All-female aliens known as the Cthulhu strike a pact with an ancient evil entity called Big Gold who pledges to secure a new homeworld for their endangered race. Having decided Planet Earth will do nicely, the Cthulhu’s hideous shapeshifting monsters set about eliminating human beings, one screaming victim at a time. Hapless schoolgirl Nagisa Kano (voiced by Mayumi Sho) is horrified one morning when her parents morph into slobbering alien beasties with tentacles about to violate her every orifice, but is rescued by Iczer-One (Yuriko Yamamoto), an elfin, bouffant-haired alien superheroine. Spawned by the same ancient super-technology that sired Big Gold, the heroic Izcer-One is the one person in the universe capable of foiling the Cthulhu’s invasion plan. But only if Nagisa can overcome her crippling fear and accept their unique symbiotic relationship that means only she can help pilot the awesome giant super-robot, Iczer-Robo.
Here is how you open a movie: a young man fleeing down a dark alley morphs into an horrific alien beast before being blown apart by a lightsaber wielding teenage superheroine, after which we cut to two space babes engaged in a steamy lesbian liaison. Did that grab your attention? Even so, appearances can be deceiving. For all its exploitable elements, far from some simplistic masturbatory fantasy, Fight! Izcer-One actually weaves one of the most poetic, multilayered, even affecting horror narratives in Japanese animation. It is a ten-carat classic.
As seasoned horror buffs can guess from the use of the name “Cthulhu”, the spectre of H.P. Lovecraft hangs over the plot yet remains only one facet of a unique hybrid concocted by ingenious anime auteur Toshihiro Hirano, fusing elements from gothic literary horror and the then-new Hollywood body horror subgenre, notably Alien (1979) and The Thing (1982), with such anime staples as the giant robot and magical schoolgirl genres. That reoccurring anime motif of the average high school kid caught up in fantastic events they can barely comprehend is here tweaked into an impressively paranoid view of the universe as far scarier, hostile and unfathomable than mere mortals suspect, one that Lovecraft may have approved even though he would have balked at the thought of a super-powered schoolgirl punching out his enormous alien entities.
Part Barbarella, part Pippi Longstocking, is among the most archetypal of anime heroines but the story is not really about her, it’s about Nagisa. Much like Barbara in George A. Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968), Nagisa ranks among the few horror heroines to react credibly to such mind-melting trauma. She immediately retreats into a whimpering, near catatonic shell. Only after encounters with several similarly traumatised victims is Nagisa spurred towards heroism, inspired not only to survive but take an active hand in saving others. There is a faintly reactionary undertone to all this, implying war is a necessary evil in order to shock the selfish, materialistic bubble economy generation into empathising with others, but this is tempered by the overall thrust of the narrative that stresses the importance of compassion above all else.
The splatter set-pieces rank among the most horrific in anime, placing kawaii cute characters in unsettling instances of physical and emotional peril, but the story does not settle for a simplistic black and white morality. Iczer-One and Nagisa’s initial antagonist, Cobalt, is depicted as being in a loving relationship. Upon her death, Big Gold manipulates her grief-stricken lover into taking revenge but even she balks when the villainous Iczer-Two (Keiko Toda) kills a human child. Even the Cthulhu are portrayed sympathetically as nomadic space travellers driven by desperation into forging a pact with the devil. Hirano’s energetic direction propels the plot from grotesque body horror sequences to grandiose apocalyptic robot vs. giant monster battles in the finest Japanese genre tradition, but with time outs for pathos and well-drawn relationships. There is a sexploitation element apparent not only from the relatively chaste lesbian love scenes but the fact Nagisa pilots Iczer-Robo while stark naked, but at the same time this is a female-driven story without any important male characters. That in itself is quite remarkable. Sequels followed in the form of the somewhat less intense and more camp Iczer: Reborn (1990) and the non-canonical Iczelion (1994) wherein Hirano reimagined the concept as an all-female superhero team.