Tokyo, 1986. Sexy party girl Hitomi Aida (voiced by Haruna Ikezawa) wakes up with a hangover, bids goodbye to her brother Makoto and slinks off to work. Whereupon she is abruptly struck dead in a hit-and-run. As Hitomi lies dying her subconscious mind is inexplicably catapulted forward in time into the year 2012 where her butch namesake, insomniac warrior woman Hitomi Landsknecht (Junko Minagawa) inhabits a world devoid of men as a result of some obscure catastrophe. An all-female society now stands on the brink of extinction. While the ruling Kisaragi clan led by mutant matriarch Lady Kisaragi (Yoshino Otori) embrace futility and live only for the moment, ambitious androgynous Commander Giulia (Akira Ishida) and her underlings secretly seek to usurp the status quo. The key to their ambitions may be ICE, a biological weapon male scientists created years ago, which encases test subjects in a crystalline cocoon but can have monstrous side effects. On a mission to recover ICE samples, Hitomi Landsknecht happens to rescue Yuki (Erena Ono), one of Lady Kisaragi's adopted daughters. Yuki's instant infatuation with Hitomi not only infuriates her bipolar sister, Satsuki (Kurumi Mamiya) but sets in motion a series of events that threaten the future of womankind.
If you are wondering exactly what Hitomi Aida with her big Eighties hair and compelling micro-mini has to do with this nightmarish post-apocalyptic future of rampaging monsters, robot fighters and wide-eyed nymphets inexplicably styled like Eighteenth century fops, then keep on wondering. Things do not get any clearer even by the fadeout. Time and again in anime one sees filmmakers so obsessed with crafting strange and mysterious future realms they forget all about weaving a story that makes any sense. High on surreal spectacle, low on coherence Ice is a sprawling yet often impenetrable epic with visuals that are often spectacular. It artfully combines two-dimensional characters and backgrounds with CG mecha including some impressively surreal monsters and a fair number of unsettling action and suspense sequences.
Having said that writer-director Makoto Kobayashi lifts motifs from an array of superior anime – the post-apocalyptic action on hi-tech bikes from Akira (1988), the grandiose space opera of Captain Harlock (1978) whose iconic hero seems to have inspired the drag parody that is Hitomi Landsknecht (see also Project A-KO (1987)), the enormous robot fortress from Superdimensional Fortress Macross (1982), the all-female space combat teams from Gall Force (1986) and the juxtaposition of Lovecraftian horror with quasi-lesbian relationships from Fight! Iczer-One (1985) – without taking the time to include those elements that made them classics in the first place. Namely, compelling characters in emotionally engaging stories. Instead, Kobayashi obsesses overly familiar anime tropes: gun fetishism, cute young girls in uniform and an abundance of impenetrable techno-jargon.
Beneath the baroque strangeness of the production design the plot boils down to that staple of cheesy old science fiction movies: the planet ruled entirely by women. Far from the kitsch misogyny of Queen of Outer Space (1958), Kobayashi flirts with serious intent by having the more villainous female characters exhibit overt masculine tendencies. In this instance the film appears to equate maleness with violence and sexual perversion. Additionally the plot carries strong lesbian overtones as the closest thing to meaningful character interaction proves to be the inane relationship between cutesy airhead Yuki and her surly guardian. However, judging by the worrying amount of scenes featuring doe-eyed nymphets being brutalized or sexually violated in some way, Ice is a lot less progressive than it initially seems. Interspersed with pretentiously esoteric chapter headings (“Your own mind is a map to the future”), things do grow substantially more involving towards the finale that musters some semblance of mind-blowing apocalyptic horror and wonder hinting at an idyllic alternate future born from a change of events. Yet for the most part this is incredibly dull with an off-putting antiseptic quality that leaves the sexual undertones that more perverse. And don't ask me why the epilogue is done as a silent movie complete with title cards.