Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 2nd 2005
Earth is threatened by an alien race called the Cthulhu, who are seeking to claim Earth for themselves as their new home planet. When the Bedems, agents of the Cthulhu, start infecting and transforming humans into monsters and the mecha of the Cthulhu launch their more direct attacks, the Fuji Defense Forces prove incapable of stopping their threat. Earth's last defense is Iczer-One, a female android who broke off from the Cthulhu's leader Big Gold, and the Iczer Robo mecha she can call upon. The problem is that for both Iczer-One and Iczer Robo to achieve their full potential, Iczer-One must synchronize with a single human, and the teenage girl Nagisa, whom Iczer-One has chosen, is too freaked out by what's going on to be cooperative.
Iczer-One (aka Fight! Iczer-One) consists of three OVA episodes totaling 95 minutes which were originally released in Japan between late 1985 and early 1987. The series was popular enough that it spawned a 1990 OVA sequel titled Iczer Reborn and a 1994 OVA revamp called Iczelion, both of which have also been released in North America. It isn't hard to see why the series might have caught on, as it features reasonably good artwork for the time period, excellent animation, a good amount of action and fan service, and a significant gore factor. The series also has a sly sense of humor which pokes fun at archetypical “science team” action series of the '70s and early '80s. Though originally released on VHS in the States in 1993 by US Renditions, it has recently been re-released on DVD by Media Blasters. How well does it hold up compared to more modern anime titles? Let's take a look.
Most mecha titles dating back to the mid-'80s or earlier have not aged well compared to more recent fare, and Iczer-One is unfortunately no exception. One well-versed in anime could easily estimate the date of its production just by the hairdos of its human characters and the way faces are drawn; series like this one make it quite clear why the main anime RPG rules system is called “Big Eyes, Small Mouth.” Also notable about the character design is the chunky, realistically-proportioned builds of its central female characters. These are neither the overly buxom “girls with guns” nor the petite little heroines more commonly seen in more recent series with female action heroes. Oh, the young women—both good guys and bad—are all reasonably appealing-looking and the nudity is well-depicted, it's just not the “modern” kind of style. By contrast, the few male characters to appear (and none of them have more than a minute or two of screen time) typically look dorky. More impressive are the monsters, who had a separate artistic designer. They are suitably disgusting when they transform from their human hosts and are suitably gooey when they get offed. The mecha designs, both in large and small versions, are strictly run-of-the-mill, while background art varies from good to questionable depending on the scene and episode (it is worse towards the end than it is early on). Although the artistry probably would have been considered good for the time in Japan, it does not hold up well against more recent digitally-enhanced artwork. This is primarily because of a grubby and rough look common to older cel-animated anime focusing on darker color schemes, which gives the impression of a less refined production. At least part of the problem might be the age of the master print, though, as this looks like a “before” shot in a comparison of unrestored to restored animation.
Though the artistry might not have held up well, the animation does. Despite a few stylistic shortcuts common to action series even to this day, the animation for Iczer-One is smooth and fluid, even including some animated blinking in places. One does not get the sense of awkwardness in scenes of characters walking or running that is still all too common in modern anime series.
The story and plotting for Iczer-One are wholly unremarkable mishmashes of elements common to monster and mecha titles from the '80s. The one factor which does make it distinctive amongst its ilk is its almost exclusively female cast. (Despite a male voice in both dubs, Sir Violet is really a woman.) Except for brief appearances by Nagisa's father and teacher and a couple of random bystanders, male characters are running jokes in the series. Each of the three episodes has an appearance from an all-male team piloting a ship called Fuji One (in the first episode), Fuji Two (in the second episode), or Fuji Three (in the third episode—see a trend?). These ships are, of course, so named because the first two are launched from a secret HQ at the base of Mt. Fuji. They are apparently heroic teams known to the public, but none of them last on screen more than a minute or two before meeting their demise at the hands of one of Iczer-One's foes.
Naming conventions are worth mentioning here. The aliens are called the Cthulhu in the original Japanese and the subtitles, a name borrowed from the works of acclaimed American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The English script changes this to something which sounds like Cthulwulf. Though this is an obvious attempt to dodge copyright issues in the States, one has to wonder why the subtitles weren't similarly adjusted. This is an excusable alteration to the original script, but the rest of what the English script does to Iczer-One is not. No serious attempt was apparently made to keep the English script close to the original Japanese script, as it takes extreme liberties. While not a total rewrite, many pieces of dialogue in the series are completely different in the dub when compared to the subtitles. Both the English script and subtitles make no attempt to account for use of Japanese honorifics (or the lack thereof), which means that one scene early in episode 2, where Nagisa is complaining about Iczer-One addressing her “like you know me” because she isn't using an honorific, makes little sense in English. Also keep an eye out for spelling errors in the subtitles and a subtitle reference to a “dress-up game” in episode 1 which in more modern subtitles would, of course, just been left as the original Japanese wording: cosplay.
The casting for the English dub roles isn't bad, except for the fact that some of the English VAs used had no talent—and not surprisingly, those are mostly the ones who haven't been heard in anime roles since this title. The quality of the performances is another matter. The nice way to put it is that this series is a prime example of both why long-time purists refuse to watch English dubs and how far English dubbing of anime has come since the early '90s in terms of professionalism. And worst of all, the English dub doesn't even voice an entire four-minute review segment at the beginning of the third episode! Fortunately the prominent long-term English VAs who can mark this one as an early credit (Wendee Swan aka Wendee Lee, Jane Alan, John Billingslea aka Beau Billingslea) have gotten better over time. The supporting music score is no better than the English dub; it is a weak and unoriginal series of supposedly upbeat numbers with a definite early-80s sound, and that is not meant as a compliment. (This makes some comments by the music director in one of the extras, about how well the music complimented the animation compared to other titles of the time, quite funny.) The closing numbers, which are different for each episode, vary in quality from a pretty good and genuinely upbeat number to a pretty awful number (the one sung by the male vocalist).
The graphic content for Iczer-One is fairly high, as one would expect from an '80s action-oriented OVA series. Though the series pulls its punches on showing the most graphic possible details, it is still a mildly gory series loaded with gobs of monster goo. Fan service is sprinkled throughout in the form of frontal nudity and occasional panty shots as well as one brief lesbian make-out scene, and the way a couple of monster scenes are handled reminded me more than a little bit of a certain subgenre of hentai. (Though, curiously, the subgenre I'm thinking of didn't come out until after this series.) Also keep an eye out for the nude portrait on a wall in a background shot of Nagisa's parent's bedroom. A curious place for that to be. . .
Aside from company previews and additional advertisements in the liner notes, Iczer-One packs two substantial extras. One is a somewhat repetitive art gallery, the other a 25-minute Behind the Scenes piece. The latter is a quirky mixture of production personnel interviews, a look at the recording of one of the theme songs, clips from the series, and a couple of brief superdeformed clips interspersed with some new animation of Nagisa serving as the host. The piece isn't meant to be taken too seriously, as evidenced by the monster designer trying to smoke while wearing tiger paw gloves in one interview, so I am hard-pressed to think of an equivalent feature on any other American DVD release.
Fans of classic mecha anime who don't mind fan service and graphic content will almost certainly go for Iczer-One. Newer fans might still find it an interesting view as long as they stay away from the problem-laden English dub. (Even if you're a diehard dub fan, use the subtitles on this one—and that comes from a fellow dub fan.) Though it hasn't aged well and is hardly a top title by modern standards, it is still one that I can recommend.
Overall (dub) : F
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : A-
Art : B
Music : D
+ Good animation, quirky Behind the Scenes extra.
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