For those who mainly think of anime as a vehicle for boyish action fantasy and/or children's adventures, the upcoming DVD release of I"s could prove a revelation. Adapted from a 15-volume manga series by Masakazu Katsura, I"s is a "mature"-rated romantic serial devoted to a teenage love triangle. The American DVD release, courtesy of Viz Media, contains two OVA (original video animation) features, From I"s and Pure I"s. The first is a two-episode original story featuring I"s characters: the second is a six-episode adaptation/summation of Katsura's original fifteen-volume manga.
The set-up of the series is fairly basic. Ichitaka Seto (English voice: Darrel Guilbeau) is a wishy-washy high school senior with a major crush on Iori Hazuki (Erika Weinstein), a would-be actress and model. Ichitaka struggles to reveal his feelings for his classmate, but his own uncertainties and a series of complications and misunderstandings keep delaying that moment. Adding to the confusion: his perky childhood friend Itsuki Akiba (Carrie Savage), who clearly has feelings for Ichi herself.
The six-episode Pure I"s tells much of its story through flashbacks — as Ichi and his bespectacled chum Teratani window shop on Christmas Eve and our man thinks back to all the opportunities he's missed. We see how our hero first hooks up with Iori, exposing a voyeuristic fellow student who's been videotaping the young actress as she changes for a photo shoot, then watch the comic complications that arise when Itsuki temporarily stays at Ichi's place after a fire has rendered her homeless. Our hero, feeling an understandable attraction towards his shapely childhood friend, ping-pongs between Iori and Itsuki, much to Teratani's comic irritation. Being unfamiliar with the source manga, I wasn't certain which girl Ichitaki would ultimately gravitate toward, though there are times in the series when you can't help thinking that the big dope doesn't deserve either one of 'em.
Pure's final third discards flashbacks for the present where Ichi is a high school grad struggling to get into college and Iori's acting career is on the verge of blossoming. The actress is being stalked by a not-so-mysterious figure named the "Marionette King," while Ichi comes up against a hostile agent and theatrical producer, who see the boy as a pernicious influence on their property's acting career. The final episode pulls in some seriously melodramatic moments — a fight between hero and stalker, a hospital coma scene — that I suspect were more successfully presented in the original manga. Forced to collapse the events of fifteen tankobon into six thirty-minute cartoons, Pure I"s can come across scattered in its storytelling, a little too sketchy. On more than one occasion I also found myself getting more befuddled by flashbacks than I suspect the storytellers intended.
More effective is the hour-long feature From I"s, which is subtitled "Another Summer Day." Set in the middle of the series' continuity, it depicts a perilous day in the country wherein Itsuki is menaced by a murderous gang of bikers and Iori nearly drowns on a flooded island during a torrential rainfall. Ichi arrives on both scenes, of course, to aid both damsels in distress, though one of their friends (unseen, as far as I can tell, in Pure I"s) isn't so lucky.
Viz Media's two-disc set is frills-free: just the two series, which you can watch in English or Japanese, with or without subtitles. Though the set is packaged to present the two-episode side story first, I'd recommend that newcomers follow the fuller six-episode Pure first, since the shorter tale works best if you already know its backstory. First time I played From I"s, I initially thought my cranky DVD player was acting wonky. The opening moments, which are meant to cue familiar fans where we are in the continuity, are dialog-free, just music and background sounds — so I half wondered whether the disc was missing an overlay. Once the dialog proper started up, though, my worries were banished.
Both I"s features contain a few bloody moments, but what earns the DVD set its "mature" rating is the series' relative boldness regarding teenaged horniness. The anime regularly provides lingering looks at both Iori and Itsuka's curvy bodies and even features some hints of nudity (most notably in a bath house scene). At the end of Pure I"s' first five episodes, there's even an appended feature entitled "Ichitaka's Delusional Diary," comprised of one-minute depictions of the adolescent's sexual fantasies. Though clearly comic in tone, they also display a level of frankness that some newcomers may find disconcerting. We're a long way from Pokemon here, folks…