August 2, 2004 on 11:43 am | In Aika | Comments Off on Aika

In 1997, Aika set the standard for fan service in anime. Sadly enough, today it seems pretty tame.

In a post apocalyptic world where most of the planet has been submerged in water (up to the observation deck of Tokyo Tower), Salvagers make a living by retrieving valuable information from the wreckage. The focus of this seven part OVA (two series) is Sumeragi Aika, a salvager with a sentient bustier that increases her power manifold. She’s contracted by a government agency to uncover the mysterious substance known only as “Lagu”. Aika is soon captured by people after the same substance – the incestuous siblings Nena & Hargen (named, of course, for the singer of 99 Luftballoons).
Aika’s new mission is to stop Nena from killing her in a jealous rage and to avoid being inducted into Hargen’s harem. Also from wiping out the human race and solely fathering the new humanity, but that’s marginally less important.
The follow up three episode series is a bizarre revenge comedy about nothing in particular, other than the inclusion of significantly more lesbians.

Is Aika a silly, quasi-biblical panty raiding anime? Is it the single greatest piece of speculative fiction ever animated? Could it perhaps be both? There is no way that the world can ever be certain.

The story itself is fairly interesting, and would stand alone quite well. What this anime is known for, however, is the fan service. Initially, the panty shots are simply incidental. Then come the character developing “punishment” scenes, and the incest, and the fake seductions. Director Nishijima chose not to isolate these scenes as the sole examples of ‘sensuality’, offering not a few peeks at panties, but devoting almost one hundred per cent of screen time to the celebrated undergarments. There is no escape.
By its brazenness, and its inability to actually mention itself, this fan service somehow works. Once the shock wears off, it’s all taken as a matter of course. It would truly be sad to allow oneself to become desensitised to panties. Marvelling at the physical impossibility and creativity of it all might help to ease the mind.

The characterisation is sharp, as it would have to be under such circumstances. Aika is a no nonsense woman, probably the most skilled in her field and quite a few others, yet she chooses to work out of a trailer. Rion is the funniest of the characters, because she is the one who questions the logic of Hargen’s plans and resorts to logical insulting questions that no one else would think to ask. She’s also the most put upon character and as a result gets to pull the funniest faces. Her father Gozo is the caring man, who in the second series is revealed to have a passion for karaoke.
The villains are suitably villainous, with “insane” being the key. They don’t act without reason, but they are definitely off kilter. The way that their situation resolves itself is actually quite compelling and disturbing.

The second series’ new characters are lesbians, which seems quite contrary to the plot of the first, and there’s a new person working on Aika’s salvager team. His name is Michikusa, he has a Kappa doll, and he dances from time to time. He also has a penchant for wearing the Delmo’s uniforms. Other than being voiced by the ubiquitous Masaya Onosaka, there’s not much else to him.

Naturally, Aika thrives on its design aesthetic. Moriyama Yuji’s designs, and director Nishijima Katsuhiko’s very distinct visual style, make it a joy to watch. Everyone is beautiful, and for once I will even let the uniform fetishism slide because it was actually pretty attractive. Of course, Hargen is an effeminate, cold and disturbing man, so he’s never nice to look at. But he doesn’t have to be.
Surprisingly, it’s not all blatant: Nishijima pulled off some subtle scenes among the panties. The most notable example is Hargen’s attempts to kiss Aika. In traditional anime, a man will force himself onto a woman, and her body will relax and her eyes close. Aika refuses to relent. Her body stays stiff and her eyes remain open; something that might be missed, but a sure sign she will not be dominated. Nishijima was also capable of wringing drama out of Rion digging through rubble in a short skirt, so clearly he can do anything.

Voice acting is strong, as it draws largely on the acting pool of the late eighties. The timeless Sakuma Rei is a firm yet ‘sexy’ Aika, and Ohtsuka Akio is allowed to have fun for once. Konishi Hiroko’s Rion is marvellous, but every one of her performances is a heartbreaker. One of the biggest shames in voice acting in the last few years is Konishi’s having been edged out of the industry. Her nearest contemporary seiyuu is Horie Yui, who actually replaced Konishi in some continued properties.

Also included is a secret “transition”, moving trial. The OP and ED for this three part trial are longer than the actual body, but it’s very low key comedy. And, on that omake note, Emotion is without doubt the best presented of all anime production houses.

Aika isn’t anime for everyone. The panty overload may well be a huge turn off for many, but beyond that it’s fun, dangerous anime that calls a spade a spade, and calls incest “super villainy”. A true triumph of the (animated female) form.

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