"3×3 Eyes" Is a Classic Reissued
Finally making their way to DVD from Geneon are the classic 3×3 Eyes OVAs from the early 90s. In this first DVD, containing the first OVA series, we are introduced to the world of Pai, the last remaining sanjiyan (a tribe of three-eyed immortals), her victim-of-circumstance sidekick/protector Yakumo, and a plethora of other supporting characters. I had actually first seen these OVAs twelve years ago, and it was interesting to appraise the newer Pioneer versions.
The first thing I noticed is that it’s dark. Not really too dark in terms of content (although there are several notable incidents), but the animation itself uses a distinctly dark palette. This was far from uncommon in the early 1990s, a technical peak of Japanese animation, and naturally adds a lot of atmosphere to the show, which is aided by the moody orchestral score. Tokyo itself is mostly seen only at night, which only adds to the stylish nature of the opening installment. The character designs are refreshingly original, sticking (from what I can tell) fairly closely to the manga designs, with young characters actually more or less looking their age. Having said that, it’s probably worth mentioning that the male lead, Yakumo, spends around 80% of the OVAs with his eyes in a permanent Joe Shuster-esque squint, which some may find distracting.
Not long after the opening, our main two characters, Pai and Yakumo, meet each other in true, purely coincidental fashion, and the rest of the series is similarly fairly fast paced. When I watched this for the first time years ago, I was taken aback slightly at Yakumo’s scenes after his first meeting with Pai, where we see him happily working in drag at the “Culture Shock” club. It’s an odd opening, and like many other incidents in the series, it comes with the distinct feel that many such particular details are better fleshed out in the manga. Pai herself is an extraordinary sweet-natured character (with cute fangs), and her perpetual naive enthusiasm for the modern world is very endearingly rendered here. This all makes a stark contrast to her three-eyed ‘other self’ in the form of Sanjiyan, who is a no-nonsense force to be reckoned with. The split personality allows some interesting contrasts with Yakumo, as he tries to adjust to the both of them.
Thankfully, after the first encounter in Tokyo we don’t continue with the high-school-boy-dressed-as-a-girl schtick for too long, and in true teenage-protagonist-with-no-parents-or-guardians-style, Yakumo and Pai immediately head for Hong Kong as part of Pai’s quest to become human. Hong Kong is also rendered in a way that does justice to a big city, and in any case, it’s always nice to see anime that explores other far Eastern cities outside of Tokyo. There, we are introduced to the very spunky and resourceful Ling Ling, who, although working for an occult magazine, blissfully dismisses the supernatural and admits she’s only in it for the money. The climax to the first round of Hong Kong adventures is exciting, but involves characters who also doubtlessly received more exploration and explanation in the manga, as there’s clearly more to them than there seems, yet answers are never forthcoming.
In the second episode, the now-immortal Yakumo attempts to return to a normal life, but with a demon threatening everyone he knows, and his closest friends fearing he has turned into a monster, it isn’t long before he and Pai pack up their bags and move back to Hong Kong. This section of the story was very relatable, as Yakumo’s longing for a normal life after having insanity thrust upon him is natural, and it’s quite sad to see him finally come to the realization that his old life is over, for better or worse.
The final two episodes both take place back in Hong Kong, where two more characters, the Long siblings, are introduced. Meixing Long in particular is an interesting character, but again her appearances are too few to adequately develop as a character, as she obviously has a crush on Yakumo. This is also marks the first appearance of the remorseless Benares, who ultimately becomes the big villain of the piece. Episode 3 in particular is action packed and animated in that highly fluid way that you only ever got with high-quality late 80s/early 90s OVAs, and as such it’s naturally most welcome. The final episode however takes a rather different tack, with a more suspenseful assault on our heroes from Benares. This all leads up to a climactic battle that lasts all of five seconds. Okay, so that part at least is rather anti-climactic, but at least it represents the conclusion of this chapter of the story, even though things are still very much open-ended, ready for the next few OVAs.
It’s worth noting that, as with many OVAs of the time, there’s quite a lot of blood on show. While not unremittingly graphic, there are scenes that some may find unsettling, like Yakumo’s injuries, which would be fatal to someone who’s not immortal, and his friend Natsuki being partially absorbed into a demon. This latter scene actually caused this first series to be given a strict adults-only rating in the UK, which was a shame since it deprived younger audiences of what otherwise was a good adventure story. Having said all that, the series is far from being an atmospheric horror story, as there are many moments of humor spread throughout to lighten the proceedings, and the main characters themselves, Pai and Yakumo in particular, are cheerful and engaging.
I actually first saw the series on a (very atypical) UK television outing. The immediate difference I noted between the two versions, was that the new dub by Pioneer seemed to flow a lot better and the voice actors’ performances carry a lot more weight. One thing I particularly liked over the old version was the fact that Pai’s voice actor, Brigitte Bako, actually skillfully did the voice of both Pai and Sanjiyan (unlike the previous dub which used two actors). A quick glance at the credits afterwards immediately revealed just why the dub was so good: Greg Weisman. The superb Gargoyles supremo’s presence not only allowed for a far more fitting dub script, it appears he also roped in many voice actors who rarely do ADR work, including a few of his Gargoyles compatriots, most notably the indomitable Keith David, in a particularly unlikely role! In that vein, special mention must also go to Benares’ Earl Boen, who gives a fittingly imposing performance.
Being a DVD release of an older series, most of which are a far harder sell these days, the disc itself only comes with basic extras, although the text resumes of the voice actors are a very welcome addition, as they showcase their wide variety of roles and also have photos so that you can connect a face with the voice. This is a good DVD presentation of an excellent OVA series, one that has horror, romance, immortality, schizophrenia, and transvestism! Highly recommended if you’re into shorter fantasy series with a modicum of violence, or more importantly, well-animated classic anime with engaging characters and an engrossing story line.