What makes a scary movie? Ask five different people and you'll probably get five different answers. Some will think of your traditional "hack and slash" exploits like Nightmare on Elm Street. Others might point to the psychological realm explored in films like The Cell, Panic Room, and Silence of the Lambs. Still others might choose the old monster films, like Dracula and Frankenstein, while some settle on new creature features like The X-Files. No matter what type of horror chosen, it's rare to find anything with creepy thrills that still packs in romance and comedy at the same time.
Surprisingly enough, Yuzo Takada has told two such stories. One is Blue Seed, which was made into a 26-episode anime in 1994 and followed by a 3 episode OVA series in 1997, adapted from a short-running manga series. His second, 3x3 Eyes, is actually his longer masterwork, with over 26 compilation volumes and a storyline that is (to my knowledge) still running. One would think that the longer story would get a bigger anime series, but that's surprisingly not the case. Over the course of four episodes, we get a taste of the much larger picture Takada created. Although an excellent adaptation that requires no knowledge of the manga, amazing considering the amount of source material, it suffers from quite a few plot holes, along with an ending that is woefully incomplete.
The story revolves around Pai, a mysterious girl with a secret--she is a Triclops, possibly the only one of her race left. Sometime in the past, a legion of evil demonic creatures fought with her race, and Pai is the only known survivor. Having lost most of her memory, she's found in the mountains of Tibet by an explorer, Oyaji Fujii. She eventually goes to Japan to deliver Oyaji's final words to his son, Yakumo. In a letter sent to explain everything, Yakumo finds out Pai's history and her determination to become human. Not long after meeting Pai and agreeing to help her, a winged demon attacks the two and mortally wounds Yakumo. To save him, Pai turns him into an "uu", or zombie. Now permanently connected, Yakumo's only hope for saving his own humanity is to help Pai become a human herself. Their search for a mysterious artifact, the Statue of Humanity, will lead them into unknown dangers as countless evil creatures want to stop their quest permanently to gain the statue's power for themselves. As the danger grows, so do their feelings for each other.
Those who squawk about lackluster animation may not be very impressed by this series. It's dark in many places, and frankly it just doesn't always look great. However, it's mostly adequate; the same can be said for the music. The character designs are also just a little odd for this kind of show. Despite all of that, the show gets past its production limitations and engages the audience due to its strong plotting.
Meanwhile, 3x3 Eyes will gratify fans who miss the gorefests of the late 80s. There are plenty of sequences where characters get dismembered, skewered, and smushed with wild abandon. That's really the reason why the characters look bizarre--they look far too cute to be in such violent circumstances. That may turn off some viewers, who won't be able to reconcile the gruesome nature of the proceedings with the often sweet-looking heroes and heroines.
However, one thing that should be said is that the show has a nice sense of humor about the violence that lightens the tone and gore factor. For example, Yakumo winds up getting himself torn apart in all sorts of ways, but because he's immortal, nothing really keeps him down for long. Lose an arm here and there, who cares? If you can appreciate this kind of dark humor, you'll find yourself wearing a smirk quite often when watching 3x3 Eyes.
We cover a lot of ground in the four episodes that compromise this first series, but it never gets too ahead of itself. 3x3 Eyes is easy to follow, and because it relies on plot heavily, it covers its weaknesses pretty well. It wasn't until I got done watching the show that certain problems crop up. Many of them are related to simply not having enough time to relate all the material from the manga--for example, if Pai is immortal, why is there any concern that she can be killed, which crops up often? There are lots of these sorts of questions that could nitpick the show apart, though it serves no purpose, particularly when the source material behind the show is so vast.
What's less forgivable, however, is where the show ends, on a dramatic cliffhanger that was left completely open and wasn't continued in anime form for several years. The third episode actually wrapped up most of the issues pretty nicely, so the fourth episode feels wrongheaded when it takes a different turn and throws out any sense of closure. Thankfully, a second series of 3 OVAs has been released that continues the story, but due to various issues, the end of it couldn't be seen in the US until very recently. However, the new DVD release does give the viewer the opportunity to see the whole series subtitled, which is also a plus, since the original English dub by the now-defunct Streamline Pictures was pretty awful.
So what's my take on 3x3 Eyes? It's interesting, but not quite as good as I was hoping. Frankly, I think Blue Seed did a better job of telling a similar story simply because it had more time to establish itself. However, for horror fans who enjoy a bit of humor and a smidge of romance, 3x3 Eyes is certainly worth a rental. I plan to revisit this show after seeing the second OVA series to see if the ending there makes the show a bit more fulfilling than it stood after its original close.
3x3 Eyes (1st OVA Series) -- graphic violence, profanity, occult activity -- B