What They Say:
A masochistic mobster meets his match in the dark streets of Tokyo. His nemesis, Ichi, is a psychopathic killer with an unrelenting thirst for bloodshed. A horrifying secret burns in his mind, and his hands deal death without mercy. At last, the shrouds of mystery are parted to reveal the origin of the monster. The city will know its greatest fear at the unveiling of Ichi the Killer!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with an English language dub, both of which are encoded at 192kbps. While the dialogue is usually the more noticeable piece, there’s such a strong amount of distinct action noise used in this show that it comes across very strong when used, such as when Ichi flies across the screen or the blades swing from one end to the other. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with distortions or dropouts during regular playback.
Originally released in 2002, this OVA is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. So much of this show is based in black backgrounds and the surprise rush of certain colors that the ability to maintain a solid level of blackness is critical. We had to play around with this release considerably; in both 1080i and 720p upconversion, the blacks could not maintain any level of solidness to them. Credit scrolls, in particular, looked horrid and reminded us more of a VCD than anything else. Most of the other colors looked decent and avoided much blocking. Switching to 480p though brought this all back under control and the colors throughout, blacks included, looked nice and solid with only a slight shimmer of movement to them. Cross coloration is negligible throughout this and only some minor aliasing cropped up in a few places to really be noticeable.
Playing up the dark and bloody imagery, we get a shot of Ichi doing a high kick in his uniform while tearing up from it. Surrounding him is a series of blood splotches on red backgrounds, contrasting his own black outfit on the red background. It’s a decent looking cover but nothing terribly exciting or eye-catching. The back cover takes a stab at one of the bad guys from the show and splits his image with a wedge that’s used to provide the summary of the show’s premise. The discs features are clearly listed and the basic technical information fairly easy to figure out, though much of it is in small print and not very up front. The reverse side cover gives one full black and white panel to a sot of Ichi in his combat uniform performing a leap while the other lists the chapters, bilingual cast listing and the usual array of mixed production information.
After a brief animation load-up that pans the city, the menu settles into an aggressive piece where the hyperactive end song from the show with Ichi screaming is set against clips from the show playing. The menu selections jiggle and shuffle above the clips and are wrapped up by blood splotches that cover much of the screen. It’s a nicely put together menu all told but it made me want to start the show as quickly as possible. Access times are nice and fast and the disc read our language presets but we had the usual problem of the first English language track being the sign and song subtitle track, so we get Japanese language and very rare subs until fixed on the fly.
The only extra included is an art gallery done as a video with music playing along with it.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ichi the Killer, Episode Zero as mentioned is a prequel to the live action movie. I’ve not seen the live action movie and watching this has told me that I will have zero interest in watching the live action movie at all. So I can’t really say how good of a job this show does in setting up things for the events that occur within that particular piece of work, but I can easily talk about just what this show does.
And that’s to take violence and sex and just really run wild with a combination of the two. The story is told from a couple of different places in time, but the gist of it is that we’re seeing the life of a young man named Ichi. During his teenage years, he suffered handily at the feet of many bullies in school and even from a friend who took advantage of him for money. Day after day he’d be beaten and abused but he’d never say a thing. His desk would be filled with insults being written by others and nobody in his class would really give him the time of day. His home life was similar in a way where he’d undergo the verbal berating by his parents over his grades and the need to do well for the upcoming exams. His younger brother hints at how Ichi is being bullied and that’s what’s affecting his grades but Ichi tries to deny it as best he can with his meek voice.
While there’s violence at school for him, there’s another kind of violence at home as well. Listening to the passions between his parents at night, his lack of social skills and general age don’t allow him to understand just why his parents are as rough as they are with each other at night. He doesn’t understand why his mother loves being tied up in ropes and smacked around. Sometimes you get the impression she doesn’t know either as she sees some of the nights blending into each other, but once the ties are made she’s fully into the moment. Listening to all of this while cleaning his notebooks of the insults his classmates have written only serves to push him deeper into a strange world that his mind slowly constructs.
Everything changes for Ichi though when he’s out one night running away from the pressure of everything and he comes across a dead animal in the road. Even with everything that’s been done to him he still has some caring left in him and he reaches down to it only to be bitten. This small event causes him to snap and he ends up literally beating the innards out of the creature and finding himself intensely aroused by the entire thing. The entire thing ends up leading him to getting several rabbits, destroying them and placing them around the school. This sends him on a spiral of more abuse by a friend that ends up causing his life to go into truly awful directions.
When it flashes forward a number of years and Ichi has spent him in an institution where he’s blocked off those memories entirely, he’s been re-raised from scratch and is little more than a six-year-old in an adult sized body. Under the guidance of a new probation officer, Ichi is being re-introduced into society through a new job, a dojo where he can practice karate and the experience of living on his own. While all seems normal at first, it doesn’t take long to realize that all the places that Ichi goes to and deals with are pushing him back into old routines, re-awakening his need for violence for sexual gratification. He’s being molded into something that can be used for such incredible swift violence that even Ichi is unaware of what’s going on even after it happens to him.
This show is definitely an interesting look into the mind and how it deals with violence, pressure and the mix of sex into everything. Of course, it’s all being set to fulfill the needs of the character in the live action movie, but this prequel really does stand well enough on its own, albeit with an open ending for obvious reasons, that it’s entertaining in its own right. Providing you can deal with the sex and the violence. The violence is not minimized by the use of decidedly ugly character designs. Even if the character is supposed to be attractive there’s an element of ugliness to them, a raw angular edge. When these characters are abused, violated or simply torn apart, their ugliness only increases. There is so much over the top violence in these sequences that it doesn’t hit the comical level like Natural Born Killers but rather resides in the disturbing level instead.
With a running time of just over forty minutes, there’s a lot of material packed in here that showcases one young man’s descent into a violent sexual madness. It hits so many different areas of his life, showing just how bad it was and what it was doing to him, how abused he was by both friend and foe alike, that the OVA almost goes by with a blur if not for the different people being butchered in front of you. This show is most definitely not for the squeamish and not something that’s going to really change your opinion on anything. For fans of the movie, it may shed some interesting light on things you saw there but it also manages to stand well by itself for those who will never see it. This isn’t a show I recommend seeing because it’s something that everyone should have but rather a show that’s worth recommending just so you can say you’ve seen some of the far-out violence in anime there is out there and be able to defend the medium as a whole when something like this is used against anime. It’s violent, it’s sexual and it doesn’t make any bones about it.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Art Gallery
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Central Park Media
Release Date: January 30th, 2007
Running Time: 47 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.