When I first got into anime in the mid-1990′s, 3×3 Eyes was a big deal. It was the sort of series that fans talked about with passion, but very few people had seen. Its licensing and release in 2001 produced a lot of excitement among American fans.
As with so many anime creations of the time, it was based on a long-running manga. This OVA was released in 1991 in Japan, and boy is that evident: it has a strongly 1980′s feel, from the character designs to the over-the-top action.
One big genre in the 1980′s and 1990′s was high fantasy. From Five Star Stories and Record of Lodoss War to El Hazard and Oh My Goddess!, strong magical powers and fantastic worlds saw a surge of popularity. That’s echoed in 3×3 Eyes, which focuses on a young girl with magical powers.
The basic premise: when an ordinary teenage boy saves a cute girl she manifests magical powers. She’s the last of a long line of biologically immortal spellcasters. She’s searching for a certain magical item that will turn her fully human, and has done so for so long that she barely remembers anything more than that and her own name. In return for saving her life, she turns the boy biologically immortal.
This is a good excuse for both over-the-top action sequences as other magical creatures search for the Magical Maguffin, and romantic comedy misunderstandings as the girl’s magical self and her normal self are polar opposites: one is gruff and imperious (tsundere); the other shy and sweet (Yamato nadeshiko).
As you can imagine, this is clearly a story aimed at teenage boys: two popular girl archetypes are combined in one character, with magic spells in the modern world plus crazy fantasy action sequences. The show’s art tends towards a dark, almost noir palette that compliments the story’s tone perfectly.
Unfortunately, the staff didn’t appear to have the budget to do the concept full justice. The animation is sufficient to tell the story, but by OVA standards, it’s minimal. The characters are occasionally off-model, though the story moves fast enough that I didn’t feel distracted by it.
Worse, the editing felt…wrong. I admit I can’t describe this well. It was like they took the storyboard, and gave each panel a corresponding shot of almost exactly the same length. There was no sense of finesse or directed attention. I never felt pulled in. Moreover, the combination of wacky romantic comedy and intense (often quite bloody) action created cognitive dissonance for me. I had trouble believing a character was really hurt, even after sustaining apparently realistic damage.
Worse, a lot of the problems the characters face are villains of the week: demons who are or are not temporarily successful in stealing the Magical Maguffin. If successful, the heroes go after them and get the Maguffin back. This would be fine if the villains had any dimension to them at all, or if the characters were more fully developed at this stage.
I think the show lives and dies on audience identification with the main characters. This worked well for me. Quite a bit of time is spent establishing why the boy likes the girl, and why the girl is worth his attention. Even in her Yamato nadeshiko personality, she demonstrates admirable drive and persistence, while the boy never leaves her side. I completely bought their mutual attraction.
As with so many things, the proof is in the end. I adore this OVA’s ending, which impresses me on many levels. I did feel that I slogged through a lot of uninteresting problems to get there.