Iria: Zeiram the Animation is the animated prequel to the Japanese sci-fi movie Zeiram (a flick I have never seen given how my interest in Asian shows/films doesn’t extend beyond their cartoons.) This six episode series, currently available to buy in the UK from MVM Entertainment, chronicles the origins of the titular Iria – a fledgling bounty hunter presently under the tutelage of her more experienced brother Glenn. The six part OVA kicks off with the gun totting siblings travelling off world, to a space station, tasked with rescuing a group of scientists who are stranded there. Once aboard they encounter a seemingly indestructible alien, known as Zeiram, who they are forced to battle across various planets over the course of half a dozen episodes.
Viewers seeking action have come to the right place, as this anime is pretty much just a sequence of fight scenes. One moment Iria is being attacked by robots blocking her passage to an interplanetary transporter, next she is in a firefight with the aforementioned Zeiram, after that she is scrapping with street urchins who are trying to rob her, which is followed by altercations with extraterrestrial clones. Who knew bounty hunters led such dangerous lives? Based on their job title I always assumed they spent their days chasing after cocoa covered coconuts. There’s a sliver of a plot in there, dealing with our red haired protagonist being double crossed by her employers, but its not terribly original and just serves as an excuse to setup the action scenes.
The characterization isn’t any deeper than the shallow narrative I’m afraid to say. Iria is presented as a capable bounty hunter who can kick serious ass, but is guilty of youthful recklessness that often sees her lunge into danger without thinking things through. I suppose I could commend her for being a strong female lead, although in all honesty you could switch her gender without impacting the story whatsoever. This makes me think that the creators just opted to go for a heroine as having an attractive lass in a skin tight space suit is likely to improve sales (a chauvinistic anime, surely not.) Joining Iria in her crusade against the Zeiram is Kei an orphan thief who switches from trying to swindle Iria at every opportunity to becoming her devoted sidekick. Other characters of note are Fujikuro a roguish scoundrel and erm Bob. No offense to anyone called Bob, but it’s not exactly my first choice for a character name in a high-octane sci-fi cartoon. Ah well I suppose it could be classed as an exotic foreign moniker over in Japan.
Visually speaking Iria isn’t a bad looking show for a cartoon that was released in 1994. Although the picture quality is naturally not as clean or crisp as what you would get in a present day cartoon, the animation is good and the character designs are more detailed than what you get in many modern animes (were characters look like they were assembled using a template of premade clothing, hairstyles and differing eye colors.) Iria’s universe of desert planets has a distinct high-tech Middle Eastern feel to it whilst the Zeiram has an interesting plant like design. Its cranium is shaped like a toadstool mimicking a Texan hat, whilst its bulky unstoppable body seems inspired by a cross of the Terminator and Alien (it even has a protruding face that acts like a Xenomorph’s toothy tongue.)
Audio wise things aren’t as impressive. The soundtrack did nothing for me and the English dub is frankly horrible. I normally opt to watch anime dubbed, as free from the shackles of subtitles I can fully appreciate the visual spectacle, but having listened to the first episode dubbed it’s clear to see why anime purists always go for experiencing the medium in its native tongue. The English cast put no effort whatsoever into their “performances” and judging from the subtitles they took major liberties with the translation too. The guy playing Bob was the biggest offender, possibly disinterested in the role having been cast to play a chap with such a dull name. Whether he was calmly describing a mission brief to his companions or getting impaled through the chest the tone of his voice refuses to change. Needless to say I switched to the Japanese track starting with episode two and that instantly transformed Iria from a torturous experience to an okay show.
Iria’s biggest fault is that it hasn’t stood the test of time well. Had I watched it back when it first came out, during the days when I would stay up late to watch Bubblegum Crisis on Syfy, I would have thought it was the bee’s knees. Nowadays however I expect more story from the animes I indulge in. If you are in the fortunate position were you can rent anime it’s worth checking out for the action alone. The battles are always entertaining thanks to the varied arsenal of weaponry Iria utilizes. Over the course of the series, amongst other things, we see her use a grappling hook, ray guns, flamethrowers, hovering bombs and energy barriers that can both shield and entrap people. The series isn’t something I would rewatch though so I would only recommend purchasing it if you are a sucker for the cheesier animes we used to get back in the eighties and early nineties.