essentially having none. Sure, Cthulhus tentacles make an entry, but most of the episode is just mulling over events that happened, what it means to fight, why they fight and the occasional action scene.  Iczer-2 loses the opening fight and understands that Nagisa is Iczer-1’s power source while the mankind fights a losing fight. It’s nothing new, and retreads what the first two episode was about in far more menacing way.

As such, the tonal shift from the two first episodes is completely intended. It goes from that depressive horror to a more introspective view and the horror of the situation is in lesser focus. What matters is what is the relationship between Iczer-1 and Nagisa. Nagisa finds her will to fight, and like all heroes of new century, she carries a great sorrow in her hear. Iczer-1 being a war machine, she doesn’t really get this. She loves a lot of things, but she’s all about killing Chtulhu.

It’s not until Nagisa is kidnapped and Iczer-1 fights to the point of exhaustion we get some sort of answer and a resolution to this. Iczer Robo essentially sacrifices itself to bring Iczer-1 to Nagisa inside the Nova fortress, where the she is forced to kill brainwashed Nagisa. This is the point where Iczer-1 realises what is that sorrow Nagisa was carrying. With her soul resonating with Nagisa’s, she pulls out one of the more iconic scenes from the OVA.

If filling up the room with all-destroying golden light wasn't enough, Iczer-1 one-shot kills high ranking enemy
If filling up the room with all-destroying golden light wasn’t enough, Iczer-1 one-shot kills high-ranking enemy

What synchro does did in Iczer Robo was that it powered the Robo up. For Nagisa, she could face her fears and fight, and for an artificial being like Iczer-1, full synchro allows her to see the world through all the emotions and push herself beyond.

Iczer-1’s and her little sisters fight after this is very short and to the point.

killed

What follows after is that Iczer-1 flies to Big Gold, trades some words, accepts him/her/it as a part of herself, fusing each other and then returning everything to normal somehow, time travel or godly powers.

The third episode is also a full forty something minutes compared to first two’s 25min, and it drags itself. The first two episodes hold reins very tightly, but the third episode’s mangled plot resolution gives an unsatisfactory ending. It has a different tone and can’t really exist as a standalone piece. The first episode however is perfect as a standalone piece, and I appoint this to the fact that it was based on something. The original comic lacked any sort of horror element, and it’s a far more comedic romp overall, concentrating on how silly a psychic alien catgirl in heat was with some slightly serious things happening when aliens invade.

I doubt this post conveys how much I really dig the original OVA, despite third episode being slightly weaker overall. I’m sure you get the atmosphere this three parter has. What Fight!! Iczer-1 did to the direct-to-home and OVAs at the time can’t be underestimated. It did what you couldn’t do on television, and became a massive cult hit.

Sadly, its direct sequel, Adventure! Iczer-3 would essentially abandon and tone everything down. I need a week to go through that piece, haven’t seen it in years.

The series, for now, ends with a song called Eternal Iczer-1.

…does this count as a review? No? Ah damn.

Black marks the adaptation

Schwarzesmarken has been and will be compared to Total Eclipse no matter what. The two currently represents the only animated pieces that Muv-Luv currently has, and both are based a light novel source to an extent. The major difference the two have when it comes to the animation staff is that Total Eclipse was reported to have a team consisting of newcomers, mostly. Schwarzesmarken on the other hand seemed to have a team that already had a working history, and the director had his hands in Kimi ga Nozomu Eien adaptation, a thing that shows through if you know where to look from.

Type-94 wrote a worthy post on Schwarzesmarken, and I don’t personally feel a need to repeat too much what he said. You should read his piece as well, if you haven’t by this point.

The largest difference between Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse is that it was a character piece, but the way it portrayed its characters and how directly it adapted scenes that made sense in text form just looked awful on television, and largely were not fun to watch. To some this was an element that could be overlooked as the characters provided the main interest point, and Total Eclipse has a fanbase of its own. Certain sections felt too rushed compared to the rest of the series, and similar thing has been echoed with Schwarzesmarken.

The TSFs 3D models will always look a bit weird on telly, mostly because there are subtle changes here and there that 2D illustrations don't convey
The TSFs 3D models will always look a bit weird on telly, mostly because there are subtle changes here and there that 2D illustrations don’t convey

With Schwarzesmarken there’s not much you can do. You have twelve episodes to go through seven books of story and then some. Tetsuya Watanabe, the director, already had experience in adapting Kimi ga Nozomu Eien’s story into tighter package and it shows. Whereas KGNE played out the strengths of the characters better than Total Eclipse, Schwarzesmarken is aired between the first and second visual novels. A reasoning has been made that this has allowed Watanabe to portray the events in a documentary-like fashion, where the events are more worth than the characters. They play out beat by beat, leaving less time for the characters to grow out. After all, Schwarzesmarken’s strengths are laid in the events and in its politics. Not to downplay the characters, but the whole setting Schwarzesmarken trumps over the characters in interest.

The 3D in Schwarzesmarken is better than in TE, and the BETA are portrayed better in the series than in the VN. In the VN they look like paperdolls
The 3D in Schwarzesmarken is better than in TE, and the BETA are portrayed better in the series than in the VN. In the VN they look like paper dolls

Total Eclipse’s first two episodes should’ve been a standalone television movie. It’s an excellent action piece with honest moments that resonate with the viewer. It not only explained the world, but also the themes and atmosphere the series would have, perhaps even franchise wide. Schwarzesmarken’s intro to the world is short and to the point; these events happened, this is the situation. It doesn’t waste in showcasing too much how people live or why things are like they are, the exact opposite Total Eclipse did. Granted, Muv-Luv has become far more mainstream, and Alternative’s setting has become somewhat known when it comes to niche franchise, and thus Schwarzesmarken didn’t need to have any sort of expanded introduction.

Total Eclipse eased watchers into the show, and then kicked in with whatever it had. Schwarzesmarken on the other hand just kicked in.

Schwarzesmarken being a sort of documentary piece that rolls onwards, it keeps things tight and fast. Some may call it rushed, but that is giving it too little credit. Yes, it is fast paced and each episode seems to be packed to the brim to give as much important events to the viewer in the allotted time as possible. I feel that this is not a show to marathon, as its pace is tiring to some extent, and the constant advanced beat of the show may just irritate in one go. One the other hand, Total Eclipse has ruts that look like nothing’s happening because they’re not shown, tiring the watcher with Yuuya’s near constant catchphrase.

Visually speaking, Schwarzesmarken looks pretty for a budget show. It clearly has a higher budget and the designs are pretty, ranging from almost classical Muv-Luv hair to very down to earth look. I have to especially mention the eyes, as they have slightly too thick look in the series compared to the illustrations, but they give each character a lot of personality and soul, something that’s lacking in many other modern shows. I may be a nostalgia goggles wearing 80’s-loving guy, but I do admit that current Japanese animation looks superbly beautiful, even at its lowest point. That’s the CG magic working for you.

Generally speaking, thus far during these six episodes Schwarzesmarken has looked better than Total Eclipse in general, but we’re still halfway through. A review on the series at this point would be largely meaningless, unless it was done episode-by-episode basis.

Still, some scenes look jarring when detailed TSFs act next to less detailed objects
Still, some scenes look jarring when detailed TSFs act next to less detailed objects

Discussion whether or not Schwarzesmarken is a good adaptation will come up like with it did with Total Eclipse. However, I do feel that Total Eclipse was the bad end of the stick on the long run, and it should be allowed to stand on its own legs more. Because of how Total Eclipse was received, I made a conscious decision not to read on Schwarzesmarken to the same extent. I was intending to read the first visual novel with the series, but that idea got scrapped a bit too fast due to issues. I’m still intending to stream it one of these days. I do believe each product should be taken as their own piece, be it book, movie or a television adaptation. Comparing each of them between each other and how they handle their characters can’t be directly compared without some allowances, and it’s not uncommon to prefer the first version you go through. Each version most likely changes things around, and under Watanabe’s direction Schwarzesmarken has combined some events into a smaller package, forgoing some events altogether and giving emphasize to others. To some changes like this is irksome, they expect a direct adaptation without any changes. Others expect adaptations to change to fit whatever medium they and allotted time they are given, and yours truly expects this approach.

Schwarzesmarken is all about the setting and the events, much like how Gundam W is more about the music and political struggle rather than about the Gundam pilots. Whether or its somewhat unconventional approach will be good enough to carry the series to good ratings is an open question at this point. Of course, the home release and merchandise sales will ultimately tell whether or not the show was successful. Generally, the current reception has been generally good.

I’ve enjoyed Schwarzesmarken thus far, but for different reasons than with Total Eclipse. Total Eclipse was more or less a show that had possibly good character moments and there a lot of those, but they’re mucked down. The writing is not the best, and it’s chock full of anime references that most people are not aware of, ranging from Gundam 0083 Stardust Memory to Ranma ½, from Saint Seiya to Macross. In that sense, it’s more traditional Muv-Luv than Schwarzesmarken, which has less otaku filling references and more about the history, which to some gives it more legitimacy as a standalone series.

sdfdsf
Schwarzesmarken has discussion scenes like TE…
trtyu
…combined with scenes of the hangars, though with more dynamic camera movements. However…
...on the field discussion are more often showcased during the action with this sort of cut-ins that Gundam used a lot at some point
…on the field discussion are more often showcased during the action with this sort of cut-ins that Gundam used a lot at some point

I had a bias for Total Eclipse when it aired, but for some reason I’m lacking one for Schwarzesmarken. Buying the TE Blu-Ray’s Japanese release was a political decision on my part at the time, but with current atmosphere I may not need to do that. I think I’ve been rambling a bit too much without anything solid to say, outside It’s an adaptation, don’t expect it to play the same instruments as the original piece. This doesn’t even apply to Muv-Luv, as the light novels served more a basis or as a first draft for the final product that are the visual novels. The animations more or less work as a driving force to get people into the series and spread awareness of the franchise until… well, that’s for another time. Total Eclipse’s animation had a bullshit ending, I think we all can agree on that, but as long as Schwarzesmarken keeps itself tight as it has, it will have a proper ending that will close the series with a satisfying result. Of course, the second visual novel will have an extended ending.

I’ll be putting a similar sort-of review for Schwarzesmarken when the series is over in similar fashion what I did with Total Eclipse. In the meanwhile, I need to pick up some TSF for as comparison sometime soon.

FIGHT!! ICZER-1 30th Anniversary celebration

A thirty years anniversary special time.

In 1983, the first chapter of Rei Aran’s Fight!! Iczer-1 was printed in adult comic magazine Lemon People. It ran two whole chapters and was a rather short and self-contained story. Despite the original Iczer-1 having so little time to get an audience, Aran kept illustrating the main characters Nyan and Nagisa in the magazine’s covers, despite them having no further adventures.

It can't get much more 80's than this
It can’t get much more 80’s than this

The two-chapter story follows a strange alien catgirl falling from sky and saving Nagisa from being violated. This catgirl takes liking to Nagisa, and when an alien presence begins to invade Earth, the catgirl takes Nagisa into a cover with a grim look on her face. The second chapter begins where the first one ends, with Iczer-1, the catgirl, teleporting her and Nagisa into a giant mecha called Iczer Robo. They proceed to fight the alien invader, defeating an opposing pilot called Sepia.

During the early to mid 80’s the Original Video Animation was getting wind under its wings, but was still relatively small. With Lemon People becoming a pop-cultural phenomena in Japan, an OVA based production was set into motion. Cream Lemon was that series, and much like the comic, its stories ranged from fantasy to science fiction, handling comedy and horror alike with good splash of erotic thrown in there. 1984 saw first three episodes; Be My Baby, Escalation and Superdimensional SF Legend Rall. Out of these three Be My Baby is remembered as part of the Ami series, and the titular character Ami would appear in many later episodes of the series. Escalation can be seen as good example of girls-in-catholic-boarding school stories, and a series like Maria Is Watching Over Us clearly have taken cues from Escalation.

In that same year Gekisatsu! Uchuuken was supposed to become a TV-series and it got even a radiodrama LP. This LP and various ads in the Lemon People magazine show how the series would’ve been toned back in sexual content, and that would’ve done only good. Not that the comic was overt with this content as it concentrated more on referential comedy. For whatever reason, the deal fell through and the series never came to be.

Gekisatsu! Uchuuken's animation model was used in this cover
Lien Yun, the protagonist of Gekisatsu! Uchuuken, had her animation model used on this cover

In 1985, Fight!! Iczer-1 OVA was released and it is this what Iczer-1 is remembered by. Toshihiro Hirano handled directing and writing, adapting Aran’s original two-chapter work into a normal length episode. While the basic structure is the same between the OVA and Aran’s work, all characters and their looks were revamped from ground up. Iczer-1 was no longer a space catgirl, but a space elf of sorts. Her hair was changed from green to blonde yellow, and her painfully 80’s outfit was replaced with a bit more sensible pink leotard with pieces of armour. She also got a new origin, and now she acted like a toughened up warrior rather than a catgirl that could only speak trough telepathy. Iczer Robo went through a complete redesign as well, thou Nagisa stayed mostly the same. Similar changes happened more or less all around.

A full composite shot of OVA Iczer-1
A full composite shot of OVA Iczer-1

Despite all this, Aran kept illustrating Iczer-1 covers for Lemon People and even illustrated a continuation comic in full colour for Lemon People Special – Fight!! Iczer-! in 1986 during the production of the second act. Aran’s Nya/Iczer-1 would later incorporate similar elements from Hirano’s version, making it a bit more timeless design than the leg warmer design from the original comic.

This blue and metal armour would be the definitive look for the Arai's original Iczer-1
This blue and metal armour would be the definitive look for the Aran’s original Iczer-1 until the retelling of THE ICZER ONE

The OVA was a success, and was essentially the first Lemon People derivative animation that wasn’t porn. It can be said that this greenlighted further similar animation productions, like Project A-ko, which was actually supposed to be a full on adult production, and ultimately paved way to Lemon Angel, one of the first semi-modern late night animation shows in Japan. All this, of course, was because the bubble economy allowed this to happen, and from 1985 to 1991 the OVA boom became larger than ever with incredibly amounts of LaserDiscs and VHS prints made for the Japanese market in relative numbers. Money, cocaine and mushrooms flowed rather freely and there is a very good reason some people automatically relate beautiful animation and shit story with the OVAs. This is because OVAs were free of television and theatrical restrictions. Megazone 23, released the same year as Fight!! Iczer-1, was supposed to be a television series first, but ended up being released as an OVA and so got few more adult themes and scenes included, thou they build some character and flow naturally with the story.

Arai's version of Iczer Robo being summoned to fight Iczer-0
Aran’s version of Iczer Robo being summoned to fight Iczer-0  Lemon People – Fight!! Iczer-One Special, also found in Minna Genki kai!!, a collection of other Aran’s works

The second episode of the OVA, Fight!! Iczer-1 Act II; Iczer Sigma’s Challenge was released a year later in 1986. Because the first act exhausted the little original material Rei Aran had done, Hirano wrote completely new continuation for the story and introducing Iczer-2 to oppose Iczer-1 in the same level. Iczer-2 is more or less a direct evil clone, having same skills and powers, but much like all evil clones, lacks the spiritual side of things. The animation quality changed a little bit, not enough to be noted outside scenes where Iczer Robo was introduced. This is due to presence of fan favourite Masami Obari, who is known to paint and animate mechanics with his more or less unique way. According to Obari, Hirano told him to paint Iczer Robo more like a hero robot, thou this results Iczer Robo looking nothing like in the first part. It could even be argued that Iczer Robo looks less a hero now, but that’s to individual opinion.

Iczer Robo from episode 1, 2 and 3 respectively. The design ultimately changed between all three episodes
Iczer Robo from episode 1, 2 and 3 respectively. The design ultimately changed between all three episodes. It starts with a sleek and feminine look, and then gradually changes into angular and masculine one. Original Iczer Robo is one if the first organic mechas to boot, and the first episode look is still relatively unique

The second episode explores further into the invading alien force, the Cthulhu, or  Cutowolf as the official romanisation by the Japanese goes, and how they terrorise humans by warping space and time, dimensional barriers and morphing humans into monsters. It can be argued that the second episode is a more balanced piece, allowing Nagisa to grow as a character rather than be dragged around by Iczer-1. The second part ends with a cliffhanger, Iczer-1 and determined Nagisa facing Iczer Sigma. That fight would have to wait until next year.

Lemon People Iczer-1 Special teasing Act II's Iczer-2 and Iczer Sigma
Lemon People Iczer-1 Special teasing Act II’s Iczer-2 and Iczer Sigma

The final and third part, simply subtitled Act III: Concluding Volume, was released in 1987. It begins with a recap of the previous two parts. Modern audience that watches all the acts back-to-back will find this a bit jarring. At the time, this was a good move to make, as by that time some of the staff had become relatively well known and more people could pick the third part up without seeing the previous two, that were not in production any more at the time. There would be new releases later down the line, of course.

The third chapter is more disjointed, as it tries to explain what happened to the Cthulhu, the origin of Iczer-1 and the main antagonist Big Gold. However, Hirano fails to deliver on these accounts, making it a more an open question what really happened rather than. In Iczer-1 Mediamix Special, the origin story was told far more clearly as follows;

ICZER-ONE is an embodiment of “conscience,” which is originated the two wills when CUTOWOLF made a contact with an alien. BIG GOLD is an embodiment of “desire” and dominates the center of CUTOWOLF fortress. As both are born from the mind of CUTOWOLF SIR VIOLET, they are destined to contradict each other. BIG GOLD has produced his man, ICZER-TWO in order to knock down ICZER-ONE who is much superior in his fighting ability.

-ICZER-ONE MEDIAMIX SPECIAL, p.2

Even thou the book claims Iczer-2 to be a man, she certainly is a woman. The third episode suffers somewhat from the pacing, as it tries to establish all this information, showing an army of modified Cthulhu who look similar to the other warriors as well as juggle between action and why Iczer-1 needs a partner to synchronise with. What happens during the ending is rather strange, as Big Gold seems to be defeated by merging with Iczer-1, who becomes an overpowered goddess, restoring Earth and reversing time, fixing the damage Big Gold had caused. No Earthling remembers anything, and the final scenes of the OVA ends with familiar scene where Nagisa saw Iczer-1 in the first part.

Hirano would continue to work with Iczer-1, producing a prequel comic Golden Warrior Iczer-1, produced a novelisation on the OVA and even illustrated a side-story comic Iczer Legend, that took place in a different timeline. A sequel OVA, Adventure! Iczer-3 was produced in 1990, which also got a cassette adaptation that continued from the novelisation of Iczer-1. The novelisation of Iczer-3 met the same demise as most of Hirano’s Iczer related productions, as in they never materialised or were finished. While Adventure! Iczer-3 has more time to go over with the characters and story, it stripped all the gore and horror elements the predecessor was known for. The animation wasn’t anything special and the overall deal had practically no impact on the popular culture. In 1994 another sequel was produced, Iczer Girl Iczelion. Here the two episode OVA had absolutely no impact as none of the characters returned, opting to use a new version of Nagisa and sentient robots that form power armours around their users.

1994 also saw Rei Aran’s return to the franchise, where he began to illustrate his take on the larger Iczer-1 mythos with THE ICZER-ONE. This remake comic was serialised in Lemon People much like the original one and incorporated many elements seen in the OVA, but sticking far more to the core of Aran’s original piece. The series stays as one of the more elusive entries in the series, as it has not been collected anywhere, most likely due to its unfinished nature. Lemon People folded in 1998, ending the pop culture defining magazine’s run in a relatively high note with an illustration collecting all the most important pieces it had brought forwards throughout the years. Both Aran’s and Hirano’s versions of Iczer-1 appears on it. As it is NSFW, you’ll have to use this link. A sharp eyed reader will also notice Lien Yun doing a kick there and Zeorymer looming in the background.

By 1994, Arai's style had come a long way
By 1994, Aran’s style had come a long way
Arai's reimagining is far more smoother than his original work, wearing an armour that uses elements from various incarnation thus far. If a future adaptation of Iczer-1 were to happen, I would definitively want to see this one animated
Aran’s reimagining is far more smoother than his original work, wearing an armour that uses elements from various incarnation thus far. If a future adaptation of Iczer-1 were to happen, I would definitively want to see this one animated. Scan from Lemon People #192, July 1995

So, what’s the deal? Why did it became a cult classic?

Iczer-1 OVA was a relatively high budget production for its time. The story it tells may be simple and rather clumsily told in the third act, yet it grabs you and keep you with it. This is thanks to  the detailed animation and heavy use of black accents. The music may not be Oscar worthy, but there are more than few tunes that you will hum to yourself. Iczer-2’s theme is one of those pieces I find myself whistling, outside singing the three vocal songs out loud. Iczer-1 is still relatively unique in series and being one of the few shows that toy with the idea of direct erotica, but ultimately decides to keep it with the bodily horror. Still, the first act is the shining example in the OVA series, as it keeps strings together the best and allows the latter parts to build on top of it. The atmosphere and presence has stark contrasts with each other, and if the viewer is swayed along the story, there are few moments that you will find slightly terrifying. The characters themselves are clear personas, and while the short runtime of the acts do not allow much character development, Nagisa’s character goes through a full cycle while Iczer-1 herself finds understanding rather than keeping with the single minded fighting she’s been doing.

From all this, it is not hard to see why Iczer-1 is remembered by its 1985 OVA. It’s the one that was the biggest hit. Rei  Aran hasn’t returned to the franchise afterwards, Hirano hasn’t attempted to revitalise the animation side either after his Iczer-4 series got cancelled very early in production. Some of the Iczer-4 elements were incorporated into Magic Knight Rayearth TV adaptation in form of Nova, which has overall met with criticism. Both Fight!! Iczer-1 and Adventure! Iczer-3 appeared in Super Robot Wars L for the Nintendo DS.

In the West, or more precisely in the US, Iczer-1 was a massive cult hit. Hirano’s Golden Warrior Iczer-1 got a translation with interviews and Iczer-3 got English language comic. When Evangelion was a new thing, a reviewer mentioned how it was certainly a good television series, but couldn’t hold up against a classic like Iczer-1.

My first set of Laserdiscs were Fight!! Iczer-1, and to some extent it was also my first real foray into OVAs and step into the deeper Japanese pop culture. Nowadays Iczer-1 is readily available on DVD from your Amazon store. The quality on the DVD is on par of the 1991 Laserdisc releases, which is actually pretty damn good, and the price hasn’t been going up too much.

Whether or not there will be another Iczer-1 production is an open question, but the chances are low. Iczer-1 is a product of its time and I’m saying that as a good thing. Most of the time it doesn’t really hold back, and early on it is rough and direct. Perhaps a digitally remastered Blu-Ray release would be in place, if possible.

For a short two-chapter comic, Iczer-1 has come a long way. I hope this little trek into the franchise has brought some new information to you as well as made you interested enough to check it out.

Digital luddites

Whenever I complain something about modern things, I notice how I’ve grown more and more old fashioned and conservative to the extent that I give my bias to shine through without any reservations. One of these things, to some extent, is the excessive use CGI TV and film. I prefer the practical effects and every explosion that’s on the screen needs to have been there in physical form, not as something added digitally in. Same with animation, where majority of the modern animations are just 3D models being played on the screen like bunch of puppets.

However, I was taken back as I realized how little there is actual appreciation for the modern in the communities and circles I usually roll in. The aforementioned example use of 3D is one of them. Sure, the likes of Toy Story and Frozen get good comments them in being completely animated in 3D, but then when 2D and 3D are mixed there seems to be people rising on the barricades. Giant robot animation is a very good example of this, as more and more companies have moved to animate their detailed and complex with 3D models rather than animate them by the traditional methods, even thou nowadays these are rotorscoped on top of 3D models already. The pros of this is extremely consistent footage and constant quality in contrast to 2D animation. This divides people, as there are so many of those who see this a plague killing their favourite high-budgeted hand animated series. The fact in this that they’re already dead and there’s no reason to hate the 3D taking 2D’s place. We’re at a point where the old is being replaced with something new ,and to some extent is already dead and replaced as cel animation died in the early 2000’s. Embracing the new way of doing things with more detail and smoothness with less expenses is hard when you’re grown up the multilevel-shaded hand drawn animation, but without doing so the new can’t flourish.

I wonder when it began. It is hard for me to pinpoint the time when popular culture had a paradigm shift, where the new was considered inferior to old, and old was put on a pedestal over all else and claimed to be superior. That has lead us to have all these remakes, reboots and sequels during the 00’s, so we can make an educated guess that it was during the 90’s where this shift took place. Before that all kinds of new stuff was not just accepted with excitement, but also embraced and taken to a next step level as the fans wanted to see all these new things grow and flourish. Nowadays it seems all the next steps are met with highly negative criticism and wishes to return to the old. Yet, we can’t return to old all the time, we can’t repeat same things in almost same form time after time nor we can have anything new if we can’t move onwards from the old ways.

I am contradicting myself philosophically here, as you’ve most likely noticed. As someone who wishes to work in traditional means is in a world where traditional means have almost completely replaced with something new and more efficient, and I can testify that to some extent it scares me. I may say that The old way is more efficient or whatever you usually hear, but the truth is that it is outside my comfort zone and the things I personally value and have positive stance on. This has changed with the first half of the year as you’ve read, and I have no doubts most digital luddites feel the similarly. All I can say that this is a point where we need to recognize the point of growing up and accept the facts that are there. I don’t think for a minute for it being easy, but a man’s gotta do what man’s gotta do.

Which is not burn the factory.

There is some basis in resisting modern contraptions to an extent in certain fields. For example, it can be argued that pretty much all low budget films that they should not be on high definition as it shows, quite practically, everything in high detail. For example, you can see all the maskings in Friday the 13th Blue-Rei and by all means see how fake everything is. This doesn’t happen with older medias like VHS and LaserDisc, and DVD seems to be in a sort of middleground depending on the release. This can be understood, as most older materials are not meant to be seen to that detail and are designed to be seen on film from a projector or on CRT TV from a cassette.

However, it doesn’t take out the point that these formats also demand higher accuracy and craftsmanship from the modern film makers and does no invalidate how older movies are seen on the screen. Much like one can take the luddite attitude, one could take a stance of wanting to enjoy all the details that they were able to put in making the movie and see all the details no matter how low-budget or not. A well done movie is a well done movie even if low budget after all. I guess viewers can be taken out of the movie and lose their immersion if they latch on issues in the movie. Then again, most people start latching on negative issues with movies when they turn for the boring. Then again, we are taught to be analytical on pretty much anything we come across today. We lose that child like wonder on things, the enjoyment for the sake of enjoyment disregarding the technical quality. I’m generalising this a bit too much, but the point should come across.

Of course, not all new things are good or better than old ones. Nevertheless, disallowing growth of the new will be a disservice on the long run, as all things are made to be replaced and made obsolete. I will always encourage the advancements that might make my work easier, even thou I would deeply hate them.

Cartoon/industrial dilemma

I have to admit that I have personally grown tired of the term mecha. It’s way too broad and really encompasses anything mechanical. It’s an imprecise and unpractical term if you know what you’re talking about. Robot animation on the other hand is more precise, and we can be more precise with additional terms to this, like Human Robot animation (Tetsuwan Atom) or Giant Robot animation (Mazinger Z) and so forth. Western fandom of course uses the mecha-term simply to note that the show is about some sort of mechanical robots. Then again, it seems that people are using that particular term as a sort of loophole to include bunch of series that have no giant robots to speak of, vetoing to the Japanese use of the word… which then really is anything mechanical. However, I do admit that I use mecha very freely in its western context, but for the sake of this post I’ll have to narrow it down to giant robot. Perhaps giant robot sounds too childish to some.

So, to be exact, I’ll be going over a bit more about giant robot animation designs this time. We’re going to check how giant robots changed at certain point from all-around cartoon characters to more industrial thing.

At some point in the 70’s there was a paradigm shift in giant robot animation, where the creators of these series began stepping away from the older style to a new, more modern direction. This paradigm shift introduced us industrial design in robot animation and comics, which has led to an increased numbers of gimmicks and details in every robot produced since then. The exact moment where this changed happened isn’t really easy to pin down, but I’d guess Combattler V is one of the first giant robots that was more a complete machine than a cartoon character.

We can assume that this shift was mostly due to the need of marketing robot toys to the children. Overall it’s much easier to overdesign something than keep it clean and simple. Mazinger Z is a notable example, and there’s a reason robots like Ga-Keen and Gouwapper 5 Goudam was forgotten.

Go away Goudam, you look horrible, even your name is stolen from a cheese
Go away Goudam, you look horrible, even your name is stolen from a cheese. You even smell horrible

Toy design is a branch of industrial design, so it’s not really anything special to note that when toy companies notices how well Mazinger and Getter Robo toys were selling, they wanted in. Thus, the amount of detail and attention on how the giant robots would and should function increased, and continued to increase further during the next few decades. Incidentally, this also lead into a certain level of isolation, where giant robo animation got its own stigma within the general fandom where every design began looking the same. For example, any design that followed the “real robot” principles laid down by Gundam looks different only because of its added details. This is actually rather large problem, as it just creates a large gray mass of robots where everything looks more or less the same without notable differences, which then translates into lack of interest from the general public who has more money than the core group.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Gurren Lagann became a sort of phenomena. Looking back at the show, it follows more in the lines of cartoony robots rather than what its age usually produced. It doesn’t stress the viewer as much to see a cartoony robot as it does to see a highly detailed machine hulking on the screen. The best example of this would be the live-action Transformers movies. To take a more objective approach to those, they really are some damn fine designs. The amount of attention to the detailing and how the Transformers move is astonishing and has no rivals. By all means this is the highest peak the giant robot design has achieved, but also shows the problem that this isn’t what the audience wants. They’re too detailed, there’s too much too see and keep track of most of the time. Personally, I have no difficulties on following them on-screen, but I recognize the problem. It’s the complete opposite to what Mazinger Z is, where all the shapes and details are rather simple outside the head, which is both the most important aspect of the design and the most difficult to get down just right. Perhaps this is where the super/real robot thing comes into play, as most “super robot” shows are more cartoony than those we call realistic. However, there’s a thin line here, and I still stand by the idea that super/real difference can only be done in Super Robot Wars games and within the show itself.

Did Mazinger series benefit from the paradigm shift? It's your call really
Did Mazinger series benefit from the paradigm shift? It’s your call really

Cartoon/industrial is a troubling dilemma. On the other hand the older audience wishes to see more detailed robots both on screen and in model form. Then again, making too much details will make the animation harder, even if it’s through 3D modelling and producing more detailed toys will cost more. Then again dropping the detail level lowers the cost of both animation and production, but it also might not sell nearly as well. In addition, the older audience might not like more simplified designs, so the whole thing may change the target audience. Thus, it’s more important to know your target audience and design accordingly.

Then again, we have Mazinger Z, which has broken pretty much all barriers and could and should be enjoyed by all ages. This is another problem in addition to cartoon/industrial, where the designer is required to juggle between the themes and tone of the series the robot is meant to be in. This is where cartoony robots shine much more than highly detailed ones, as they can be pretty much anything when portrayed just right. Industrialised designs often start acting funny and strange, and even change proportions to add to the comedy, thus breaking the strict design they’re in. Mazinger Z can be very lighthearted, just like the original series was and it can be a full-out drama like Shin Mazinger Chapter Z is. Could Gundam be a comedy with it’s machines? No, it really couldn’t. All the comedy would come from the human characters. SD Gundam is Gundam with intentional design choices to change the show to make it a complete comedy. For Mazinger Z such changes are unnecessary as the design already allowed the design to be used in comedy.

It's so good that it has been milked to death for three decades now
It’s so good that it has been milked to death for three decades now

While Combattler V can be counted where the industrial design took hold of the design where the giant robot genre would go with its designs, and Macross then stepped up the game even further with VF-1 Valkyrie. The reason to this is that often the toy of the robot was rather different than in the show if it had a transformation gimmick. If the transformation was simple, then it could be replicated in the toy, but for its time Valkyrie’s transformation scheme was complex. On top of that, the transformation was completely replicated in the toy. However, this also meant that Valkyrie’s design wasn’t a cartoon character in any form anymore, but an industrial design. After Macross, almost every giant robot afterwards was industrially designed, thus enforcing certain direction there shows went. There are high number of exceptions where the marriage of cartoon and industrial design is mixed very well together, like Xabungle, but to an extent very few series have been able to survive to this day.

We can also question the need of cartoony robot design nowadays. Animation has changed drastically since Tetsuwan Atom and Tetsujin-28, but even then we need to ask why haven’t these iconic designs been dethroned? Why is that there’s a statue of the original Tetsujin-28 rather than its FX version? I’m not the best person to give an answer to this, as I am not either Japanese or lived long enough to see Tetsujin’s evolution since its birth to the current day.

What Japanese animation (and my Little Pony) has proved that adult people are going to value a well-made children’s cartoon even thou they’re not in the target group. Overall, wouldn’t it be for the best to create designs that would appeal to all? Well, this is impossible to do. However, it would be for the best to balance between all possible target audiences within one design, and do more targeted design and series only occasionally. This is why a lot of giant robot show have been failing; it’s not that there’s audience to be grasped, but because these shows keep cannibalizing the exact same audience over and over. This isn’t the design fault really, but the whole genre’s overall. If the giant robot genre would be able become more broader once more, then things could look more bloomy. However, seeing how Japan’s birthrate’s are down, giant robot genre is in larger trouble than most.

To design a cartoon character is actually very difficult. Designing a robot through industrial approach really isn’t. Industrial design is hard only when you’re not really accustomed to draw within what I call function set-rules, which at its core is function before form, but after than all that follows in that design is to compensate the function with the form. Cartoon characters do not really need to follow this, because they exist in the rules of the cartoon world.

Personally I think that modern comics and cartoon overall have gone far too much into the realm of realism in many ways both in stories and how they look. Lately I have found myself enjoying older comics simply due to their appearance as opposed of modern look. The logic also functions a bit differently as well, and even the most serious stories manage to maintain their comic-like approach.

There’s something I often hear; the modern designs are more prettier and detailed, they’re more pleasing to look at. This is due to the paradigm shift, and how it has integrated itself to the general mind. Giant robots are not thought nor treated as characters in their respected series, but just another machine. Not to say that this is a bad thing, but it has made the genre far too homogeneous, where all machines are machines. In Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, the main robot of the show, Machine Caliber Chamber, is more or less a character and is unique to all others in the series, but the machine itself is still industrially designed. There has been other interesting designs for some time now, but nothing what we could call new. I hope that during the next five years we will have a new breakthrough series that will not only bring in something new but also would slowly give way to a new paradigm that we’re sorely needing.

Frostbite and Wakamoto, I’m disappointed

There are few things that really astonish me in local convention organizing, mainly how bad it is. Sure, the conventions are held by amateurs but that is no reason not to aim for the best possible outcome and professionalism. These people seem to think that they’re having a small event for their friends while in reality at the moment their event has taken a world stage step.

Norio Wakamoto is a somewhat famous voice actor within the animation circles, and pretty damn famous in Japan. For the first time he steps outside Japan to visit foreign conventions. This is a huge event inside the scene, and I do know a slew of people that are coming from other European countries to see this man in the flesh. Why do the organizers not realize this?

First of all, their site is still only in Finnish. The organizers need to realize that there is a need for an English language mirror, but because these people are idiots such thing won’t happen. The second is that these people are as underhanded as any scheming moneygrubbing bastard organization would be; there’s no signing event.

Now that link is in Finnish, so here’s the short version; Wakamoto doesn’t give out signatures in general, but the organizers are having a competition where five people get one. Then they explain how Japanese do their signing events.

I respect Wakamoto’s wish to not give out signatures. It’s the choice he has made. Nevertheless, we need to remember that this person is nothing special. He is here to work. He does not only represent himself while being in the convention, but the Japanese animation industry and voice actors in general. This sort of special event demands him to go all out in promoting his works and give out fanservice to a point. Wakamoto has no real reason to refuse a signature event when all previous visitors have gladly taken part in them.

But Aalt, Wakamoto’s Japanese and Japanese people do it differently and we need to respect that.
What are you, racist? When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I do respect Wakamoto’s wish not to give out signatures, but the competition turns the tables completely around. It’s not uncommon for signature events to last only for a certain amount of time, or only serve some fifty to hundred people. Even these would’ve been more preferable than a goddamn competition. It’s lazy and the fault is on the organizers’ back.

You do recognize that this is an event that celebrates Japanese cartoon, so going with Japanese standards is expected?
This would be an otherwise solid argument, except we follow the American convention format with Finnish supplements, and previous visitors have agreed to go full out to make their event something special. Hell Tohru Furuya released the opening song of Kamen Rider Climax Heroes, which he also sang live on-stage. He specifically asked nobody to record it because the song had not yet been shown in Japan. I need to emphasize that this was a huge thing he did.

And the audience outside few selected individuals didn’t appreciate it. It’s like feeding pearls to pigs

To Wakamoto this seems to be a small vacation of sorts, and not anything related to work. For him this should be a huge PR event. While he doesn’t have any obligations to do anything for the fans, it would be in his own best interests to go all out, and spread positive view on everything he is associated with. Right now he comes out slightly asshole-ish.

Still, the organizers are money-hungry idiots of sorts. At least idiots. There is no chance in hell they didn’t know beforehand that Wakamoto wouldn’t give out signatures, so they chose to negotiate this competition and announce it a month after the tickets went on sale. They knew that releasing this information beforehand would also mean that the ticket sales would take a hit. If they didn’t, then these people are not even amateurs.

Where the organizers come out in this whole ordeal is being underhanded and holding out important information. Openness in this sort of events is highly important, and they fail in that on pretty much every occasion. Not to mention that these people are releasing information rather late. Well, the same thing can be applied to our local event, but that’s another story. I wonder if those people have realized that their ad campaign is already late…

I want to iterate; I am disappointed in Wakamoto’s decision to act according to Japanese standards in a Finnish event that follows other Western conventions. I am extremely disappointed and offended how the organizers have handled the whole situation surrounding Wakamoto. And I’m extremely disappointed in every single fan who eats the spoonfed propaganda without stopping and critically thinking for a while. I really hate to put it this way, but a lot of people need to stop sucking up on these organizers and voice actors. Ultimately, these people can only thank their fans. The fans are why they are in the position they are now. While I agree that they don’t have any obligations to do anything more than their job, it is in their best interest to go overboard and promote themselves. As customer we may ask them to sign something, but they have all the rights to refuse.

Of course there are too many fans who do not recognize that when a visitor steps down from the stage, he is off-duty. Ultimately, a Wakamoto producing a service, and not meeting the set expectations is not a job well done.