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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.