Iria: Zeiram the Animation is a 1994 sci-fi/action OVA series released in six parts. Produced by Bandai Visual, it was directed by Tetsuro Amino and based on previous work by Keita Amemiya. Unusual for an anime production, the series is actually based on characters from a live-action film from 1991, Zeiram. A second live-action film, Zeiram 2, was also released in 1994.
The OVA series is meant to serve as a prequel to the live action films, which feature a female bounty hunter named Iria and her AI companion Bob as they contend with alien bioweapons called Zeiram. The series begins when Iria is still an apprentice, one birthday shy of being eligible for full hunter status. She lives with her older brother Glen, a bounty hunter himself and a figure that Iria idolizes.
As the protagonist, Iria’s basic design actually follows the live-action portrayal by Yuuko Moriyama very closely. Her standard attire of full-body armor and cloak are accurately replicated in her animated portrayal, as are the strings of beats she wears in her hair (a masculine accessory that visually acknowledges her tomboy nature). The one significant difference is in Iria’s hairstyle and color, which unlike the live-action version is a more stylized red, spiked look. She’s also voiced by Aya Hisakawa, who, at the time the OVA was created, was already several seasons into her portrayal of the not-at-all tomboyish Sailor Mercury on Sailor Moon. Hisakawa is up to the task, however, and the character of Iria is an entertaining one.
The other main figure in the tale is of course Zeiram; a creature whose origins are never truly explained, it’s apparently a bioweapon that has escaped control. It’s resistant to injury from conventional weapons, can consume and assimilate the tissue of other organisms as either sustenance or genetic material to produce disfigured clone lackeys, and can assimilate weapons and creatures into itself to grow in power. Visually, it bears a distinctive appearance of a tall figure with a head that resembles the shape of a samurai’s rain hat. Its face resembles a small, white Noh theater mask with sharp fangs that can extend outward via a long, tendril-like stalk.
Iria first crosses paths with Zeiram when she accompanies her brother, Glen, and a senior hunter, Bob, on a supposed rescue mission, only to find most of the crew of the distressed ship horribly murdered. The end result sees Iria temporarily stranded on a resort planet, Bob mortally wounded, and Glen missing. From that point on, Iria carries a grudge against Zeiram, but her efforts to destroy it are hindered by corporate greed and oblivious government officials.
That’s not to say that Iria is a humorless affair. Like the live-action films, the OVA series is filled with more light-hearted, comedic moments. A secondary character in the gruff rival hunter Fujikuro serves as comic relief, as do some orphan children that appear midway through the series. But while the jokes are amusing, it’s never quite laugh-out-loud funny.
In terms of action, Iria is packed with it, and much of it well-choreographed across a variety of different environments, from ship interiors to planetary environments both urban and rural. Iria’s confrontations with Zeiram are particularly well done, though unfortunately the plotting isn’t as well thought-out as the action, with several odd plot holes and inconsistencies. The first and most obvious hole–if one has seen the live-action Zeiram–is that while the OVA is meant to portray Iria’s origin story and establish her connection to the powerful creature. The live-action Iria had never encountered the creature prior to the film’s narrative; by the end of the OVA, the animated Iria knows Zeiram’s weak point and how to kill it, yet such knowledge is never acknowledged in Zeiram, and her method of exterminating the creature is completely different.
Another issue with the story has to do with Bob. As I noted before, Bob is Iria’s AI partner in the live-action films, but in the OVA, he starts off as a fellow bounty hunter who is mortally wounded. He’s taken in by the corporation that had attempted and failed to corral Zeiram, and his mind is transferred into a computer to live on as an AI. But this is done entirely without purpose; the people that hold Bob and perform the transfer have absolutely no use for him, and given that he’s actually their enemy, it makes no sense for him to be kept alive in any state. Yet he’s left unsecured, able to contact Iria and guide her to him.
And then there are the odd moments that are just left hanging without resolution. Glen is supposedly Iria’s older brother, and she always addresses him as such. Yet there’s one very brief exchange in which a character that’s known the pair for years hears someone refer to Glen as Iria’s brother and becomes confused, suggesting that the sibling relationship doesn’t actually exist. Why this is the case and what the true nature of that relationship is, there’s no explanation. The OVA drops the question as quickly as it’s raised.
In general, outside of Iria’s fights with Zeiram, the series as a whole feels rather moribund. It goes through the paces to explore Iria’s character with some predictable plot twists, as well as some additional characters that add little to the proceedings. One such character is Kei, an orphan that comes to idolize Iria in much the same way that Iria idolizes Glen, but there’s very little that’s otherwise interesting about her. Like Iria, she’s a tomboy, but to the extent that she tries to hide her true gender for no particular reason. Furthermore, there’s no mention or acknowledgement of Kei in the live-action films, and live-action Iria doesn’t operate as though she has anyone back home waiting for her.
Flaws in the story aside, the animation and art design are still very well done. The interstellar civilization in which Iria resides is very heavily influenced by a mishmash of Asian architectural and artistic concepts from a variety of cultures ranging from Japanese to Indian. These influences can be seen in vehicle designs and buildings, aforementioned elements of Zeiram’s design, and even small pieces of equipment that Iria and the other hunters use. It’s a very creatively designed universe; it’s just a shame that the story set within it isn’t better.
In that sense, it’s better to think of Iria: Zeiram the Animation as more of an alternate universe rather than the prequel it was meant to be. The series is a flawed one with an at times by-the-numbers plot and characters, but it’s not without entertainment value. It is worth watching, but I’d also recommend that any who watch it also make an effort to see Zeiram and Zeiram 2 in order to get the full experience.
Iria: Zeiram the Animation was released on DVD in North America by d-rights and Anime Works, a Media Blasters label. The release features the original Japanese with subtitles in English and Spanish, as well as an English dub. It is not rated, but is recommended for ages 13+ by the publisher for graphic violence and brief nudity.