(Note: This is yet another series that has a terrible summary on ANN, so I went and made my own)
Premise: Iria and her brother Glen are skilled bounty hunters who take on all kinds of jobs. One day Glen is given a job to recover the crew and cargo of the Space Station Karma, and through various circumstances Iria ends up tagging along. While on the Karma, Iria and Glen encounter the alien being Zeiram, a meeting that marks the first of many conflicts between it and Iria.
-- John Sato
Imagine if The Terminator was something like four hours longer in duration. Sarah Connor would encounter the Terminator like 15 more times, always managing to just barely escape or narrowly defeat him in an ambiguous fashion from which he can survive (e.g. an explosion). Then, in the very last part, she destroys him by attacking his weak point (let's say the chip in his head). Congratulations, you just came up with the basic main plot for Iria - Zeiram the Animation (henceforth Iria Zeiram). This series is an interesting little piece of anime history. Its main story is the kind of thing you'd only find in a 90's miniseries (or in this case, OVA series), but its production values are surprisingly high. Its lead is well made and interesting (even if the side characters are poor), and it becomes especially interesting if looked at from a feminist perspective. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start technical.
As I said, the production values of Iria Zeiram are remarkable. Motion is for the most part fluid, plentiful, and quality. Excluding the second episode (which is the worst in the series), the creators cut no corners when it came to the actual animation, and that's quite apparent. I mean, sure there are a few comparative gaffes, but they are rare and are never particularly bad. The art, too, is quite excellent. A lot of detail was put into the designs and backgrounds, something that shows. A good example is when Iria is flying through an asteroid field and you can see the asteroids reflected (and moving accordingly) on the cockpit glass. As for the art style, though I'm a personal fan it can still be appreciated by anyone for being very "90's" and anime-esque, in a Rurouni Kenshin kind of way. There's only so much more I can say. The animation is superb and the art is detailed.
|It looks awesome and you know it.|
|It's not exactly the singing of the angels, but...|
The first arc involves a conspiracy (which I won't spoil for you) surrounding the large Tedan Tippedai corporation. This story is actually quite a cool one (as conspiracies often are), with action, coverups, and power plays. It's not the best made conspiracy plot ever made, largely due to the other things going on in the episodes, and unfortunately episode two is a part of it, but it's still an engaging story. The second arc, sadly, does not continue this. It shifts from a cool, interesting sci-fi conspiracy plot to a B-movie alien invasion plot about a guy sitting in a lab while instruments measuring...something...do "things." The biggest change between the two is that the first arc is the main plot of those episodes, while the second arc is not. For the first three episodes, Iria is more concerned with dealing with the conspiracy than with Zeiram (though it still plays a large part, being the main overarching plotline). In the last three episodes, however, the plot about Iria fighting Zeiram is still going on and that's really the only important story that's happening. And yet, we have to suffer through a whole ton of boring convoluted science stuff that, in the long run, doesn't really matter. The story of the second arc is tangential to the main one, and it's just boring to watch. Honestly, neither of these are arcs are so important that they make or break the series, but they still have a noticeable effect on the overall quality of each half.
|A graph depicting the "goodness" of each episode. As you can see, the 1st arc has much more good than the 2nd.|
|And she knows it.|
|"Oh, it's you." << Really all that needs to be said about the side characters.|
|That's right ANN, I'm calling him "Glen" instead of "Gren" AND YOU CAN'T STOP ME.|
That leads to my second point about Iria's character. She's basically the definition of "strong female lead." She's capable, strong-willed, and competent. Her design is if anything under-sexualized (the few tomboy traits she has downplay it as well), and she always knows what she's doing. Also, she shoots guns and punches men. Like I said, strong female lead incarnate. I find this pretty cool, especially when I take into account the fact that this was made in 1994. Which is not to suggest that the 90's were devoid of strong female leads...they just weren't as common back then (y'know, 'cause they're all over the place nowadays). Certainly the demand for them wasn't as great. What I find particularly cool is that Iria is a genuinely strong female character. Compare Iria to, say, Nadie from El Cazador De La Bruja. The difference is staggering. Iria actually goes through a character arc, she can do more than just shoot people, and her design isn't screaming "I'm a 'strong character,' I can wear whatever and it's a sign of self-confidence in my ability to express myself!"...unlike Nadie's (at least, that's one of the ways you could interpret Nadie's character design). That's something I feel is good to point out. Look at this, for example.
|This shot only pans upwards.|
Now, don't get me wrong. It's not like Iria is the greatest thing since sliced bread. She's not the strongest of strong female leads, nor is she the best female anime character of anything. In fact, the series actually stumbles with its portrayal of her character a number of times.
I know I began the character's section with "Finally," but I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up one more thing about Iria - Zeiram the Animation. This series has one of the best first episodes I've ever seen. Yeah, its not without it's flaws and the very beginning is kind of in poor taste, but it highlights pretty much everything good about the show; great action, character development, a weird sci-fi setting, and fightin' aliens. Equal to the excellence of this first episode is the absolute ****iness of the second episode. It exemplifies everything wrong with the series; terrible side characters, KIDS (clearly awful), the occasional drop in Iria's "strength" (both the above screencaps were from episode two), and a plot that doesn't really matter. Even worse is that it takes things the show did right and does them terribly. A lot of the action is boring, stale, and poorly animated (though Iria's fight with Zeiram is still pretty good), the cool first arc basically has its story interrupted, and Iria does some things that are really pretty stupid. I mean, the episode isn't entirely worthless...it's just not at all good, and it comes after a great episode which makes it all the more bittersweet. I guess all I'm trying to say is, the second episode is exceptionally bad - that is, it's the exception and not the rule. Just something to keep in mind.
Overall: Iria - Zeiram the Animation is, to use a cliche, a hidden gem. It isn't the greatest thing ever, but it does a lot of things right, and it has typically excellent animation, amazing action, and a very good lead. You could do a heck of a lot worse with an OVA series from the 90's.
Plot/Story: 7/10 Iria tells a number of stories. Not all of those stories are told well (like the second arc), nor are all of them interesting or particularly good (the overarching "fight Zeiram" plot). But for the majority, they are interesting and well told, and the fact that the series fits so much into six 30 minute episodes is impressive. There are a few plot holes here and there (well...you can usually make reasonable explanations, so let's call them "plot sinks" instead), but they don't detract from the quality of the story enough to really bring the series down.
Characters: 7.5/10 If this section were instead called "main character," the rating would probably be significantly higher. Iria is a great character; even if you don't consider her a strong female lead, she goes through a genuinely interesting and well done arc, and she's quite well-made (developed and changing). Unfortunately, the supporting cast for Iria Zeiram all kind of suck. A couple of them bring about changes in Iria which makes their presence acceptable, at least, but most are boring, annoying, and/or unnecessary. Since Iria has the most screentime, I'd have to say that the "characters" of Iria - Zeiram the Animation are quite positive, but it's also true that the side characters probably could have been much better.
Visuals: 8.5/10 A classic art style that's very "anime" yet far from "moeblob," excellent animation, and detailed, aesthetically rich artwork. What's not to love? There are a few relative gaffes here and there (most of them present in episode two, not surprisingly), but overall the visuals are consistently strong.
Sound: 5.5/10 Good music, passing voice acting, and okay but sometimes very poor sound effects make the sound in Iria - Zeiram the Animation slightly above average, but nothing more. It's not like it'll be grating on your ears or anything, but it won't be pleasant, either. On a side note, the OP is excellent (though I don't include OPs or EDs in my ratings or analyses of the sound).
Anime Rating: 8.5/10 Iria - Zeiram the Animation is an quality OVA series with generally high production values, a strong lead, and absolutely fantastic action. It can get a little hard to bear at times (read: episode two) and the story is sometimes a little muddled/convoluted, but not enough to stop you from enjoying it. I highly recommend this series if you like great sci-fi action, and fans of "classic" anime, strong female leads, and unique (in this case, heavily Eastern influenced) sci-fi elements will probably enjoy it as well.
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