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.

Let’s take a look at OVAs Part 2; The Couragous and the Pretty

There’s few frameworks that we have to lay down before we start speaking of good OVAs. I’m mostly speaking of same things as every other person when it comes to good animation and storytelling, but when it comes to OVAs we have the luxury of observing the coda, execution and uniqueness as well. TV-animation is meant to be sold to a wide variety of audiences and to expand the market (or at least it should be, otherwise something’s seriously wrong) while OVAs are meant for the niche audience. In this sense a good OVA is a completely different product from other animation works, even from movies as they’re more comparable to short stories from literature whereas movies and TV-series are more akin to whole novels.

As such all the series presented here might not be what you’d call masterpieces. Some of them are actually pretty meh or even bad at most levels, but excel at being what OVAs should be. I’ll be skipping the most known series just for variety, such as Aim for the Top! Gunbuster, Mobile Police Patlabor, Dirty Pair and such. There’s slew of recommendation lists out there, and while you can take this post as one, I’d suggest you to take this list as something like a glance at more uncommon and yet good shows. OVAs do not play with the same set rules as other works of animation mostly due to niche nature they have. While the overall quality can be determined by the sales (sales always determine the quality of the product over opinions, as rough as it is) OVAs have the small lax in this rule; an overlooked work might have had a small spread and print, affecting its sales overall.

The first example perhaps I can offer you is Cosmos Pink Shock, which I already mentioned in the Part 1. It’s a good 40min show about a girl crossing the universe inside a hyper-rocket that can achieve near-light speed travel in order to find her childhood sweetheart who was abducted by aliens. Cosmos Pink Shock has very nice animation, very nice designs, good music and overall the quality is up there. It only saw tape releases, even thou the animation alone would have demanded an LD release. It’s a beautiful little work that never really spread anywhere. A group called BOX actually searched for this kind rare releases for wider spread. The group has ceased to exist , but their work has been nothing short of remarkable. I’d almost call this a cultural preservation act, as they have subbed such works as Superman Locke and Queen Millenia, which both have had more than slight impact on Japanese animation and comic culture, thou their effect has become near extinct since the end of the 90’s. While BOX’s site has dead MegaUpload links, I presume my dear readers are smart enough to add “bakabt” to their Google search. Nevertheless, give Cosmos Pink Shock a shot. You might not want to stop at there thou.

Speaking of gorgeous animation, go watch DAICON III and DAICON IV from Youtube now. Never mind the quality, it can’t be helped.

There’s schlock, but then there’s good schlock, and then there’s schlock that’s like Cyber City Oedo 808.


To be honest, Oedo isn’t really bad. It’s an OVA that’s completely in spirit of the 80’s OVAs at its best; not really good, but goddamn if its not entertaining as hell. Oedo’s an example of well done Japanese cyber-punk without going all babbling like Ghost in the Shell, or all coffee on you like the Humanoid. It’s far more action packed and is more subtle on its questions on humanity and such, thou they can be dismissed quickly by the characters’ nature. It’s very dystopian, and some have drawn similarities with Judge Dredd and Robocop in certain feel to Oedo, thou I’m not sure whether or not I should agree. Oedo is unique enough to stand on its own to feet, and this is mostly because it’s well animated, has decent voicework and its execution is nothing short well paced. The story in Oedo is more akin to not-so generic cyberpunk detective/murder story, but somehow I can’t put my finger why the plot was decent. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter; Oedo’s a ride that is meant to be enjoyed, not to thought through.

If you want something more cerebral, wait one more entry when we enter the 90’s as promised. But for now, enjoy one of my personal favourites; Birdy the Mighty.


Birdy the Mighty is one of those OVAs that never really saw an end, and neither did its later 00’s TV-series. Birdy the Mighty is nothing short of your generic sci-fi detective story, but that’s not a bad thing. Birdy has a lot of charm both as a series and as a character. I’m partial for her 80’s appearance because fuck yeah 80’s. Still, the plot’s pretty simple; Birdy accidentally kills a young boy while chasing down a fugitive criminal, and to save this boy’s life her superior commands her to allow this boy’s soul into her body. When this boy, Tsutomu, is in control the body they share looks like his, but when needed Birdy can and will take her own form back. As such there’s an interesting duality going on all the time, but sadly it’s not well thought out or even used. It’s kind of there, but as with most OVAs there really wasn’t time for it. The 00’s series does it a bit better, but the show was too slow for its own good and didn’t really grasp the audience to have the final third season. As such, Birdy the Mighty OVA is flawed and could have done a lot of things better, but it’s nowhere near bad. It’s not even OK series, as the animation, acting and the concepts lift the OVA above most others even if the execution is partially sloppy. It’s the concept and idea that is Birdy’s mightiest point.

To follow with the path of good concepts and ideas, let’s move to the 90’s, and to the one of the last true OVAs that was made during that time. Enter JaJa Uma! Quartette, known as Wild Cardz in the West.

JaJaUma! could be described as a two-part pilot for a full TV-series, or so it has always felt like. The world a lot of content and is fleshed out reasonably well in relatively short period of time. A lot of things are shown and not explained, the pacing is tight and fast, and the story is honestly well written and never loses its goal. There’s also a bit of mystery in there and not everything is explained outright, which shows Studio Ox’s trust in their viewers. The worst thing JaJaUma! Quartette has going for it that there’s not nearly enough of it anywhere. Sure, it was adapted from a comic and there’s few radio dramas and a YouTube: PlayStation game but goddammit there’s a lot of wasted potential in here. With more development this series could’ve become phenomenal, and while that can be said about a lot of things, JaJaUma! Quartette has the same kind of charm that a lot of other female character driven series have had during the past ten years and beyond. There’s a lot of love and labour in here.

Now I promised something more cerebral, and here it comes; Giant Robo the Animation. I can’t do enough justice to this series, but what I can say that while I recognize it as one of the best animation works to date, it’s not what OVAs should be. Yasuhiro Imagawa is a good director and I like his works, but it took ten to twelve years to finish Giant Robo. Fist of all, it’s seven episode series, and while that’s not bad, it took most of the 90’s to finish this work. It was always late, the staff went over budget and it wasn’t successful at all. Anyway, it’s still recognized as one of THE animation works out there for a good reason.

Let’s move to the 00’s where OVAs are mostly dead and TV-animation is facing dire times.

I’m cheating a little bit with this one, but might as well as this counts as Original ‘Net Animation; Kyousogiga.


Kyousogiga has similar problem as JaJaUma! Quartette. A lot of stuff is bashed into very short time and most of the details can go by fast. At its core Kyousogiga is shinto version of Alice in the Wonderland with some Mirror thrown in there. For modern animation it’s very detailed and lively, and actually manages to avoid looking all too plastic like 99% of the TV-anime out there. I presume that much like a lot of Studio 4°C’s works, Kyousogiga was thrown in as a potential TV-series, but never took off. Which is sad, because this could have worked, but perhaps they thought that it was too surreal for its own good. Now this sounds something I wouldn’t say, but if the anime industry is dying due to lack of new and creative (hrhrrh) works, why aren’t the likes of Kyousogiga given the Green Light? Well, mostly because the people in charge have lost the touch with their audience at large and aims only at lonely otakus who sit on their computers writing about OVAs. Expanding market means getting new viewers, not taking existing viewers from other competing products.

None of the mentioned series have done anything major alone. OVA as a whole was one of the driving forces behind the VHS standard due to its popularity at the time. Nowadays pressing DVDs is cheap, but costs to make a movie or a video original have risen far too much. The current situation of the economy doesn’t help either, and the fact that the TV and movies at large do not target large audience any more but fight over the same audience, much like the game industry is doing. It’s an unhealthy form of competition and serves only industries’ own destruction at best. OVA format filled a certain slot that was open. However, OVA can’t fill that slot, but it can’t fill the newly opened slot either. It’s a format out of its time, and OVA is barely alive mainly because it has been there since the 80’s. DVD did not have to fight any format wars or punch through same kind of think walls as VHS had to, and as such we’re enjoying the kind of consumer culture. There’s a lot of good and bad in the current format/s, but we’ll get back to HD-DVD and BD in few years.

Appreciation is kind of keyword here; people don’t need to like OVA format or anything other things that have moulded our current way of consuming entertainment, but if we can’t appreciate them and what they have managed to do, then we can’t appreciate what we have now, or value them at any level. This kind of attitude doesn’t just apply to customers, but to the industries as well. Abandoning what has worked for something that really doesn’t have the same punch but is cheaper and easier to produce just doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s also the other way around, as seen in the video game industry.

The best way to revive the current animation culture in Japan would be to start developing and creating TV-series that expand the market and clean their current image, and revive the OVA format for what it was made to begin with.

With this, I’ll end this summer’s theme of OVA history. These last two parts are mostly just extra, but what the heck, most of these deserve proper mentioning. Next week we’ll return to a more normal rhythm and discuss a bit more about designing.

Let’s take a look at OVAs Part 1; The bad, the terrible and the beautiful

This is an additional part to ‘From LaserDisc to DVD; how original video animation paved way for modern consumer culture’ post. It is recommended to read it first for overall understanding. Also, notice that I have started adding links of interest to the right side column for your pleasure

There’s a concept called shit 80’s OVA. At its core this encompasses all 80’s OVAs that are hyper-violent, make no sense whatsoever, most likely have sex scenes for no reason and plot is totally and completely all over the place. I’m talking about series that either take themselves way too seriously, or have been made in the most coke dusted animation studios the 80’s Japan had to offer. Some of you might be very familiar with these OVAs, as they were cheap to license and easy to get hold of when ADV and other companies started their venture into releasing anime, or have followed numerous Internet critics. I’m talking about OVAs like Hon Ran, Angel Cop, The Dog Soldier and Megami Tensei. All of these mentioned are bad shows on their own rights, but all of them are so bad that they’re enjoyable.

A certain movement has taken slight flight in the last seven years of watching shit OVAs for their own value. This began as a spinoff from the shit movie watching that has been rampart for years now (and won’t end until the film industry stops producing this much shit.) Well, it’s not a new phenomena or anything, but for this young sub-culture it’s what we old folks do when the new shows just don’t cut it any more. Anyway, the 80’s offer insane amounts of OVAs unknown to the West (or to Japan) that we need to see. Who knows, there just might be gems upon gems upon gems that the mainstream audience has missed. Like Cosmos Pink Shock!


Finding the film itself is harder than finding its LP

For this post we’ll be visiting few OVAs of varying but low quality. Some of them are just plain boring, but some of them are well animated shit with nice visuals, but otherwise they’re completely bonkers. All of the listed shows are recommended to watch, as they’re all unique and they have an entertaining coda in there, but otherwise they’re just schlock. Let’s start with Hon Ran; Crimson Wolf.

Hon Ran is one of the hidden pieces of garbage that is missed in most lists of shit anime. I mean, the main bad guys are bunch of Great Men of China’s history, like Mao, and the fights consist of flying in imaginary world and using tanks as weaponry. No, not using tanks’ weaponry, but tanks themselves. Hon Ran also houses perhaps the worst sex scene in anime to date, and believe me; I’ve seen some shitloads of animated sex scenes. The story is something about a Hon Ran, or Crimson Warrior, who is destined to rise against evil entities and defeat them. Honestly, I don’t recall much about Hon Ran, but dammit it’s somewhat entertaining in a weird way. Hon Ran’s also just as violent as any stereotypical 80’s OVA, so it’s recommended to have children with you to desensitize them as soon as possible.


Oh, more ultraviolence! Spirit Warrior (or Kujaku Oh) is directed by Rintarou, the man who is partially responsible of such shows as Doomed Megalopolis, X/1999, Harmagedon and the ’69 Moomins. In the series bunch of manly priest warriors first fight atavistic cryptofacists in Tibet, until the series reboots itself completely and the same men then fight some of the famous men of Japan’s history while saving bunch of ladies in distress. Honestly, this is pretty bad, but what Spirit Warrior has going is that it actually has good basis to exist. The comic is pretty decent and the game for the Sega Mega Drive is infamous for being one of the first games where people noticed that there’s both Western and Japanese version on the same cartridge. This kind of brainless violence is always fun to watch.

Now let’s leave the ultaviolence for a moment and let’s concentrate on awesome 80’s America as seen by drug filled 80’s Japanese animators.


The very first thing you might notice about California Crisis is how awesome it looks. This has to be one of the most expensive single episode OVA produced, as the amount of lines and the colours, as well as the general style used has to fetch rather high amount of time, but also love, to produce. I’ve got no idea how much cocaine the staff took while doing this OVA (hint; much less than in Dragon Half) but whatever; California Crisis is hilarious on its own rights. Basically it’s a story about two people going all around California with a space McGuffin while the government or some other highly organized people are chasing them. California Crisis is high on my list because of how insane amounts of shading it has, and how it looks. It’s a joyride and an attack to the senses.

Go Nagai is well remembered as one of the most influential person to the modern Japanese animation culture in general alongside other masters, but I’d argue that this dirty uncle was one of the first people to draw a porn comic for kids. Because, y’know, kids need to be educated on porn! Go Nagai’s Abarashi Family is an old and oddly warmly remembered series from this old bastard, which got an animation adaptation much like his other works.


Much like some other works from Uncle Go, one needs to have certain kind of cold and analytical attitude towards Abarashi Family’s abundance of violence, sex, teasing, sleaze rape and all those things. It’s entertainment as hell, because just sometimes you need to have fun made of these things, and somehow Uncle Go just makes them fun. No, not really, but dammit this much sleaze just has to be fun as hell. Mostly because it’s also completely insane.

On a more light-hearted note, Scramble Wars sort of prototypical cross-over OVA, which took a lot of influences from Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Racers, where the animation studio just took shitloads of their licenses into one super deformed race of complete insanity.


Scramble Wars’ concept was later used in SD Gundam series and some other works, but Scramble Wars can be called as kind of stepping stone in this SD crossovers. It’s fun to watch after Abarashi Family has forced you to take a long, cold and cleansing shower.

80’s schlock OVA had a long lasting effect in both style and direction for better or worse. Certain hyperviolence stuck to the 90’s TV animation and movies and not only because the directors and animators got those jobs, but because the OVAs had such an effect. Their bold and insane effect can still be seen in the modern games, movies and animation in general. The generous amount of blood and gore, the certain stylistic approach that Obari and his masters were engineering and generally an attitude that never really seeped through anywhere else. While shit can always be shit, there’s also shit that’s beautiful to watch and entertaining.

One of the modern OVAs that have spirit of these shit OVAs is Mazinkaiser SKL. While not really shit, there’s unmistakeable amounts of similar elements there that the previously mentioned OVAs has, albeit in more modern form. I mentioned SKL to be the last of its kind in the previous entry to the History of OVA, but it demands repetition; as much as Mazinkaiser SKL is just “decent” it encompasses all the good and bad that the 80’s OVA had to offer, and it stands pretty much all alone in the 2000’s offering on OVAs.

At this point I have to give credit to Dr.Nick. His help on making these synopsis’ was a life saver.

Next time we’ll take a look at bunch of good OVAs from the 80’s, and if we’re lucky I’m going overboard and putting in some 00’s shows as well.

 

 

 

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.