by Theron Martin,


DVD - Complete Collection

In the very near future, a calamity happens which kills off all of the world's men and a large number of the women, leaving the survivors in a society on the brink of extinction. Some, most notably those affiliated with the Kisaragi clan, accept humankind's eventual fate and so live only in the moment. Others, most notably Guardswoman Commander Julia and her underlings, seek to use the science of “vicious men” to give humanity a new hope. The key to their efforts may be ICE, a substance which encases test subjects in a crystalline cocoon but can have monstrous side effects if the crystal case is damaged and the defense functions thus activated. On one mission to combat bioterrorists and recover ICE samples, insomniac Guardswoman Captain Hitomi Landsknecht happens to save Yuki, one of the adopted daughters of the Kisaragi leader, and the two quickly become friends (although their interpretations of what, exactly, is involved with being friends differs dramatically). While that incident expands the world that Hitomi knows, it also violently angers Yuki's bipolar sister and indirectly touches off a sequence of events which puts the remainder of womankind in grave peril.

This fairly obscure three-episode 2007 OVA series was helmed by a director (Makoto Kobayashi) who has top billing only on one other one-shot OVA and a movie, each even more obscure than this project. It was produced by a studio (PPM) which did the lead work on only one other very obscure OVA series. That neither has taken the lead on a project since this one is no surprise given the job that they turned in here. While ICE has some intriguing ideas in both its story design and its artistry, those in charge of this production did not seem to know how to bring them to fruition. The result is a mess which samples both stylistically and thematically from numerous other anime titles but never finds its own identity – or, for that matter, much coherence of any type.

The biggest problem is a crippling lack of internal logic. Stories about fantastic settings and technology can still maintain credibility by following a set of rules which govern the world, but ICE never bothers to heed the few rules that it does establish. Based on the narration of the initial future scenes, no more than 16-18 years have passed since the last man died, yet that was still apparently enough time for massive biological changes to happen in the biosphere, such as birds evolving who can turn into plants. Despite the fact that society was collapsing and most of the world's population was dying off, radical new technologies and fashions developed. Despite the fact that the population of Japan has dwindled to about 20,000, the Guardswoman Commander can still somehow muster an army that looks thousands strong composed of young women who look like clones. Nothing can be grown which is edible by humans, so the remaining population supposedly must depend on canned goods left over from the previous era (and has done so for many years), yet one character can still easily forage from a mostly full-looking abandoned convenience store. Aliens are implied to be involved, but that point is never made clear, nor is how exactly the ICE (which is apparently generated when test subjects inject something into a certain body orifice) is supposed to be a solution or why it would have the side effect of creating a monster if disturbed. The story suggests that a lot of what happens was set in motion before the men started dying off, but again, that is never made clear enough. Exactly what the present-time business with the young accident victim Hitomi, and how and why she keeps appearing to the future Hitomi, is also never made clear; the end of the series does lay out an implication on that, though some sort of time travel or cross-time astral projection has to be involved even for that to be true.

The series also seems to want to make some philosophical statements but seems uncertain about how far it wants to go with them. Dialogue by various characters regularly makes reference to stepping beyond the ways of “vicious men,” and about how resorting to the use of guns is a sinful reminder of that time, yet on multiple occasions characters engage in violent behavior and wanton killing which can be quite graphic. Is this intended to be a statement about how violence is inherent to the human race as a whole, and not just men, or did the creators simply decide that a certain amount of graphic violence was necessary to attract attention and not care whether or not that interfered with philosophical developments? Other scenes seem to pitch a “nature will find a way to overcome man's mistakes” message at one point, but the series never again revisits it.

The identity of the series is all over the place, too. For a series which uses only female characters, it is remarkably light on fan service and yuri context; in fact, the only real tastes of this are an opening scene with the present-time Hitomi wearing a thong, one scene which suggests that Julia is a very active woman, and a discussion that Hitomi and Yuki have about equating friendship and sexuality. Its artistic style in costuming and vehicle design resembles a cross between Trinity Blood (which the director did do some design work for) and Sakura Wars, with shades of Akira in the over-the-top motorcycle designs. Future Hitomi looks like a cross between Noir's Chloe and a stereotypical wasteland wanderer character from any of a number of post-apocalyptic series, while Yuki and the members of Hitomi's team could have stepped out of just about any generic sci fi series. The creators tried to be a little more original with Julia, but the peg leg and artificial hand (and why does she have a peg leg if they had the tech to give her a cybernetic hand which looks like it could have come out of Ghost in the Shell?), combined with her imperious attitude, just makes her into a ridiculous caricature, and she isn't the only one present. (Interestingly, though, women in authority positions are almost always tall and physically imposing.) Even the monster designs which come up later on look like retreads borrowed from other sci fi series. The character design style does show an unusually strong penchant for long, flowing hair, but the only true sparks of visual originality are the uncloaked appearance of Lady Kisaragi and certain scenes where Hitomi is firing shells and the camera follow the trajectory of the fired shell.

Consistent visual quality is also a problem. Early present-time scenes look like hold-overs from a 25+ year old series, complete with technical merits dating back to that time, while production values for the future series vary widely. For much of the series the animation is incredibly limited by OVA standards, with characters' mouths rarely shown when talking and cut scenes used in action moments. Even the extensive use of CG, which usually stands out sharply from regular rendering and animation, does not always escape that criticism, as one scene showing a mass of dancing figures in the background looks unnaturally stiff and looped. Only in a few key action sequences does the animation show any real potential, while background artistry only shines in some of the intricate interior designs in the tower. Kobayashi and PPM certainly do not slough off on showing and animating incredibly graphic content, though, such as shots of dead characters with bullet holes in their foreheads, an early scene where a character's head explodes from a laser, and a late scene where another character's entire body explodes when hit by a shell, but the animation never dwells on these moments so nimble use of Pause and Frame Advance buttons may be needed to fully appreciate them.

The one thing that the series does do well is its musical score, which backs its scenes with bold, weighty sounds in a determined effort to cover for deficiencies elsewhere. Even here, though, the series is sampling from other titles, as a few themes sound distinctly like they were patterned off of Akira. Still, the score's only weak spot is a bland J-pop number by idol group AKB48.

Both dubs have notable elements, albeit for entirely different reasons. The Japanese dub casts five members of AKB48 in supporting roles, which in execution feels more like a gimmick than a deliberate effort to choose the best performers for the roles. The English dub is also gimmicky, as a solid, generally low-key set of performances is punctuated by one extremely odd casting choice: Chris Patton doing his best to sound huskily effeminate as Julia. He actually doesn't do a bad job, but the sheer bizarreness of it can be off-putting. Because a significant amount of the series does not feature any shown animated talking, the script typically stays very close to the original.

The release continues a recent trend by Sentai titles to include a bit more supporting content, as the roughly 110 minutes of animation are complemented by an array of setting and conceptual designs. Though this one does have a dub, no Blu-Ray version seems to be available.

Some series fail because of a lack of anything fresh to work with; others fail because of deficiencies in execution. ICE squarely falls into the latter category. It does have some good ideas but does not successfully do enough with them, and is not sexy enough in the way it does them, to be entertaining as anything more than a curiosity.

Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B+

+ Good musical score.
Lacks internal logic, consistency, and cohesion in all other aspects.

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Production Info:
Director: Makoto Kobayashi
Yasushi Hirano
Makoto Kobayashi
Music: Il Won
Original creator: Yasushi Akimoto
Character Design: Masaya Onishi
Producer: Hiroaki Inoue

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ICE - Complete Collection (DVD)

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