Back in the late '90's, I approached anime purchases as an exciting gamble. Armed only with a fistfull of cash earned from long hours as a soccer referee and unbounded enthusiasm, I would go to the video store and buy something, based only on attractiveness of its box art. In this magical time filled with VHS tapes and blissful ignorance, Iria: Zeiram the Animation by chance, drawn in by is short length and comely heroine. While not a masterpiece of storytelling, animation, or sound, it does everything a good OVA should do: transports you to another world, gets your heart racing, and comes to a satisfying conclusion.
Iria: Zeiram the Animation traces an arc that roughly maps onto the Alien trilogy (there was a fourth movie, I'm aware. It doesn't really count). It starts with a tense, suspenseful first encounter between Iria, her brother Grenn, their friend Bob and the invincible monster, Zeiram, on a marooned ship in a remote part of the galaxy and ends in a final showdown between the young bounty hunter and the creature in the heart of one of the most densely populated civilized planets. Unlike Ripley, however, Iria and her brother possess a diverse arsenal of bounty hunting weapons which they unleash on the monster. The various shields, guns, swords, and traps add some much-needed excitement to the hunters' encounters with an invulnerable foe. In addition, the plot keeps Zeiram on hand as often as possible during each installment to help preserve an atmosphere of danger which is so vital to a successful monster flick.
However, the OVA oversteps its bounds a little when it messes with chronology and pauses for a few introspective moments in the middle--the sudden temporal jumps and pauses for reflection ruin the atmosphere a touch and spin several threads that never find resolution. That said, when the action comes back, the scope of events elevates, turning the tempo from intimate cat-and-mouse to that of a full-blown war by he show's end. In addition, the predictable story comes to a reasonable conclusion--which should be considered icing on the cake when compared to the less final wrap-up of a title like Ruin Explorers or Dragoon.
Though the show itself doesn't quite match up to its promotional materials, Iria: Zeiram the Animation looks pretty darn good, even twenty years later. Of the many attractive visual elements in the OVA (not the least of which is the catsuited and slinky Iria herself), the technology and environments stand out the most. The city of Taowajan weaves rustic charm into its big-city feel with its distinctive umbrella-shaped buildings and Chinese fashions; the sense of place that accompanies these design choices pay off in spades when everything goes up in flames during later episodes. In addition, the rich color palette prevents the visuals from appearing washed out, even if they can be on the dark side from time to time. However, it's in motion that the OVA shows its virtues. The show's many action sequences unfold with admirable fluidity and very few reused frames. Good "camera work" and the panoply of weapons draw the viewer into each set-piece despite the fact that they all focus on some showdown between Iria and the monster.
My affection for the English dub track dates back to when watching any anime was a novelty and it has no small hand in the nostalgia I associate with the show. However, the dub does do a number of things better than the original Japanese language track. Stacie Lynn Renna's Iria has a steely timbre to her voice that rings truer to the character than the slightly more feminine interpretation put forth by the her Japanese seiyuu, Aya Hisakawa. Along similar lines, Terry Muus brings a less bratty reading of Kei to the table, which makes warming to the urchin considerably easier. But the best performance of the OVA goes to Gary Suson, who plays Bob in the dub. His detached delivery and vague hints of emotion match perfectly to the senior bounty hunter's role as mentor and voice of reason.
The OP theme has a similar feel to the '60's classic Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy, appropriately accompanied by a mashup of pinups and action shots. Its wandering melody and mournful lyrics will likely prevent it from finding its way onto many playlists, but it sets the tone perfectly for the otherworldly aventures contained in the OVA. In contrast, the power ballad that each episode closes with is completely forgettable, along with the well-suited but unoriginal music scattered throughout each installment.
Like a good number of women in '90's anime, Iria doesn't need a -dere to define her personality. Though she starts out shrill and petulant, her combination of real skill paired with a growing sense of responsibility transforms her into a sober young woman by the end of the OVA. For a short spin-off from a live-action movie, the varied interpersonal situations and even development comes as a nice surprise.
Iria's supporting cast doesn't offer as much meat, however. Whether it be the lovable rogue Fujikuro or the spunky kids Kei and Komimasa, nearly every other character serves merely to offer contrast to the engaging lead. But tiny quirks in each of the lesser players keep them from becoming completely flat. Fujikuro proves to have some hidden mettle, Doctor Touka shows that he's got more than brains alone on his side, and Kei graduates quickly from annoyance to sidekick through several demonstrations of competence.
From where I sit, Iria: Zeiram the Animation is something of a classic. The OVA has an excellent sense of self and thus manages to tell a (mostly) coherent and complete story within its six episode run without leaving too many loose ends unresolved. If you find yourself in the mood for an attractive, action-packed sci-fi adventure from yesteryear, you could do a lot worse than this show.
In a future world dominated by corporations, Iria is one of the best in the bounty-hunting business. Her latest challenge is the lifeform codenamed Zeiram, an invincible killing machine built to be the ultimate weapon -- but this time, cash is not the only motivation. Iria must uncover the secret behind Zeiram and stop it at all costs in this action-packed OVA series.
These days I load up on comedy, slice-of-life, and horror shows, but I'll watch almost anything that sports a good voice cast, an interesting story, or looks particularly pretty. I tend to relate anime I review to other shows I've seen, because that's just how my mind works. Whether my warped view on a particular show totally misses the mark or you believe I've hit the nail on the head, I'd love to hear from you and welcome feedback and intelligent discussion of just how wrong I might be.