Pile of Shame
3x3 Eyes

by Justin Sevakis,
Yuzo Takada was never really a big name among American otaku, but back in the 90s his stuff ranked as some of the most popular anime of its day, including Blue Seed, Cat Girl Nuku Nuku, and this -- 3x3 Eyes, a dark and gory adventure OAV that once adorned a good number of video stores across America, back when they first started carrying anime on VHS.

I was actively trying to watch everything back in this era, but I could never really get into 3x3 Eyes. Friends of mine in the anime club remarked about it fondly, and even made jokes about having the mark of the Wu (which marks its protagonist Yakumo as immortal), but I found something inexplicably off-putting about its darkness. Maybe the character designs -- which were never really attractive -- didn't appeal to me. At any rate, the 90s came and went without me having seen more than a few minutes of the show, and I never really thought about it again.

Upon revisiting the series today, I think I was being silly. 3x3 Eyes is nothing groudbreaking, but as far as juvenile fantasy action shows go, it's quite a bit of fun. Its story is super-compressed and a little jumpy (the original manga, which is only partially covered by the anime, runs 40 volumes), but its tropes are familiar enough that pretty much anyone could follow it. It's a fun little adventure show.

Pai is the last remaining Sanjiyan, a race of nearly immortal magic users, who was discovered in Tibet by a Japanese explorer. Said Japanese explorer falls deathly ill, and sends Pai to find his teenaged son in Tokyo, and leaves him a note that he is to help her become human. And thus, he is transformed into a Wu, an immortal guardian for the girl. He also starts to develop feelings for her.

Pai is a pretty normal, bubble-headded teenaged girl, for being the lone survivor of an ancient race. Only, she has a split personality: when Pai is in distress, her third eye opens, and she becomes her Sanjiyan self -- a harsher, smarter version of herself, and one that can wield magic like no one's business. To become human, she needs the Statue of Humanity. Unfortunately, some very powerful, very evil guys are also after that statue. And Yakumo is just a normal kid. In fact, the only thing he has going for him is the fact that he can't be killed... and a bizarrely high pain threshold.

A big part of what made the OAV such a hit in its initial release (in Japan, at least) is Megumi Hayashibara. Displaying a full range as both Pai and her alter-ego Sanjiyan, her performance single-handedly cranks the show up from average to likable. Kouji Tsujitani's Yakumo is also more compelling than your average doorstop of an anime guy, trying in vain to protect the girl he likes from supernatural forces. That said, the show can't decide whether to play his immortality for comedy or pathos. More often than not, the poor guy gets brutally ripped apart, only to stand up unscathed a few seconds later. It'd be one thing to play that for laughs, like an early version of Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan, or linger on his pain to emphasize his suffering. But the show opts to do neither, and we're left just to watch a protagonist we kind of like suffer over and over again. I don't really know how to interpret that.

The Streamline dub, with which most of the old-timers are familiar, is passable, but not one of the shining gems of the catalog. Eddie Frierson is pretty wooden as Yakumo, while Rebecca Forstadt and Alexandra Kenworthy trade off as Pai and Sanjiyan, to mostly decent, albeit one-note effect. But aside from being a touch more liberally rewritten than necessary, the underlying translation is pretty sloppy. Lines of dialogue are missing, and a few subtle things seem like they were misunderstood by whoever did the script adaptation. Most of the original cast was reunited for the sequel series by Orion Pictures, but the company went out of business before the last episode could be released in America. (I've heard Manga Entertainment managed to release it in the UK and Australia, but can't verify that.)

Pioneer Entertainment license rescued the title and its sequel in 1999, and commissioned a new dub from New Generation Pictures for its DVD release the next year. I haven't seen this dub, but it got fairly good reviews upon its release. The casting is noteworthy not only because nearly everybody is a seasoned screen actor, but also because nearly all of them were also in the late 90s Disney TV show Gargoyles. This includes Brigitte Bako (Strange Days) as Pai, Christian Campbell (Trick, older brother of Neve Campbell) as Yakumo, and Bill Fagerbakke (Spongebob Squarepants, Coach, The Artist).

All copies of 3x3 Eyes in circulation look absolutely terrible. Having been transferred to video with an old analog tube telecine, the original master tape is blurry, dim and suffers from terrible ghosting. Unfortunately, this seems to be the only source material out there, as even the Japanese Blu-ray is just an upscale of this ratty old thing. I have to wonder if the original film elements are missing, as not even a basic remastering has been attempted, and this looks bad even by early-2000s standards. The sequel looks a bit better.

All in all, the show is definitely looking a bit dusty in its old age, mainly affecting its visuals. The story already had the slapdash feel of a vintage adventure serial from the 50s, so even when it was a brand new show, few of its twists wouldn't have been anticipated by the audience. But despite its been-there-done-that nature, I can't help but admit that it's definitely still entertaining.

Japanese Name: 3x3 Eyes (サザンアイズ)

Media Type: OAV Series

Length: 4 x 30 min. (first series), 3 x 45 min. (second series)

Vintage: 1991-1992 (first series), 1995-1996 (second series)

Genres: Fantasy, action

Availability (Japan): The terrible looking Blu-ray box, which came out in 2010, is still in print. The DVD Special Edition is not in print, but can be found fairly cheaply. None have English.

Availability (English): The Pioneer release, though long out of print, isn't too hard to find either as 2 separate discs, or as a repackaged boxed set. The Streamline/Orion dub is purely a VHS pursuit.

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