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.

Continue reading “Fight! Iczer-1 series celebration”

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

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.

From LaserDisc to DVD; how original video animation paved way for modern consumer culture

This is a text adaptation of a presentation given at Kawacon 2012

Direct-to-video has a bad reputation these days. Back in the very late 70’s and up till mid-80’s direct-to-video productions were not regarded as lower quality production, but were seen as competently produced products. However, there is a section of direct-to-video products that have arguably always stayed as somewhat of quality products of sorts and have not really dropped into same hole as most other of their brethren; the OVA.

OVAs, or Original Video Animations are one of Japan’s unique product. They came to be because the animators and writers who worked in the major studios in 70’s wanted more freedom in the products they wanted to make, and that the 80’s Japan had a large economical boom that allowed vast amount of money be spent on such trivialities as funding animation videos.

Before we wonder any deeper to the subject and formats, we have to get clear what an OVA is. There are numerous different variations of said term;

OVA = Original Video Animation
OAV = Original Adult/Animation Video
ONA = Original ‘Net Animation
ODA = Original DVD Animation
OBA = Original BluRay Disc Animation

For all intents and purposes the most used one is Original Video Animation. OAV was coined by the fandom to separate it from “kiddie” animation. All the rest are terms that were tried to push in, but only ONA has made a small breakthrough. However, all others are either purely fanbased terms or one-use words that nobody uses.

OVAs are usually seen a hyperviolent robotsfests with lots of bare skin and filled with sex. Some of them are, and anime in was regarded like this due to the massive amount of OVAs licensed to the West. Anime in general wouldn’t be as known as it is in the west without the OVA of the 80’s, but the same boom also created home video markets in Japan and also affected same markets in the US, which also contributed to the victory of VHS over LaserDisc and BetaMAX. OVAs, as in any medium, has large variety of content; OVAs also had touching romance, historical stories and simple children’s stories. Overlooking the stigma they have is important.

In the most basic sense, OVAs are movies, or series of movies. The contents could be anything the staff wanted it to be, as OVA had no restrictions what it could and could not have unlike TV animation. As in their heart, OVAs should exhibit property of being original, as in the story and animation within is created for this product, and is not adaptation from anywhere else. Needless to say OVA soon became a way to animate obscure comics and stories that would’ve never seen daylight in other mediums otherwise. After the initial boom had started, some of the big companies like Sunrise started creating their own OVAs as well, most notables from them being the Gundam side stories 0083: Stardust Memory and 0080: War in the Pocket. Other smaller companies also did their fair share of OVAs in the 80’s, and one of the most loved and well known has to be Aim for the top! Gunbuster.


Gunbuster also got a sequel in the 00’s

After the 80’s ended and the 90’s began the economical boom that kept OVAs afloat died. Many of the projects that were meant to be OVAs were turned into TV-series of variety of length, and thus gave birth to 12-episode series. This also began the trend of having long series with nothing really happening in them, leading into pacing problems and underwhelming series, as most TV-animations do have much higher limitations what can be shown and what can’t, thou that didn’t seem to stop anyone back then. The anime we have nowadays is a bastard child of the 90’s TV and 80’s OVA, where pretty much nothing happens but there’s still unnecessary fanservice. Similarly as OVAs were targeted towards certain niche group, the TV series have nowadays do the same and this is both illogical and stupid. OVAs as well changed from original stories to direct adaptations with higher budget and extra contents or episodes. As such, the 80’s OVA can be considered dead and it has been replaced with neo-OVA of sorts, which shares the sickness and many of the modern television shows in general.

The Formats

OVAs were released across the formats, but I’ll be concentrating on three main formats in the late 70’s and 80’s. Let’s start with LaserDisc.


Look at the size of that thing!


LaserDisc’s were originally invented in the late 50’s, but were released to the public in 1978. Techwise they reside somewhere between the DVD and LP discs, and the discs are actually the same size as your normal LP but are also twice as thick. LaserDisc was the choice of audiophiles for a long time, as it produced the most clear picture and the most crisp sound money can buy.

Your normal LD disc weights around 500 grams, and were prone to break from the seams between the two sides either due to manual breakdown or due to laser rotting, where the glue that held the sides together would lose it’s strenght. Speaking of the sides, each side could hold max. 30min or 60min of video, which was problematic. In the middle of a film you had to change the sides unless you had a player that could change the side automatically via rotating the reader.

There was also the problem that LD players could only play, not record similarly to most modern DVD players. For the time, LDs were rather difficult to use. While they were originally cheaper to produce than VHS or BetaMAX tapes, VHS tapes became much cheaper by the mid-80’s, LD players still cost more than your normal VHS players, and took more room, were noisier and all that. Because of combination of these, and the success of a rivalling format, the LaserDisc lost the format race of the 80’s. It never got popular in the US outside importers and audiophiles, but saw a limited success in Asia.

Nowadays collecting LDs is honestly something that is either really hard to do, or is borderline stupid to do. DVD remasters offer better quality than LD and is easier to get. European and American LDs tend to cost few bucks, but the shipping is just insane, and the second-hand players cost twice as much as they should. Internet auction sites and secondhand stores are your best option to purchase LDs, but you need dig some dough to be able to pay the requested prices.


The BetaMax tapes had less tape than VHS as well

The BetaMax was first developed in the 1971 and was developed by a small group of people who would split apart, and this development would lead into VHS as well. As such, both Beta and VHS are based on the same tech, but branched off from each other at some point. The Beta standard was released with full driving force of the 70’s SONY in 1975 and they sincerely tried to drive it to become the standard all film industry would use. Sure, the format had an early launch, but the machines and tapes were a bit expensive and difficult to use. The early machines could only record, which was seen as a drawback by the consumers. Because of this the Beta was somewhat difficult to use, not to mention the higher price of the tapes. LD was cheaper at that time.

By the 80’s the production of both VHS and Beta was cheaper than producing LDs, but the wider acceptance of VHS format the BetaMax became secondary format for making movies. Audiophiles wanted to use Beta because of its superior quality and ignoring its shortcomings, like that it could only hold 60min of tape, thou some later cassettes did have more time. However, Beta died in the 80’s as it was abandoned slightly earlier than LD because nobody used it. It’s still warmly remembered by fans.


GODDAMMIT WRONG BETA

I presume every single one of you who are reading this has used a VHS deck. I’ve got nothing much to add to what you already know of the format, as the major bulk of you grew with it. The VHS is the worst in quality, but it won because it became cheapest to produce by the 80’s, as producing one VHS cost one dollar, whereas one LD cost five dollars. VHS also had variety of lengths, which was part of the reason why it became so popular, not to mention it was also the easiest format to use and had more versatile functions out of all of the three formats. The maximum amount of tape a VHS can have is 420m, but the tape would be rather thin.

VHS was released 1976, and by released I mean that the first player was in Hotel Okura, and then it slowly crept around the world. While many people say that porn was the reason why VHS won, it’s really because it was the most multifunctional and easiest format to work with. OVAs drove VHS markets in Japan, as prior to that there was no home video market as we know it today. This is important, as OVAs were one of the major forces that made the home video industry realize that there is demand. Because of this demand many series saw VHS releases in the 80’s, and this effect could also be felt in the West. Movies and similar did see VHS releases as well, but before OVA came in shows like Balatack were not on VHS, unless somebody had taped them from TV.

This is how importing to the West worked back in the early 80’s. You had to have a contact in Japan to get your hands on these things on VHS. The other way was to have a store that would import them for you. Usually this means that you have a catalogue in Japanese with small 1×1 inch pictures of something. If it looked interesting, you bought it. VHS tapes cost around hundred bucks back then (taking inflation in to count, that’s around $213 for ONE VHS), and then you’d have to wait months to get something back. LDs were cheaper to import as they were around 70 bucks. Thus anime fans tended to import LDs and purchase expensive LD players. Of course, everything was in the devil’s language and very few people could translate the events on the screen for their friends.

In conventions the anime rooms had somebody explaining what was going on by pausing the tape at certain intervals. Otherwise you only had a paper that said what the story was about, or most often nothing at all. Fansubbing did not exist. In comparison I watched the live stream of Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse last night without any subs, and the subs were out this morning. The Iczer-1 LDs I purchased from Rakuten a week a go and they were delivered in five days. The times we live in are much easier, and we should be thankful for it.

As 80’s OVA boom was loosely a product of two things; animators and directors who wanted more freedom and change of pace, and the economical boom that Japan was under. The OVA saw certain kind of death when the economical bubble burst, and many of the OVA projects were converted into TV shows, which gave birth to 12 episode series. This also lead some shows to have somewhat limited content and plots that didn’t really go anywhere outside key episodes. As such the modern anime we have is a bastard child where nothing really happens and movie long stories are spread across 12 or 24 episodes. Then we have schlock like K-On! which has nothing happening in them.

OVA filled a certain niche in the 80’s and always targeted itself towards these niche customers. During the boom the most successful OVAs were like golden goose, but then there are many others that failed miserably and the time has forgotten them. The shows nowadays try to market themselves similarly to 80’s OVA and targets certain audience only. TV animation has gotten expensive since the 80’s and got even more expensive because of the HD standard, and thus most series are not making their money back. This is the key reason the industry is dying, not because of lack in ingenuity or the like.

OVAs also are the reason we have series released on DVD. DVD claimed VHS’ markets at the end of the 90’s, which saw larger series releases due to cheaper mass production values. As such we can either be grateful to OVAs for the VHS boom, or blame them for the same thing.

Here’s a nice piece of trivia before we go into the four first important OVAs; by 2012 VHS is still the most favoured recording format in the US due to the large number of VHS decks, and largely around the world as well. VHS has been slowly been replaced by digital recordings, but VHS is still the most common.

But now, let’s speak of OVAs themselves.

Dallos


Dallos was the first real OVA released in 1983 by Studio Pierrot. It was directed by Mamoru Oshii, who would later garner much fame with his movie adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell. It’s a four episode OVA with and extra episode, and even then the story is left unfinished. Dallos was put up by bunch of ex-Tatsunoko employees, and as such the style is clearly very 70’s, but there’s a hints of new winds, as one of the animators was none other than mr. Obari himself, who defined certain aesthetics all by himself. Well, almost.

So, what is Dallos about? Earth government oppressing people who live at the Moon surface and people there fight back at guerilla warfare until the fight for Dallos begins which is some sort of supernatural being or something. The plot’s not that interesting even if it has some potential. It conveys the same message as most of the late-70’s series, especially Mobile Suit Gundam, and it really hammers it in in the fourth episode.

Dallos isn’t bad as much it is dull. The animation is pretty mediocre except in action scenes, the colours of the world are bleached and the music isn’t anything to write home about. Most of the rips out there also suffer from bad translation. Dallos did see an English adaptation in ’86 named Battle for the Moon station Dallos, but reports say that its as like watching Warriors of the Wind over Nausicaä. Finding either of them most likely will be the exact same experience.

Sadly, Dallos also pioneered one of the bad points of OVAs, which is that it will be unfinished for all eternity. The series did get good in the fourth episode when they found their style and pace, but it was far too late at that point already. What Dallos did was that there was a market for direct-to-video animation, and launched a slow but steady start for the OVA boom. However, Dallos was soon forgotten for the time being when another OVA was released, and punched itself through like bullet.

Fight!! Iczer-One


A 1985 release, Iczer-One was Toshiki Hirano’s brainchild in the Lemon People magazine (we’ll get to that later on) and was animated by studio AIC, which also worked on bulk of the OVAs produced. Iczer-One was relatively successful and managed to pierce certain barriers about the quality of VHS and OVAs in general.

Iczer-One is one of the first OVAs in general, and at the time collected quite a lot of attention and was regarded as one of the highest quality OVA works, and Iczer-One still has a loyal group of followers. Recently Iczer-One got a spotlight of sorts for being in Super Robot Wars L for the Nintendo DS, but because of the economics in the 90’s and current disinterest in old series we’re never going to see the end of the Iczer-saga. It doesn’t help that Hirano seems to be lazy bastard who can’t end his works properly anyway, as evident by the dropped Iczer-One prequel comic.

Iczer-One is about a race called Cthulhu taking over the Earth, and only Iczer-One can stand between total annihilation of the human race, but only if one girl is willing to become her partner and give her enough strength, as well as push Iczer-Robo to its absolute limits.

Iczer-One has higher level of animation than Dallos, and the story is more coherent as well as focused. Iczer-One did receive full three episode (or short movies) and finished the story. It’s actually pretty funny to look at Dallos and Iczer-One side to side and notice how much Dallos is your low level OVA whereas Iczer-One nails every OVA trope there is; nudity, sex, ultraviolence, insanely beautiful scenes, gore, that 80’s music and story that is best not to think too much about. It’s short, it’s sweet and worth your time to be honest.

Cream Lemon


Cream Lemon wasn’t the first adult erotica OVA in 1984, as it was preceded by Lolita Anime by some months. However, unlike Lolita Anime Cream Lemon actually has some quality.

Cream Lemon stories are based on Lemon People magazine’s stories, which span between all genres from sci-fi to cyberpunk to fantasy to complete comedy and so on. In spirit it could be compared to the Heavy Metal magazine, except it’s even more explicit, but more harmless and concentrating on the cute side of sexiness rather than crude blackness. As such only handful of Cream Lemon stories have an ongoing plot from part to part.

Cream Lemon most likely encouraged Lemon People stories to be turned into OVAs, as happened with Iczer-1. Because of this such series as Project A-ko was also developed, but at one point of the project it was decided to that it should exist as its own product outside Cream Lemon. There are notable elements in the first OVA where Cream Lemon themes exist or is directly referenced at.

Cream Lemon was rather successful series and gained numerous sequels, and ultimately outlived its parent magazine. While some of the stories are lacklustre and downright bad, there are numerous gems and points of interest that still hold up to this day. However, I can’t but wonder why Pop Chaser is one of the most popular of the bunch.

MegaZone 23

Without much doubt it was MegaZone 23 that ultimately kicked the OVA boom into full flower in 1985. MegaZone 23 was created in the same vain and spirit as Macross and was meant to be a sequel to Mospeada, but the main investor withdrew the last possible second, leaving the staff with almost complete plot and many animated sequences. Thus it was decided to turn the series into an OVA and the rest is history.

MegaZone 23 is your standard high-class OVA filled with gorgeous animation filled with plotholes and explicit sex scene amidst everything else. It was popular and still stays popular in otaku culture. MegaZone 23 is a product of its time, showcasing the best and worst of 80’s Japan and rather interesting light. I recommend listening to ADV’s dub on it, because it really adds more 80’s feeling to it. [Suomalaisille lukijoille sanottakoon, että ADV’n dubbi vetää niin syvässä kasarihengessä, että allekirjoittanutta melkein sattuu muutamassa kohdassa nauramiselle.]

MegaZone 23 received two sequels; a two part OVA called Part II and one OVA movie in the early 90’s called Part III. The story in the first part is about people living their normal lives without knowing that they were aboard a spaceship, and all is controlled by a computer. Only high ranking high-ranking military officials were aware of this, until a motorcycle known as Bahamoud falls into the main character’s hands, and then he finds out that his world is a charade, and the computer controlling is also a superidol known as EVE. The first part ends where the main character loses.

The US importers found MegaZone 23 extremely exciting. It sort of launched massive amounts of imports, which also lead into localization of such series as Dirty Pair, which found more audience in the West than in Japan. It can be argued that MegaZone 23’s release was at the time when people were looking for something
and found OVAs to be that one thing; it was for a niche that wasn’t really a niche, but a large customer base.

The OVAs we have nowadays are a far cry from their ancestors. Majority of them are special slapped on discs or almost direct adaptations from novels and comics. The Originality does not exist any more. All that was once in the OVAs is now poured into TV animation where it doesn’t belong. Because of this the anime industry is dying, not because we haven’t had the Second Evangelion.

The 2000’s anime boom was partly because of bulk of licensed OVAs of varying quality. There is rather recent phenomena of reviewing what people call shit OVAs. I’ve got no problem with these, as bulk of them truly are nothing but crap. Well animated, but crap nevertheless. Movies like the Crimson Wolf (Hon Ran) and Spirit Warrior are prime examples of this kind of shows.

There’s one OVA that I’d consider to be one of the last of its kind; Mazinkaiser SKL.


While Mazinkaiser SKL is very loosely based on GO Nagai’s Mazinger saga, it is truly it’s own production and is far more original than any other OVA produced during the last five to ten years.

To put it short, OVAs were a phenomena that was partially reason of the victory of VHS and showed the way of Home Video in Japan. The current consumer culture where we have loads of series loaded on the store shelves can be traced back to shows like Iczer-One and to their success.