Artificial Intelligence in Muv-Luv

I feel this post needs some prefacing. The topic of artificial intelligence is well discussed across all media in all possible forms. The subject’s rather dry if you want to get technical with it, rather than just touch the surface with throwaway philosophical concepts. As a topic it’s part mathematics and part economics, as AI requires both strong scientific and engineering to succeed, but these two require running budgets and political decisions to be feasible. There has been a few AI winters, where the interest had become extremely low due to lack of progress. In truth, we have multiple functioning AI in our current era, ranging from dedicated chess computers to whatever Google’s cooking up. The AI science fiction often employs and what most people seem to regard as the end-product of AI is a machine intelligence superior to human, a super intelligence. That might be one world, but I’d rather not have the spellcheck to shit on me every time I type it. AI research is still ongoing, though it would seem that most prominent research is directed at tool AI rather than general intelligence. It is hard to predict when superhuman intelligence will come to existence, but depending in what form it’ll be in, it might be the last invention mankind needs to make for obvious reasons.

This post will concentrate on discussing three different AI in Muv-Luv franchise, all three which are distinctly separate from each other. There are more in the background we’re never told about, but clearly exist. I will also go the unconventional route and disregard some of the depictions in the narrative in favour of larger discussion, and touch on this wherever relevant, e.g. how TSF AI autopilot should be more autodrone-like rather than weak AI autopilot it has. To spoil some of the latter discussion, how AI is treated in the setting is rather generic and follows SF conventions very closely to the point of not really adding anything new to it. At the same time, how AI is presented in BETAverse setting, a term I use for the world that Unlimited, Alternative and most of the spin-off take place in, is rather unconvincing and even unrealistic on closer look, even when you take into account that the main weapon used again the BETA are giant robots piloted by people in high-tech latex suits. I’m no professional in Artificial Intelligence or the like, so consider this post as musings of a fan.

This post also assumed that you are at least familiar with the overall concepts and world of Muv-Luv, as I will not offer any expanding explanations on topics like Moorcock-Lechte Drive. Sources used for this post are the VNs themselves, as well as The Codex, hence Superordinate replacing the nomenclature for Superior.

 

Tactical Surface Fighter learning computer, a rudimentary seed AI?

A problem with fiction and AI is that it has coloured the whole concept. The aforementioned chess computer is perfect example of something that was thought to be incredibly hard to attain, simply because it was thought that beating a chess master required to have some sort of nebulous part of humanity with it. When Deep Blue, the successor of Deep Thought chess-computer, beat the chess master Garry Kasparov in 1997, it was deemed a pinnacle of AI, but relatively soon after Deep Blue was considered only a sophisticated piece of hardware dedicated on one task only. It would seem that once intended AI functions as originally intended, the goalpost moves automatically and previous breakthroughs are merely results of clever programming. Kasparov’s loss at the hands of Deep Blue has been downplayed for years, citing Kasparov having unsightly bad play on his part or generally downplaying the value of chess as a game as a measure of human intelligence, something that had been culturally significant part across the globe for at least few centuries already. The same of course can be attributed to the Chinese game of Go, where Google’s AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol, the 18-time world champion, in 2016. Deep Blue was, and still is, a rather weak artificial intelligence, intended for a single task. We’ve yet to achieve any level of general or super intelligence to compare to. However, it would appear that even weak artificial intelligence bests mankind at our own games.

The AI in TSFs is a sort of learning computer, a tool approached weak AI that’s intended to both assist the pilot as well as take take control whenever necessary. Just like Deep Blue, it is not a general intelligence capable of making aware decisions. It is an input/output AI through and though. Pilots are required to train and drill movements and patters to a memory unit within the Fortified Pilot Suit, which this pilot data can be transfers from TSF to TSF with the pilot. This would lead the AI to react to events and situations as indicated by the data, seemingly allowing the TSF to predict the pilot’s actions based on the thought interface based on the changes in the pilots thought pattern and muscle voltage. However, by default this would lead into each pilot data being usable only for certain TSFs with comparable performance and weapon layouts. and mixing data from e.g. F-4 to Phantom to F-16 Fighting Falcon should produce incompatibilities. This would mean the pilots would have to drill new pilot data in the simulators, or at least refine existing pilot data, for newer generation machines rather than directly jumping into them. The pilot data seems to be gathered relatively fast due to the thought control interface the TSFs utilise for faster man-machine interface. It should also be noted that TSF itself accumulates pilot data, meaning a new pilot needs to override the machine’s existing patterns with his own, or is newly rolled out, the pilot will have hard time piloting the TSF due to the AI expecting different input. This canon system is somewhat backwards, as it would make more sense for TSFs have a standard base AI, to which pilot data is applied to as the pilot enters the TSF. This would prevent pilots being tied down to one TSF for effective operation.

In-universe, a TSF at autopilot will have less reaction time and is weaker at close combat manoeuvres than human pilots. This seems to be a schizophrenic hardware limitation. Considering the pilot data is created to assist the pilots in their actions at any given time, from walking to close-quarter combat, the AI of the TSF is required to react to a threat faster than the human pilot in order to assist. If TSF already has the ability to avoid Laser Class’ shots faster than the pilot, then the narrative is faulty at some point. Let us assume that that the AI in the TSF requires input both from the perceived threat and the pilot in order to act, meaning that the pilot data would make the TSF’s actions smoother during the actions themselves. The pilot data then would serve to smooth out TSF motions, but this is largely countered by the fact that TSF base AI requires positional resets and can not accept overlapping commands to for a chain of actions.

It would not be a stretch to assume that despite being able to assist the pilot in some manner through pilot data, it would seem apparent that the TSF’s computational centre is not fast enough to actually use the the data by itself, hence why its autopilot functions are extremely lacking. Despite being able to perceive threats and assist the pilot, whatever CPU equivalent it has seems to be incapable of reacting and making proper decisions based on the taught data. Considering modern TSFs are OBL (Operation By Light) the input the TSF AI gains is effectively immediate. Thus, the bottleneck of the system has to be the CPU, and this is something XM3 can’t affect, meaning XM3’s most notable element isn’t that it uses Shirogane Takeru’s pilot data as its basis or allows chaining inputs, but that it has been optimised to the point of the CPU having enough time to make a decision based on the situation rather than dedicating the pilot to a manoeuvre. This is also why all XM3 equipped TSFs have revamped computing hardware, running parallel-computing computers in order to allow XM3 to function at all. However, if we assume that the CPU bottleneck was the reason why TSF autopilot had lower response time than pilot, the new parallel-computing hardware should also increase the old OS’ functions to a very large degree, allowing autopilot to use pilot data for far faster action. The main core difference between thus ends up being not just the smoother and more action-reinforcing AI, but the sheer hardware advantage parallel-computing has over the old hardware.

Assuming that with the advent of further hardware innovations other than parallel-computing, it should be relatively straightforward to create a drone-like TSF, where its functions are based on existing pilot data and environmental input. Considering the BETA on Earth are stuck on simple action patterns, even after then Alternative‘s events changed them to a degree, it should not be out of question to have these learning computers to learn directly on the field and choose the most proper output in a given situation. This learning would be extremely fast, as XM3 shares data across all the units, meaning all TSFs would share the end results of both successful and failed manoeuvres. This sort of dynamic learning would easily lead into autopilot TSFs easily matching, and then overcoming both their human and BETA opponents. With hundreds of hours logged into pilot data files, a TSF could in principle adopt the pilots manoeuvres and use that as the core base library, be it against BETA or humans. This might end up making the TSFs relatively predictable at first, but as data accumulates, the seed AI should learn to variate or even faint against human opponents.

The core function of TSF OS is effectively that of a seed AI that is being taught how to move and function as dictated by intention as a weak artificial intelligence tool, which in-universe seemed to have hit a stop-gap caused by computational technology hitting a snag. However, pretty much everything else around it is ready for the step to AI driven TSFs, as input/output technology is clearly miles ahead. Artificial muscles and fiber-optics allow at least near light-speed input from environment to be received, but decisions and sending commands back seems to be the issue. This is not the case with artificial limbs in their current iteration. Suzumiya Haruka had some troubles with her pair of limbs, whereas the 00 Unit full-body prosthetic had no obvious problems acting and moving like a natural human being.

 

Whole Brain Emulation, 00 Unit and super intelligence

Whole Brain Emulation is how the initial 00 Unit is gained its intelligence. The concept is solid; scan a brain from a given moment and use machine to replicate brain’s functions on some level to gain general intelligence. The level the brain must be replicated in order to have it properly function is not known, though in principle it should be enough to replicate the general function of the synapses rather than emulate the brain below cellular level. The advantage of successfully emulating brain functions is that we don’t exactly need to know the deeper functions as long as the brain’s state can be successfully emulated. As long as the emulation is low-level enough, the emulated synapses and other functions should take over by themselves. The hardware doesn’t have a control over them.

Another benefit in this is that the emulated intelligence can be tweaked to function faster, e.g. make the synapses shoot faster. As such, accurate emulation is not the intended end result if the end result is super intelligence, but whole brain emulation can be the first step towards to it. Emulated brains with tweaked functions would be able to think faster and more efficiently than normal brains as well as able to absorb far more information for further use. It is clear that the emulated brain within 00 Unit is not vanilla variety, but has hardware modifications applied. These include a level of ESP and general control over machinery either via ESP or unknown means. Furthermore, 00 Unit’s control and calculation abilities have greatly been boosted over her source brain abilities as per the intended usage as a communicator between the BETA and humanity. As such the Whole Brain Emulation we see in Muv-Luv Alternative and in the assumed future counts as super intelligence. Needless to say, 00 Unit is strong intelligence to TSF’s weak intelligence.

The emulation hardware the 00 Unit has is far superior than what TSFs use for their OS and functions, as if they were similar, it’d mean 00 Unit’s brain emulation would be pathetically slow. This of course is solved by having the solution brought from EXTRAverse, by having fifteen billion semi-conductors working in parallel to create an artificial brain build of material able to super conduct as room temperature called Grey Nine. This artificial brain is effectively a quantum computer in itself, and is able to quantum conduct. Effectively, it is a cross-dimensional quantum computer able to link itself to other worlds where 00 Units exists, effectively creating a pan-dimensional computing network. This is hilariously over the top in terms of processing power and science magic, well within the reach of accurately emulating every and all functions of a brain even at atomic level. The rest of the emulation, in order to cause disassociation with the emulated brain, is the body. 00 Unit is relatively traditional SF cyborg body, emulating all surface functions of a human, from breathing to function of sexual organs. Birth is apparently impossible, but with medical technology being this far, artificial wombs would be in the range of possibility. The egg might need to be donated elsewhere and inserted within the womb either through traditional means or already fertilised. The donor may be some other person, or perhaps the eggs have been harvested and frozen prior brain scanning.

The technology of brain scanning in Muv-Luv is destructive. The principle is that a brain is harvested at some point, probably frozen to some extent and then cut into extremely thin parts slices. These slices are dyed properly to map out each and every cell and their position, which in itself is an incredibly daunting task that required relatively advanced medical and analytical technology to replica in a virtual environment. It is probable that the same hardware that emulates the brain running 00 Unit was also necessary to even begin with the task of analysing the brain and its state. Considering we have the technology that are superior to our own eyes and ears, it would not be impossible to assume that perfect sight and hearing are a package deal here. It would also be completely possible to add strength and speed to the body, but the difference between the emulation’s original body and the artificial one would be more pronounced. Seeing that the emulation is perfect, as in it functions as the driving force rather than as a framework further software is run through, the emulated personality would have a relatively difficult period to accustom to their superhuman body compared if the cybernetic body would be human-like. Further upgrades of course can apply further post-human additions, from multiple arms to completely inhuman body.

Whole Brain Scanning and its successful application in perfect personality replication opens some hard questions. If the personality emulation is perfect, and there is no dissonance between the human and artificial body, can be say that the 00 Unit is simply a machine continuation of the brain donor? After all, the experiences of the donor continue directly where the brain’s functions were stopped. Booting up for the first time might be a similar experience to waking up from a sleep. This can be contrasted to Star Trek‘s teleportation dilemma, which asks if the person who comes out from the porter is the same person who entered it, as Trek‘s technology requires destruction of the original particles in order to record them, and then an assembly of this data at the other end. Effectively, the person needs to die in order to be teleported. Few times in the show’s history old data has been used to reconstruct previous states a ship member had been to reverse some ailments. Additionally, the transporter can remove or add elements from the data. It would not hard to assume that tweaking the data it would be possible to further modify the pattern. Consider also that about every seven years a human has renewed their cell structure, effectively replacing all the old there was. This sort of idea of at what point a ship is a new ship, if all of its parts are replaced one by one in time. At some point, nothing of the old ship exists any more.

In-universe, there are two takes. Kouzuki Yuuko having no connection to the brain donor largely treats the 00 Unit as an intended machine, despite 00 Unit having its own agency and persona. Shirogane Takeru on the other hand takes the approach that as long as the memories and personality are Kagami Sumika’s, the 00 Unit and her are one and the same. The continuation of the personality, the awareness and consciousness, is what defines her as over the fact that she is artificial. It would also seem impossible to replicate Kagami Sumika’s brain pattern to a new body. Despite the fact that her body functions on extraterrestrial G-elements, it should be possible to record her brain pattern off from her body and upload it to a new body. However, the fiction seems to indicate that this is not possible, either due to lack of technology like having multiple hardware builds to house further 00 Units, or that the scanning and pattern upload procedures are simultaneous, effectively hard coding the pattern to the hardware. We can then assume that tampering of the hardware could lead into large damage or total shutdown, or that 00 Unit’s body works similar to some arcade hardware that require constant power to be fed in order to keep the data in memory. We can also assume that the brain emulation is completely dependent on the artificial brain itself, and would require another where to record the pattern to. It might be that in the end there were not enough resources to create another artificial brain at that point in time. All this seems to be driven by the narrative’s need to have drama over that practicality of whole brain emulation.

Considering the momentary existence of the 00 Unit, Japan was the only nation in the world with super intelligence, meaning their edge over other nation in terms of sheer computational power was unmatched. In-fiction, the 00 Unit was capable enough to fool sensory readings of large amount of TSFs all the while controlling the Moorcock-Lechte Drive and its Rutherford Field. If 00 Unit was to used for intelligence gathering from neighbouring nations, or nations with stranglehold on world economics like the US, Japan would have decisive strategical advantage. Instead, 00 Unit was used to spy and map out BETA structures, though for unknown reasons this spy connecting via a BETA Reactor, a Brain Class, was more or less bidirectional.

 

00 Unit waypoint to TSF machine intelligence?

As mentioned, even if normal human mind can’t create general machine intelligence, Whole Brain Emulated AI would easily have access to the necessary power to solve the equations. In Muv-Luv, 00 Unit’s extremely efficient quantum network would be able to create the necessary theories and solution in order to create general machine intelligence. This could be then applied to each sector that relies on AI support, such as TSFs. While I’ve painted a picture that even in-fiction TSF driven by tool super intelligence is not far, similar stories have been told in our real world. Since the 1940’s the advent of AI has been expected to take place within the next two decades, but it has been moved forwards with each win and failure, as the AI goalpost is being moved each time a successful weak AI has been implemented. Such is the case of Deep Blue.

TSF super intelligence would not need to be general AI. Quite the opposite, despite being super intelligence, it could be created to lack agency of its own. The solution to create new 00 Units exists and is being taken advantage of by 2040’s, meaning that general machine intelligence should be a thing to some extent. If we take this into account, it would be possible to downgrade the artificial brains to only emulate standard human brains without the quantum connection and install these as TSF’s on-board computers. This of course means you’d be giving a giant robot access to its own agency, which might end up badly. To take this even further, perhaps with enough materials and scanned brains it would be possible to excise cockpits as such from TSFs altogether and simply have pilots move have their conscious temporarily moved into the TSF shell. This would be a temporary upload, which would then upload itself back to the pilot body when TSF returns to its hangar. Death of a pilot would only mean that an iteration that was uploaded to the TSF would cease to exist, whilst the originator of that thought pattern would still be safe and could be used for further action. With XM3 sharing data across the TSFs, further developments might even be able to return the uploaded pattern back to the pilot’s body before destruction due to the sheer speed fiber optics allow.

This of course raises numerous ethical and existential questions about treatment of humanity and how we define what is to be human or alive. Though who knows, maybe F-47 Ishkur has some sort of on-board AI assisting the pilot.

The described AI TSF exists within the setting, though in somewhat different from and function. In MLA Total Eclipse, there exists a device that has a shape like a rounded coffin, which houses a live esper. When activated, a red aura emanates from inside of it, and engulfs the TSF in a similar aura. This red aura seems to denote malicious presence, as opposed to the blue aura other espers can envelope TSFs with. This aura is called the Nastroyka Effect, and its overall brightness and effect is linked to the esper’s Prafka, an effect which induces esper with a state that increases their ability to pilot. The П3 Plan, fully titled as Polnoye Zatmeniye Plan or Total Eclipse Plan, aimed to create TSFs driven by these esper pods for more efficient operations. By triggering the Prafka on these pods, each TSF equipped with them would have superior operational efficiency over other TSFs. A human pilot was still necessary to be present for command and control over the overall actions.

Because the esper pods would control the TSF via their psychic linkage, they could be counted as AI driven by biological compuers, the espers themselves. However, whether or not we should count living humans appropriated for such task as AI is an open question. However, it could also be possible that these espers were modified to function only in this manner via brainwashing or other memory alteration techniques, and the rest of their humanity was retarded to non-existence. This would mean they would not function in any other form. Considering the Soviet Union doesn’t think espers as nothing else but dolls to be used and discarded when their usefulness end, it would sound apt they’d remove all the “unnecessary” elements from their autopilots. The ethics of this plan are highly dubious, as birthing and raising humans to function as nothing else but biological AI effectively does seem to break numerous human rights.

 

Biological super intelligence

The fact that BETA are artificial beings mean their intelligence is also artificial, engineered by their creators to function in intended ways. Due to their alien origin, assuming anything on how BETA AI works can only be surmised from their actions. All the smaller strains, if not all other strains outside the Heavy Brain Class that sits at the core of Original Hive, seem to function on tool general intelligence. No other strain exhibits creative thinking or change in behaviour patterns despite few decades of warring. They are to serve a role in a larger function, and their behaviour is set up by the Superordinate a.k.a the Heavy Brain Class. Considering BETA tactics had no reason the change after the initial aerial barrages up until the first unknown contact with the 00 Unit via a Reactor a.k.a Brain Class. The reason for this is rather obvious, as BETA on Earth are resource collectors, recycling all materials they need for production. They have AI that has agency. It is assumed these refined materials are send to the BETA creator’s home world.

The fact that only Heavy Brain Class BETA can modify the AI of any other BETA, meaning change their original intended function like using the Laser Class as anti-air weaponry, the lower tier BETA follow very strict AI pattern that does not allow them to veer off course. While on the surface this code seems to be relatively simple and strict, BETA have exhibited large range of actions to achieve their goals, like a Tank Class BETA jumping in the air to land on a tank rather than the usual swarming. This sort of leeway allows the BETA to have dynamic actions on the battlefield in their point of view, while in comparison to human battle doctrines they have essentially no deviation. New BETA can only be designed at the Original Hive or in a Hive where a Heavy Brain Class exists, meaning there is a strict and archaic hierarchy within the BETA command structure. The Super Heavy Laser Class seen towards the end of Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse is the most prominent example of Heavy Brain Class creating new Class to fight an opponent, though Soldier Class strain is most likely Earth-exclusive due to its resemblance to the human form.

Considering all this, the BETA are effectively super intelligence side in the war on Earth against them. The sheer raw computational power and ability to create new BETA strains to counter human tactics is even more significant than just their larger numbers. With enough input, the Superordinate would be capable of producing a single strain that would be end of mankind, with or without relative strategies. Of course, because BETA don’t have a tactic, they aren’t war machines after all, such devices would only be utilised at extreme situations. If the Superordinate would assess mankind a life form, and accept that it was with only one side surviving, it would most likely alter its largely inert behaviour and become an active participant.

Calling BETA biological machines would not be all that incorrect, considering the Superordinate requests Shirogane Takeru to reactivate then torso-shredded Tamase Miki. Machines can be re-activated even after some damage, something BETA seem to consider themselves capable of doing, hence they consider themselves as non-lifeforms. This definition carries to humans, as revealed by a psychic contact during Alternative 3 procedures, and can be assumed to extend to all other lifeforms based on carbon. This naturally means that the BETA aren’t exactly hostile from their point of view, but rather carrying out pre-ordered function to gather materials. They are effectively as much as a machine to their creators as cars and trucks are to us.

Ultimately, the fight between humanity and the BETA is effectively a story of humanity fighting AI. Similar how TSFs have a weak tool AI, so have the smaller strains. Similarly, 00 Unit being the humanoid quantum computer in silicon the Superordinate is a biological quantum computer, which probably explains why it has to sit atop a mushroom shaped reactor. However, for all intents and purposes, the BETA AI is somewhat humanised, for the lack of better word. While it seems alien and first, the fact that the whole functions similar to archaic computers. Even with human made general AI, not to mention super intelligence, there should be little reason to assume that it would function similar to human patterns or restricts itself to hardware routes, especially if it has any capabilities of self-enhancement. It is highly possible that the Heavy Brain Class is able to do this, as it was able to comprehend human speech and mind at staggering speed. Despite this, its innate programming may not have allowed it to expand further, unless necessary input was presented. The probability of a human being able to do this are largely nil.


 

The AI elements in Muv-Luv should be considered as standard SF fare. It is not the main focus or the point of the franchise. Yes, the BETA are effectively AI and cyborgs and what are successors of 00 Unit will appear later in the franchise, if the roadmap indicated by Exogularity Volume 1 is anything to go by. There probably won’t be any sort of fully AI driven TSFs despite the path now being completely open for them, though the BETA AI will probably be touched to some extent depending whether or not the Heartless One is human or BETA agent. While AI is more or less an afterthought, a sidestepped issue in all of the current stories released thus far, the current setup does allow the staff discuss the philosophy and concepts of Artificial Intelligence down the line, especially when the intention is to showcase mankind in a state where it is natural, posthuman and transhuman at the same time.

Fight! Iczer-1 series celebration

These posts were originally posted as a Monthly Three, as well as Iczer-1’s 30th anniversary celebration series. They are now here collected for easier access. This post covers introduction to the history and the Original Video Animations the franchise has seen.


Rei Aran

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.

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.

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Design comparison; Mega Man VS Mega Man

To say that the original design for Mega Man is iconic wouldn’t be wrong. The design of the character is synonymous of the game renaissance of the later 1980’s with Nintendo’s powerhouse of a 8-bit system and the many games it housed. The very sprite is revered in an iconic status similar to Mario’s or Simon Belmont’s and sees constant re-use. Hell, even the trailer for the 2017 cartoon has it, despite their design being vastly different.

Well, not exactly. The logo aside (it’s your run-of-the-mill logo, though I’m not a fan how they’ve cut the letters in an angle and don’t make the space between Mega and Man evident enough) the sprite jumping on it is a modified NES sprite. The earpieces have a glowing rim and a similarly glowing forehead gem has been added. The buster also has an energy line to it. The solar collector that runs from the forehead gem to the back of the helmet has been coloured black here as well.  Dunno what’s the point of using this modified sprite, but the intend is to appeal to the nostalgia. As I’ve said it previously, the 8-bit worship needs to end and this is the worst kind of retro masturbation.

Then again, using modern tools to represent an old character does something good at times. Mega Man 9 had great faux-retro renders of the characters

But let’s get to the business. I’m not going to compare original Mega Man to Man of Action Mega Man. Instead, I’ll be using another American redesign; the Ruby-Spears Mega Man. We’ll leave the Captain N version to its own devices. And oh, this counts as the Monthly Mecha design post, because row-butts.

Neat to see stuff like this turning up

The two American Mega Man redesigns are of two different school of thought. The Ruby-Spears redesign gives the main audience someone to look up to, someone they could become while growing up. Ageing the character from a ten-years old to a teenager was a necessity. Outside that, the core design doesn’t exactly veer too far from the original Capcom design.

I’ll just have to use this screencap from the trailer

The Man of Action Mega Man on the other hand aims to create a character the kids in the audience could identify with. A character that goes through similar issues and handles similar subjects, though maybe through a veil that is a Saturday morning cartoon, can offer kids new tools to handle difficult subjects. Somehow I doubt that’ll happen with the 2017 Mega Man series. Or as heavy handedly as in Captain Planet. I’ll refer this redesign as MoA from now on.

Kinda funny to see how the basic posing is still the same. I guess this is cultural influence to you.

The two designs are clearly from the same source of origin and thus share the same elements, and interesting, similar additions. To note some few of them; kneepads, changed forehead element and emphasized upper torso. Original Mega Man doesn’t have any sort of kneepads, the lower legs sometimes extend over the knee, sometimes it doesn’t. Depends on the revision. The earpieces on Ruby-Spears have red vents on the outside, giving them emphasize, just like how energy lines on the MoA redesign. The forehead element is probably the most baffling on Ruby-Spears, as it’s a diamond over a square. It doesn’t really mesh with the rest of the design, but then again the life gem stolen from Mega Man X on MoA’s redesign looks pretty much as terrible. Well, all the energy light lines do. Maybe those will change colours when another weapon than Mega Buster is equipped.

Let’s start from the top of the head and work our way down. The overall helmet is the same shape, but due to different styles, MoA’s big head is emphasised. MoA’s Mega Man also inverts the shades on the helmet. Classic Mega Man’s forehead element and solar collector are lighter shade than the main body. This is due to the colour pallet available on the NES. MoA chose to make the helmet’s main body about the same shade as usual, but the collector is almost black. The shade of blue, cyan even, used on the lighter shades on Mega Man is used on the edges of the cutaway for the face, directly lifted from Mega Man X. Ruby-Spear’s redesign sticks to notes from Capcom’s original, outside the whole diamond bit.

Furthermore, the cutaway on Ruby-Spears’ Mega Man is classical heart, whereas MoA’s opted to use a similar angular design to X’s, just with slightly less sharpness to it. MoA also added useless panel lining to the helmet. While face design may be different across the board, it should be mentioned that Ruby-Spears followed original’s round face closer that MoA. Both have blue eyes, just like original. It wasn’t until Mega Man X onwards that Mega Man main characters started having emerald green eyes.

The upper torso is where things get wild. Ruby-Spears’ Mega Man may be more muscular, but the lines added to emphasize this don’t break the core design. His neck may be exposed in this one, but that’s kinda business as usual as well. MoA’s Mega Man on the other hand opts for a leaner design, where the chosen elements break the traditional design. MoA’s Mega Man essentially wears a T-Shirt that has a stupidly high upwards arching cut in the middle, exposing his middle torso for no real good reason. Black lines coming underneath his armpits extent to his neck and extend the same way on the back. Underneath his arms he has two rectangle sections that have no reason to be there.

Is it just me or does all this stretching look strange? I just assume there’s fabric on top of parts that aren’t clearly metal, but then you have clearly metal parts warping. Eh, cartoons and animation

The arms are similar, only having real difference between gloved VS. gloveless hands. Due to how MoA exaggerates body dimensions, the arms are larger. However, because the upper arms (and the thighs) are so thin, MoA’s Mega Man looks more like a mix-match of a Sonic character. Ruby-Spear’s has a more traditional superhero muscle build to it, which looks a bit odd, but works considering the whole redesign is more in-line with American comic heroes.

Both buster has a similar overall design, but MoA decided not to include anything interesting and just added three glowing bars. Ruby-Spears opted two for button like squares. Ruby-Spears hits closer to the original yellow strip design. Both weapons seem to be tied to the left arm.

Considering that, the pants on Ruby-Spears’ are your plain ol’ whities coloured blue and with a belt. MoA opted to add an extra colour and separated power light lines in order to cut the shape downwards. Not really sure if they want to have their hero wearing pants like that, but these cuts are somewhat reminiscent of those that Mega Man X has, but again, just with curves.

Probably should post X as for reference. He has a big hand. Notice how his chest has an added colour on his… robobra? Anyway, his colours have accents that bring out each other and whatever the details there are, mainly the angles. The Life gem on his forehead is brought to attention because it simply stands out, but rather than breaking the scheme it works as a sole point of interest. That, and there’s red in his earpiece and at the tip of the buster. It’s a colour sparingly used for an effect, not slapped everywhere. Notice green eyes

The legs are the second busiest places after the Mega Buster. Well, that’s relative for MoA’s design, it’s so full of lines and lights everywhere. Ruby-Spear’s Mega Man have classic style legs, just with more muscle, clear kneepads, separated feet from the legs and lighter share at the tip of the “shoes” with black soles. MoA kinda went town with theirs. Darker kneepads, very clear ankle joints, separated feet and legs and darker soles. Everything covered in those damn light lines.

Let’s be frank, Man of Action Mega Man is overdesigned. The chosen colour scheme looks too dark to give the lights more emphasize and the sheer amount of them does make it look more like a Christmas decoration from China. A Mega Man knock-off. Yes, the original’s character sheet has tones about as dark as MoA, yet in-game and in other illustration work, even in Wish upon a Star, the colours are lighter and vivid. The darker tone balance is destroyed in MoA’s design due to added even darker spots and high contrast lights.

I had wishes that the design would grow unto me, but the inclusion of Mega Mini, worse song than Ruby-Spears’ opening and the constant use of Mega+suffix doesn’t install much hope. MEGANIZE ME! or IT’S MEGA TIME don’t have the same sound as ROCK ON! They’re actually more reminiscent of Captain N‘s Mega Man, who would shove mega into everything he was talking about. Hell, even in the intro he says MEGA HI! to the audience.

The design is also just too damn blue and uses too dark a scheme. Outside the insides of the buster, there is not splash of any other colour to give the blue a lift. Hell, the clothes he wears when he is just Aki Light are more interesting to look at. The design sure has become less rigid since we first saw it, but all the same eyesore points still persist.

Even the yellow inside the buster is broken ochra, not a vivid yellow. Why? To emphasize that neon cyan on the rims. The worst thing is that the wrist seems to have slightly brighter blue, but it’s all dull. That hand looks terrible though, but maybe it’s just the angle. Here you can see that the forehead “gem” is really just an intendation on the “solar collector” (probably isn’t a one in MoA’s version) and not a protruding gem

Ruby-Spears’ Mega Man is sort of the opposite, with less bells and whistles everywhere, and despite the changed age, he is visibly Mega Man American edition. He does have a dunce, round nosed face with weird eyebrows (not to mention eyes that are somewhere between Fred Flinstone’s and generic anime) and strangely bulbous legs overall, but these don’t really destroy the balance it maintains. The slightly overdone muscles does upset the balance to a point where the whole thing looks a bit off in an uncanny way. Whether or not one is better over the other is subjective, but the 2017 cartoon needs to be damn good to win me over.

Then again, it doesn’t need to. It’s a show for a new generation of kids, and if they like, maybe that’s for the better.

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, 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.

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. If you’re looking for Hirano related Iczer-1 stuff, this post will have very little to none. We’re going to concentrate on the original creator.

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, comparatively speaking. 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.