Reviewby Theron Martin,
I''s & I''s Pure Box Set
I”s - A trio of childhood friends, including aspiring sculptor Itsuki and the directionless Ichitaka, made a promise in childhood to reunite at a particular place ten years later, but fate takes a nasty twist in bringing the onetime friends back together again mostly by coincidence and with an ugly bunch of thugs in tow. Iori, an aspiring actress whom Ichitaka has pined for over the past two years, also gets involved in what unexpectedly turns into a matter of life and death.
I”s Pure - Ichitaka has yearned for the pretty aspiring actress Iori ever since first meeting her in high school but has always been unable to confess his feelings, instead often sticking a foot in his mouth in her presence. A visit from childhood friend Itsuki, who had moved to America years before but has now come back as a sexy teenage girl, alternately encourages and distracts him from his pursuit, as does a pretty girl he meets on a beach, but Ichitaka finally gets his chance two years later on Christmas Eve and finds out that, perhaps, his dreams could be realized. The demands of Iori's burgeoning career threaten to render all his efforts in vain, however.
The two-episode late 2002 OVA series I”s (sometimes called From I”s) and the six-episode 2005-2006 OVA series I”s Pure are both derived from the late '90s I”s manga series by Masakazu Katsura, though the latter is a much more direct (if abbreviated) adaptation. Both series use the same core cast of I-named characters (hence the series title) and reflect the same relationship status between the characters but otherwise are entirely independent stories, as the events in the earlier OVA do not mesh at all with the events in the later one. Despite various distractions along the way, both versions come down to the same basic premise: a young man pines for a pretty girl that he incorrectly thinks he can't have, and thus is unable to work up the courage to confess to her. It is the classic young male conundrum, one that has been explored frequently in romantic manga and anime over the years. Sadly, neither of these stories rate among the better treatments of the subject.
Although the shorter first series is the inferior of the two in every sense, it does offer one thing that the second series does not: a glimpse into the childhood of Ichitaka and Itsuki to help lay a foundation for the classic “childhood female friend who falls for the male lead” gimmick. (An entire essay could probably be written on why this is such a common and appealing relationship set-up for anime, manga, and ero game fans, but that is a discussion for another day.) It otherwise wastes any potential it might have had on some shockingly heavy and dangerous turns of events for what looked to be setting up like a typical romance, including deadly violence, threatened rape, and other mortal peril mixed with an improbably-executed action scene and an eye-rolling hint of the supernatural. In other words, the series seriously lost track of what it should have been trying to accomplish.
The second series works better because it tells a more cohesive story and stays more true to its romantic focus. It also puts a couple of its characters in serious peril, but those incidents do not get in the way in this series as they did in the first one; one such incident in the last episode does, in fact, play heavily into a key romantic scene. Watching Ichitaka consistently miss the subtle signs of possible reciprocation that Iori gives off, and how he regularly blows his opportunities to confess to her due to his own self-doubt, can be frustrating to watch but also highly understandable, as many a young man has, to some degree or another, been in Ichitaka's shoes at some point. Unlike most contemporary teen anime romances, which play up this kind of comedy of errors and missed opportunities for laughs, this one actually plays it mostly straight, which gives the series a certain sincerity too often lacking in series like this. On the downside, despite spending nearly its entire first half meandering through lengthy flashbacks, the series still feels too cramped to have a good flow, giving the impression that a lot was cut out to condense the story down to a mere six episodes. Character development suffers in places because of that and the whole bit with Itsuki gets blown off much too quickly, though bringing her back in a sort of epilogue piece as the final credits roll is a welcome touch. The story also utterly fails to explain why pretty girls with promising careers like Itsuki and Iori would ever be interested in a loser like Ichitaka in the first place.
The two series also show marked differences in visual quality. The character designs remain consistent between the two (same designer), but the first series looks considerably older and a bit cruder than its 2002 date suggests while the second series has both a more modern gloss and refinement to its visuals and better animation; clearly more money went into the series the second time around, although a change in directors may have also helped. The second series also has distinctly more fan service even if the “Ichitaka's Fantasy Diary” bits are skipped (though no outright nudity) and takes better advantage of some pretty background art.
The musical score does not make much of an impression in either series, doing a decent but wholly unremarkable job of playing up the mood in any given scene. The first series never bothers with an opener, but both the opener for the second series and the closers for both are eminently forgettable.
The same, unfortunately cannot be said for the English dub work for both series, which makes an impression in a distinctly negative way. Veterans Carrie Savage (as Itsuki) and Mike McDonald (as Ichitaka's best friend Teratani) turn in respectable efforts but most of the rest of the English cast – and especially the key roles Ichitaka and Iori – suffer from wooden, stilted performances which sometimes sound more like a reading test than actual acting. The English script stays so close to the direct Japanese translation that it is, at times, detrimental.
Viz is releasing both series in a double-DVD case, with one DVD containing the first series and the other containing the second. As Bamboo also noted in her Shelf Life entry about this release, the review copy had the two disks printed entirely backward, with the I”s disk actually containing the I”s Pure episodes and vice versa. The former series is encoded in 4:3 aspect ratio while the latter is in 16:9 format. Neither disk has any Extras, though the Pure disk does have four bonus “Ichitaka's Fantasy Diary” installments in between episodes, each of which shows Ichitaka's very sexy imaginings about the girls in each episode. This content, combined with the rape scenarios and a little bit of foul language in the first series, is probably what earns the release its dubious (in the sense of being overly conservative) TV-MA rating.
Ultimately these OVA series are mostly for fans of the source manga, as the story elements are not original and neither the storytelling quality nor any production value is good enough to stand out. The second series does improve enough in its later stages to pull up its overall grade, and some of the fan service in the in-between shorts is rather steamy, but promoting this release on those merits alone is a hard sell.
NOTE: The grades given below are an average of the two series. In each grade except music the grade for I"s individually is one step lower and the grade for I"s Pure individually is one step higher.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Second series is distinctly better in every respect and finishes strong.
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