This post, dear readers, will concern a largely forgotten anime named Iria: Zeiram the Animation. This show features some wonderful old animation. (Despite the views of some bloggers, good, traditional cell animation beats all of that modern computerized stuff. Just watch this show if you don’t believe me, or, if you wish to see a modern example of how glorious cell animation can be, watch Sword of the Stranger.) Rather than review this six episode OVA, I’d like to pick up on two related threads running through the series. (Kudos to my brother Tom for helping me see the mimetic thread.) I will confess that the article below contains many spoilers, but Iria’s a true classic. Meaning that not only can one watch it several times and be delighted in new ways each time, but even that having the entire plot analyzed for one (which I fall far short of doing) only increases the pleasure one has in watching it. In the same way, everybody knows how the plot of the Aeneid–especially that Aeneas dumps Dido and that she commits suicide–but knowing that does not deter anyone from reading it. Without further ado, let’s begin the analysis.
Iria begins with the titular character rescuing two female hostages from a lone terrorist, only to have the mark stolen from under her by Fujikuro, who is quick to remind her that she’s not a full-fledged hunter and isn’t licensed for taking missions. A most amusing thing happens at this point: Iria releases the two hostages, who quickly run to the bathroom, and the one left outside whines for her to hurry. The juxtaposition of the cool, collected, puissant Iria and the two women forces itself on us. Indeed, Iria, draped in a cloak covering any sign of her femininity, might have been taken for a man had it not been to the talents of her voice actress. This is the first moment when the theme of her repressing her femininity comes up.
The second reason for her covering her female side besides her profession is revealed when we return to her mentor’s house. A man named Glen in around his late twenties has been mentoring her since she was very young, and she refers to him as “Nii-san.” So, it becomes apparent that she has been modelling herself on Glen. No matter how admirable a member of the opposite sex is, it can be problematic in modelling oneself on them: a man might become effeminate or a woman masculine to excess. Not that a man cannot have feminine qualities or a woman masculine qualities which make them unique and better but that modelling oneself a a person with a different nature from one’s own might cause a person to fail to realize their uniqueness. For example, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of American Civil War fame was praised by General Pope as having “the courage of a lion and the heart of a woman.” Imagine if he had a woman’s heart, but not the courage of a lion? We would have lost a truly unique character. In the same way, Iria has engaged the more masculine side of her personality and neglected the feminine side. While she does seem to be a bit more cheerful and sweet around Glen, this does not seem especially feminine, but more child-like. So, Iria has to grow on two levels.
At any rate, Glen receives a new job from Bob, his boss, to rescue some crew members on the Karma which leads to a very bumpy ride to the space terminal, as some organization opposes the rescue. Iria originally was not supposed to go (she’s not licensed, after all), but, in helping Glen and Bob reach the terminal, the multitude of enemies who are chasing them force her to teleport with her nii-san. Once they arrive at the the ship, which was supposed to have been taken over by pirates, the massive amount of casualties tells them that something else is afoot. It turns out that the indestructible monster named Zeiram had been part of the cargo until it escaped.
Glen takes the lead in this situation: Iria is relegated to the role of helping the surviving passengers escape as Glen beats back Zeiram with a combination of explosives, tonfa, gadgets, and hand to hand combat. (Only in anime would someone engage an invincible monster in a fist fight.) The situation goes from bad to worse as Glen’s boss becomes mortally wounded and Glen himself, as Iria alone flees the ship on their space buggy (I forget what they call it), seems to be lost in the space ship self destructs.
Whether or not Glen has truly perished on board that vessel haunts Iria throughout the series. In fairness, several radio transmissions make it seem like Glen still lives, but this serves to highlight Iria’s desire not to have to stand on her own two feet. I must say, one can hardly describe Iria as a weak or whinny character, but she begins to hope on occasions where she simply should not.
Part of what helps her in this difficult time is meeting a young, orphaned gang member named Kei on the planet Taowajan, with whom Iria begins to form the beginnings of a mentor-pupil relationship like she had with Glen. When Iria finally finds a government official in order to explain her status to him, Zeiram makes an appearance on this planet with only a slight wound to his sombrero (I’m unsure how to label it) and begins to slaughter the poor civilians. After a government official brushes off Iria’s demand that they help these citizens by saying that crime should decrease without them, Iria enters the fray herself.
By entering the combat, Iria basically places herself in Glen’s shoes completely: she becomes Glen. It does not help that Kei, whom Iria had originally left behind, decides to fulfill Iria’s former role with Glen in aiding Iria’s fight. Kei does things like refuel Iria’s space buggy and assist Iria at a critical moment. Iria gives one of the most spectacularly hard-hitting fights in the series here, which is perhaps another sign of how she tries to be exactly like Glen rather than herself. At any rate, Iria gets Zeiram into a teleporter and sends him off to an unknown location. Circumstances did not permit of more accuracy.
At this point, Kei becomes absolutely enamored of Iria and will eventually follow her to Mycee, Iria’s home planet, just in time for the final battle. Kei highlights the theme of Iria’s over masculinity by perfectly concealing her own femininity from all save the sharp nosed Fujikuro, who helps Iria per Bob’s orders. (You may be saying, “Wait! Wasn’t Bob mortally wounded on the Karma?” Yes, he was. Now, you really have to watch this OVA!) In a rather silly but memorable scene at Taowajan, Kei provides another hint for us to see how Iria has emulated Glen to excess: when she accidentally falls on top of Iria, she grabs her breast and says “It’s soft!” to which Iria sarcastically replies (nevermind how the dub/sub translates it): “Shiranakatta,” literally “I did not know.” This indicates that Iria is perhaps ignoring her true nature and is perhaps frustrated at being a woman.
As this article has already become too long, let me begin to wind down by focusing on perhaps the two most thematically important shower scenes in all of anime history. (Yes, these may be the only shower scenes in anime which carry any weight.) The first occurs after the battle at Mycee and shows her sitting in the shower with her arms wrapped around her knees from an above camera angle–effectively denying her femininity by concealing it. The second occurs after a fight with Zeiram left her wounded in the abdomen and in a coma for three days. It deserves some description.
When she walks into the shower, the viewer is shocked to see her beautiful, full figure from the back. Then, her full body is displayed from a side angle as she clutches her wound. (Mind you, my eyes have focused on the corner of the screen by this point.) Then, she looks at herself in the mirror. The viewer is taken aback by the broadness of her shoulders–it seems like the animators made a mistake! Then, with a stern look, she smashes the mirror with her fist.
The exhibition of her body emphasizes how much her femininity has been repressed by her fighting-style, clothing, and even attitude. The wound which she clutches indicates her frustration with the weakness of her body. The broadness of her shoulders in the mirror reflects how her efforts to become Glen have overmasculized her soul. Worse than that, all her efforts have ended in this dismal failure! She’s nothing but a weak woman! And so, her spirit rebels and smashes the mirror. This leads to about half an episode where she feels lost.
But, the problem lies not in her sex, but rather that she has tried to become someone and something she is not. To her, this feels like failure, but this step back leads her in the right direction, because it leads to a greater understanding of her true self. Unfortunately, this feeling of failure leads to her giving up, as witnessed by her lackadaisical performance in the last Zeiram simulator and her wearing more feminine clothes than usual. It takes Kei to break her out of this stupor by getting into Iria’s space buggy and saying that she’ll defeat Zeiram with a secret weapon–which does rather come in handy for the final battle!
No one else could have brought Iria out of her self-pity so well. Kei thinks of Iria not as a man, Glen, but as Iria, a woman. So, if Kei believes that Iria has the stuff in her current condition, perhaps Iria truly does. As Fujikuro and Bob try to dissuade her from this half-baked idea, Iria dons her hunter’s garb and shows up having borrowed Fujikuro’s craft, saying that she’ll take care of Zeiram.
Even if all her doubts have not been completely resolved, she at last sees herself as neither Glen nor a failed, weak woman; but as a puissant, capable female hunter about to kick Zeiram’s ass! And so, Iria only needs the final battle in order to find her true self.