Nagisa: “Why did you chose me?”
Iczer-One: “Because I like you.”Fight! Iczer-One
The manga “Fight! Iczer-One” (戦え!!イクサー1) by Rei Aran (阿乱 霊) was first serialized in issues 21 and 22 (1983-1984) of Japanese manga anthology magazine Lemon People (レモンピープル), with an additional chapter published in 1986. From 1985-1987, the series was adapted as an Original Video Animation consisting of three episodes running a total of ~100 minutes. This begat a small franchise that would include the sequels OVA Adventure! Iczer-3 (冒険!イクサー3, 1990-1991) and Iczer Girl Iczelion (戦ー少女 イクセリオン, 1995), American comic adaptations the OVA Iczer One (1994, Antarctic Press) and Iczer-3 (1996, CPM), and various audio dramas, art books related to the OVAs, etc. Much of this media is only in Japanese, but the original OVA for Fight! Iczer-One was dubbed into English in 1993, and with this and subsequent re-release on DVD it has a small English-language audience, and this review will focus primarily on the 1985-1987 three-episode OVA, specifically the 2005 DVD release.
In terms of what it is, Fight! Iczer-One is almost the quintessential 1980s anime. It has big hair, martial arts, laser swords, an alien invasion, flying ships with drills on the front, giant mecha, body horror, tentacles, the power of love, a high school girl, a little bit of nudity, lesbians, lasers, explosions…and, of course, the aliens who are attacking the Earth are known as the Cthulhu (クトゥルフ), sometimes translated into Cthulwulf in the dub.
Rei Aran, the creator of the original manga, and Hirano Toshiki (平野 俊貴), the director and character designer for the OVAs, were obviously drawing on some familiar influences. For example, the alien parasites that provide the majority of the body horror have obvious parallels with John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and possibly Alien (1979), and the advanced Japanese military ships with the prominent front-mounted drills are reminiscent of the Gōtengō—but the story and designs were also innovative.
Iczer Robo: A Visual History illustrates how the mecha designs are relatively sleeker than those of other manga and anime of the period, such as Robotech or Appleseed, and incorporate organic components (notably, the secondary pilot as a kind of power source), an idea that would be taken much further in works like Neon Genesis Evangelion. The relative dearth of male characters in the story, where both primary protagonists and antagonists are women, and the focus on lesbian relationships is a decided step away from male- and heterosexual-dominated narratives in manga and anime as well…and that brings up a fine point of discussion.
Lemon People was known as a lolicon magazine that often featured manga depicting younger or younger-looking women or girls in a romantic or sexual context. Today the term lolicon (derived ultimately from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita) is often associated with pedophilia and pornography, particularly Japanese art and manga that depict underage girls in sexually suggestive, nude, or explicitly sexual contexts, which rather drives folks to imagine something much more salacious and taboo than the reality, even without taking into account Japanese censorship laws. “Fight! Iczer-1” and its adaptations and sequels are not child pornography by any stretch of the imagination, featuring no explicit depiction of genitalia and relatively little nudity during its runtime. The protagonist Kanō Nagisa is explicitly in high school at the time of the events, much as the main characters of Sailor Moon were, and is clearly an older teen rather than an adolescent.
While this is technically the first Lovecraftian animated work to feature a lesbian relationship, predating Mystery of the Necronomicon (黒の断章, 1999) by over a decade, the plot focuses more on the emotional side of the relationship rather than the sexual side of things. Iczer-One needs the emotional rapport with Nagisa to effectively fight the Cthulhu, but there is a barrier of understanding which complicates this relationship even getting off the ground. It may seem weird to claim a realistic depiction of relationship struggles in an anime where aliens eat their way out of Nagisa’s parents and a giant mecha is powered by lesbian love, but a lot of the emotional angst Nagisa goes through could have been eased up if Iczer-One had been open and communicative about her needs for this relationship/plan to save the planet.
Iczer-One: “I was created by the Cthulhu. I’m an android.”Fight! Iczer-One
If all of this doesn’t sound very Lovecraft…well, it is not. Fight! Iczer-One is Mythos-In-Name-Only; the alien Cthulhu have no real connection to H. P. Lovecraft or the Mythos beyond the name. The use of the name is reminiscent of how in Armitage III (1995) the scriptwriter Konaka Chiaki (小中 千昭) borrowed the name “Armitage” from Dr. Henry Armitage in Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”: a reference, an inspiration, but not ultimately an effort to incorporate the story into any wider Mythos through the borrowing. This kind of tangential connection to the Mythos is more common than one might think; like the inclusion of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis in Evil Dead II, these are the outer ripples of Lovecraft’s influence on the pop cultural landscape.
It has to be emphasized: Fight! Iczer-One is fun. While the franchise was never huge in English and amounts to little more than a couple VHS tapes or DVDs and a handful of obscure comics, for those who remember anime of this vintage, the OVA is a good example of a lesser-known and often overlooked work from this period.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.
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