Background: Last year, I was fortunate enough to get a look at the special edition re-release of Zeiram by director Keita Amemiya. The guy took what could have been a crappy little science fiction flick and turned it into something of a cult classic that many have followed to this day. The story of a female intergalactic bounty hunter fighting an impossibly resilient biological weapon took bits and pieces of other stories but weaved them into a cohesive thread that fans liked for the cheese factor as much as anything else; resulting in a number of similar copycat efforts over the years. Well, after that one had some success, the creator was approached for a follow up project in another media format, this time anime in the form of a prequel OVA series called Iria: Zeiram The Animation: Complete where the characters were expanded upon in a manner that could only be done in animation given the expense of CGI effects at the time (the early 1990's). Here's my take on the show, acknowledging that it has been released previously to this three disc set:
Movie: Iria: Zeiram The Animation: Complete is a six episode OVA from 1994. The first three episodes detail how Iria, a young apprentice bounty hunter in a future time and setting, found herself on the wrong side of the law after joining her brother Gren on a mission. Gren is quickly established as a premiere level bounty hunter known far and wide as able to tackle any mission successfully using his skills and quick thinking as much as his physical prowess. He takes missions from Bob, a mercenary broker of sorts that admires the man, knowing full well his propensity to do the right thing instead of the most profitable thing under all circumstances. One day, Bob gives him a highly dangerous rescue mission that is tentatively sponsored by the largest corporation of the outer rim, Tiddan Tippedei. The mission involves rescuing the crew and cargo of a large space station that has fallen on some kind of disaster. In a prophetic look at the mission, Gren tells his sister that you never know what a "good" assignment is until you're already on it when she fails at a simpler one moments before he goes out with Bob.
The problem arises early on though in that company forces are trying their best to stop Gren and Bob from making it to the space port to launch. Bob casually mentions that a faction of the company doesn't want anyone saved and the robotic hordes shooting at them appear to be in league with this group. Knowing that he is going to potentially save lives, Gren shrugs off the danger and Iria tags along at the last minute. What they find at the station is wholesale carnage as most of the crew is butchered and the cargo missing. Upon stumbling across some survivors, it soon becomes apparent that the cargo is a biological weapon of tremendous potential for destruction; a quick look around the space station providing all the evidence needed to support this theory. As the creature, a being known as a Zeiram, attacks them, it is immediately evident that the group of bounty hunters is outgunned and outmatched but they continue to fight to save the remaining crew. By the time all is said and done, the station is blown up and Iria finds herself cast adrift for three days before landing on a backwater planet nearby. She isn't sure where her brother and Bob are and a cursory check of events finds that no record of the mission exists. When she finds out that everyone associated with the station is dead, she knows the cover up is part of a greater plan by someone at the company to develop illegal weapons of mass destruction and she is the only one that can prove what happened.
This described the first half of the OVA with the second following Iria and Bob as they tried to dig deeper into the mystery surrounding the Zeiram unit. While long on action and short on plot, the series was appreciated by many for the realistic manner in which people died and the almost videogame style linear adventure that ensued as she chased the being around the galaxy. There were side plots involving some local children that reminded her of her own, none too distant youth, and the conspiracy laden plot was a bit of a rip off of the Aliens series (which seemed to inspire the entire franchise if you've been paying attention) yet in the mold of so many strong female lead anime releases of the last twenty years, it worked as often as not. Iria is not perfect, having a little under a year to qualify as a full fledged bounty hunter instead of her apprentice status and she shows compassion for those around her (note the scene when she drags the Zeiram to the backwater administration office after the administrators decided to allow the weapon to wipe out the trashy poor located in the nearby slums), but being cut from the same cloth as her big brother that she adores so deeply, she cannot turn her back on those in need. How different is that in some aspects than the jaded version of her future self as portrayed in the live action Zeiram release?
It would be easy to dissect the many minor flaws of the OVA, from plot holes to possibilities overlooked to a myriad of character missteps that weaken the overall show, but the fun of the events as they transpire was solid and even now the show reminds me of the wealth of copycats that have been designed with these characters and situations in mind, proving that flattery is indeed the sincerest form of compliment. Unlike when this came out originally, anime has embraced showing strong female leads battling the forces of evil to applause from audiences of men and women, the sexism angle long diluted though still present for those into the fan service aspects. Frankly, this version of the release appeared to be a straightforward port of the ten year anniversary version that came out in 2004 (sans the metal box that is) but even without a remastering or additional extras, this has long been a show that fans appreciate. Because of the triple dip status, I rated it as Recommended based on all the factors mentioned and more but if you've never seen this one, it certainly merits your time and money so give it a look.
Picture: Iria: Zeiram The Animation: Complete was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as shot by director Tesuro Amino for release in Japan 13 years ago. The print used had some dirt on it at times and the scratches observed were noticeable though better than what I've seen when this one airs in a highly edited form on cable television. The colors were subdued and the dark portions never quite right but considering the age of the show, it came across as looking pretty good. The animation style wasn't the most fluid I've seen with a frame rate making extensive use of sweeping still frames and special effect explosions on the weak (though plentiful) side but if you pay attention, there is very little taking place that isn't clearly furthering the plot.
Sound: The audio was presented with two slightly unusual choices, a 5.1 Japanese track in Dolby Digital Surround or a simpler 2.0 English dub track in standard Dolby Digital. The audio did seem to be cleaned up from what I remembered of the re-release back in 2004 but only marginally. The Japanese score and sound effects had more separation and dynamic range; even with a limited use of the surrounds getting involved sounding good for the age of the material. The voice acting on each track seemed to be a different experience with the English language subtitles straying considerably from the domestic language track but this might simply be because separate translations were commissioned for each and not great liberties taken with either track (though that has been suggested for years in online forums by those who don't actually speak or read Japanese). I listened to both and found some soft spots at times but it was balanced nicely in each case, something that can't be said of many other releases these days.
Extras: For me, the best extra was the short video interview with creator Keita Amemiya from years back. He didn't really add any stunning revelations on the show but clarified some points that a few of the vocal otaku fans seem to have forgotten over the years the show has been out. He still had the shows he worked on in his mind and came across as caring what people thought as he presented some of his ideas that went into the show. Another short (even shorter actually) video interview was the one with character designer Masakazu Katsura. He came across as something of a slacker (going into great detail about his failed educational experiences) and half asleep during the interview but also as a talented artist dedicated to his craft. While not as interesting, a few text interviews for the voice actors gave some insight into this project as well as related work but they have been out for awhile too and I'm sure fans have already read them a number of times in print or online. The artwork and a full version of the opening song with subtitles (labeled as a sing along song; the colors of the subtitles changed as that portion was to be read karaoke style) with a few trailers finished things up with no paper insert dedicated to the show (just a recent catalog) as I would have liked.
Final Thoughts: Iria: Zeiram The Animation: Complete was rare in some ways as to how it treated the science of the future but it was well grounded in anime clichés about well meaning leads fighting the good fight while mean old corporations greedily risked the lives of numerous people needlessly as war mongers always do. I thought the technical aspects improved substantially in the second set of episodes on some levels but also got too ambitious at times with the numerous (and generic) clones attacking the populace seemingly drawn on the fly but lacking a proper plot, this still stands out as an older show of merit. In that sense, Iria: Zeiram The Animation: Complete showed that bounty hunter 9799-5 was worthy of a sequel but to date, the best that has taken place in that regard has been the numerous tributes by others taking the better aspects and applying them to string female characters that kick butt and get the job done, many of which we have discussed in the regular Anime Talk column as they appear.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.