Iria: Zeiram, the Animation
This was an OAV series, which you don't hear mentioned much, that I saw when I was first getting into anime. I thought it was pretty cool at the time. When I found that a friend of mine (/bow Zyxx) had a DVD copy and my review was looking really primitive I thought it was time to sit down and see if it could still impress. This anime was made after, but is actually a prequel, to the live action movies Zeiram (or Zeram) I and II.
Iria, the star of the show, has a bounty hunters license and the attitude to use it. She also has a wide selection of lethal devices, lots of neat gadgets, and the physical skills to use those. I doubt I need to mention that she is also no slouch in the physical appearance department. Her older brother, who she adores, is one of the planet Myce's most skilled hunters and she's determined to be his partner and his equal. So when he gets a job, and is already being shot at within a couple of kilometer of home, she's not one to sit around waiting to hear what the story was.
Which is perhaps a shame, because this would have been an excellent job to have given a miss. In theory the task is rescuing a crew, and cargo, from a hijacked spaceship. In practice there are no hijackers, much of the crew is in small meaty chunks and the rest wants protection from the cargo. It seems the cargo was not a "what" but a "who", and the answer to that appears to be "monstrously powerful, seemingly unstoppable alien death machine that enjoys ripping people apart". Not only that but now that things have begun to fall apart the corporation responsible is in "cover-up" mode, and would prefer everyone involved to simply vanish. It looks like surviving this one is going to be a real challenge.
Yay, it's still a cool series. My memories were not too far off. Although looking at it now I can also see the weakness that steals much of the power out of the story. However since I do like this series I'm going to give the good parts first.
The most important part is that the heritage for this material is inspired by the "babes with guns" school of anime (which I really must turn into a genre description). Iria is attractive, skilled, and has a wide variety of things that go bang. While it's not mandatory for this school of anime she also gains from having an interesting character. She's no intellectual, she tends to lose it a bit when her brother (who she idolizes) is involved, and she tends towards action rather than thinking things through, but it does give her some depth. And her weaknesses as an individual also feed her strengths, a strong sense of justice, a fearless attitude and an empathy for the under-dog. To be blunt she's sort of cool and it shouldn't take long before you're interested in what happens to her.
The "guns" requirement of this formula is not only met but exceeded. The technical design on this title is really delightful. Someone has designed how her rifle clasps to her cloak, which weapons are single shot, the fact that she has concealed spikes and one shot surprises all over her armor. Yes, armor, a female in armor goes against the grain but this one works. It looks both sensible and sexy. Sure it seems unlikely it could actually contain the wealth of hidden weaponry, grenades and gadgets she pulls out over the course of the show, but we're used to that sort of thing.
She is also required to, and knows how to, use all the devices she carries. For example one of the tools we see repeatedly is a sort of grappling wire that shoots out of a hand-piece, which allows for all sorts of aerial and wire work. Her skill with these tools is an excuse for all sorts of fun action scenes. Her use of grenades, timed explosives, grippers and the grappling wire makes her assault on the corporations headquarters tactically and visually entertaining. Sure, she seems a little bit adept at dodging gunfire, and some of the physics is a little bit questionable, but that's an acceptable trade off for some quite exciting action.
The world design mirrors this imagination and originality. This is a sci-fi world quite different from any other I've encountered. The closest thing would be that of Tenchi-muyo which also had a version of science that seemed to contain high technology and ancient style. For example one characters vehicle looks a heck of a lot like a high tech flying umbrella. The entire thing has a unique but coherent and believable design that really adds to the story. It gives a feeling of a world that has some depth and is more than just a backdrop.
So what's the bad part? It's not the other characters, I like them a lot. The character who lets the whole side down is none other than Zeiram the alien super weapon. He's actually sort of silly looking, sort of dull, and the story has to be manipulated in all sorts of ways to keep him as a threat. He lacks character, since he can't talk, he doesn't seem to have a goal and his ability to spawn miscellaneous sub-monsters as required by the story leads to some of the silliest scenes in the title. At one point he's in plain sight (the ship action is only one episodes worth) with huge tracked energy cannon trained on him. It's never made exactly clear how a monster that looks like a guy in a silly suit doesn't just get blown away. His ability to combine with human DNA, his "people" and his eventual defeat all seem sort of half baked. I strongly suspect that he was inherited from the live action movie and didn't grow to the same extent the other characters did.
Unfortunately he's sort of important to the whole plot and gets a lot of screen time. He's pretty cool in the first episodes, in the claustrophobic confines of a spaceship, but it gets sillier as it goes along. Which drains much of the interest and dramatic tension from the climax of the film. I personally don't care so much, because I'm more interested in Iria than the story. However if I didn't care much for Iria, but wanted a great story, then I think I'd find the later episodes a significant disappointment. I still believe that the action, great design and interesting characters are enough to make this title worth watching though.
This is actually a fairly attractive title. The characters look great with very detailed design inspired by the live action. The world, as mentioned, is innovative and well depicted. The action is imaginative and also well depicted. In short it's still very easy to watch. It does have some weaknesses, they cheat a bit and at times it's too obvious. For example a crowd being over-simplified, Zeiram's brood being under-animated, a robot's legs being simplified to a red blur or some motion reduced to flickering pose shots. It doesn't seem to have much logic either, one physical sequence will be beautifully animated and then they'll try some trick on the next. The Japanese voices are good, ambient sound is fine but the opening song is more than a little discordant, not a great fan of the closer either.
Which actually gives me a good example of them cheating. In the opening animation they have this nice scene of a running and shooting Iria. It looks great. Later on in the opening they re-use the same animation but try to cover the re-use by playing it backwards. Needless to say it just looks bizarre. Why do they draw attention to their re-use (which is hardly an issue, all anime has to battle with production costs) in this way? I've no idea at all, it doesn't seem to make sense.
Iria is a bounty hunter, attractive, skilled and with plenty of deadly little toys on her person. She's going to need them though because she's up against a supposedly unstoppable alien monstrosity. She's cool, the design work is superb, the production is good... it's just a shame that Zeiram ends up feeling a lot like some guy in a silly suit.