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.

The nature of horror and gore

There are some that regard that gore is what makes horror. Without gore there would be no horror. I understand why they’d think that way, as most of the recent horror movies since the 70’s or so are far more gore centric that the monster horror movies of old. Rather than having horror vie subtle nuances and showing less for more, slasher movies have progressively showed more and more blood and guts as the time has gone by.

Horror, as dictionary puts it, is an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting. Gore indeed in most cases can cause the forementioned emotions. However, I have little doubt that we all can agree on the fact that what we find horrifying is completely subjective. What one might find horrifying is just another daily thing for another person. There’s a reason why you won’t ever see frogs in this blog. I find them very normal and I have no qualms in handling one, but a person I have high regards of can’t handle frogs that well. This person is literally horrified by said animals.


Have a Godzilla instead

I get a painful feeling from needles, but I am not horrified by them. Similarly I have no qualms of seeing guts and blood, by I have no desire to see them either. To me gore has always been a weak way out to create cheap feeling of horror. Certainly it hits the primitive fears all humans have and makes our instincts kick in. It should be an effective method, but as most movie goers have already become numb to the effect, it ends up being pathetic to the point it draws out laughter rather than fear. Indeed, there are slew of movies, especially exploitation movies, that overuse gore to that point knowingly.
Same with darkness. Movies and games have been using darkness effectively for decades now, tapping the primal fear of unkown, but just as with gore, darkness has been overblown to the point that we can’t see what we’re supposed to be horrified of. Perhaps the best examples of this change is the Doom game series. The first two Doom games and their additional packs use darkness very sparingly and contain a lot of lit areas and only few completely black areas. Original Doom is frightening as the player has limited resources all around, and the sounds the demons make is rather startling. They’re there, but you don’t know where. Doom 3 was supposed to be a perfect evolution of this form, but the stages are literally too dark to be seen at all. The feeling of fear soon dissipates as the feeling of frustration takes over. The atmosphere in Doom 3 is ruined by the simple reason the game is too black. The same can be said of horror movies. While “less is more” is very effective in horror, JAWS did it right. They only showed the shark completely at the very end and in very dramatic way. Same with Alien and Predator. However, these movies are quite well lit in all actuality and you can see the setting very well, and in the end the monsters lurking in the shadows. Horror movies have had similar change as Doom series had that they’ve become so dark that you can barely see anything, and if they add light it’ll be that flickering light that causes headaches rather than tension.

When things get ordinary, they lose their power to scare people. There is a reason why films like Dracula, Frankenstein, King Kong and Godzilla do not horrify us anymore. They’ve been around us enough time so that they’re ordinary. The shock value they once had has dissipated and thus gore and its shock value.
However, take a look at the Godzilla picture I provided above for a few minutes.
While it seems like something that could be in pretty much anywhere, the longer you watch the image and consider it something will startle you a bit. The shapes are familiar, there are things that should not be there and things are just plain wrong. It’s subtle, but ‘that Godzilla just ain’t right.’ To those who are horrified by death would never want to know that this particular Godzilla image depicts Heisei Godzilla in its final moments when its heart is going into nuclear meltdown; its dying and its going to take the world with it. The death is not a pleasent one, as during the mealtdown all of Godzilla’s flesh will literally boil and burn off while the radioactive fire will consume the insides, ultimately bursting out and killing the creature.
Nuclear accidents are not fiction. Japan still has Fukushima’s situation to deal with and it’s reality. Nuclear threat is something only selected people in the world live through. It’s a real life horror that we, as people who have never witnessed or experienced it, can’t understand by the least.
Godzilla represents this horror, even if Toho themselves have forgot it. In any of the Godzilla movies there is very little gore. The horror comes from elsewhere and has very specific audience. While monster movies became their own genre as time went by, most people still regard that at least the original film is a horror film. Whether or not I am to ever experience nuclear disaster, I know I will be horrified; I know what kind of aftereffects H-bombs and meltdowns have had, and I would never want to see them in real life not experience them. Still, they’re always there, no matter how I want to think otherwise. Godzilla, even if its a man in a rubber suit, is a face given to those horrors.

Perhaps this is one reason I don’t care for modern horror. They have no values other than shock value gore. They’re laughable and bad. They’re not laughably bad like Space Thunder Kids or the Entrails of a Virgin, they’re just bad. The horror they give out tries to strike out, but they’re weak in this regard and the only thing they give to the audience is cheap scares and loss of money. Movie series that try to hit a psychological point like Cube are more repulsive than horrifying, but never a painful one. If repulsion is a mark of horror, then every road kill I see is a mark of horror. This is not the case.
I’d like to divide slasher movies apart from horror movies, but thats’ completely bullshit and I know it. Horror, as a genre, has a large amount of sub-genres like any other genre.

In what modern horror movies success in is atmosphere. However, more ofthen than not this atmosphere is ruined by the cheap scares and general blackness of the films’ parts. The pressing atmosphere in most of modern horror films fo get their audience, but whether or not the pressure disspites really depends on the watcher. However, in general scale movies have gone downhill, and this applies to horror movies as well. Films directors are less subtle than previously as film technology has advanced. There where lighting was used to make threatening shades and hidden lives, CGI shadows are used and transformed objects. However, as said, when things become daily…

Where am I going with this? Horror is, and always will be, about subtle remarks to those things that we find horrifying, but only so that we barely notice them. If I may be cynical for a moment here, I’d argue that modern movie audience (and game audience) in general is unable to notice these subtle nudges and wants direct and straightforward in-your-face splatter that they call “horror.”

Now excuse me, I’m off to enjoy my film.

Hint; this was irony.