Anime OVA Review: 3X3 EYES (1992)

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It was in 1993 that I first watched 3X3 Eyes. I was thirteen years old and hadn’t been watching anime very long at all. Back then Manga Video were the biggest home video distributors for anime on VHS here in the UK and I used to buy whatever I could get my hands on with my very limited income. Their release of 3X3 Eyes was very heavily advertised in the magazine Manga Mania and was given a pretty good review if I recall. I loved the series when I first watched it and I got into the original manga by Yuzo Takada as well (though unfortunately it never finished being published in English). I think the last time I watched the 3X3 Eyes anime prior to this review was probably around 13 years ago! So did it hold up well for me? Read on to find out….

First up let me explain right off the bat. There are actually TWO 3X3 Eyes OVAs, this review will cover the first one and I will cover the second in another article soon.

So what’s it about? The story focuses on a 16 year old boy called Yakumo Fujji who accidentally runs into a girl named Pai on his motorcycle. It turns out that she had came all the way from Tibet to find Yakumo in Tokyo at the request of Yakumo’s dying father. His father was a professor and archaeologist who studied Pai and the remnants of the civilisation she belonged to. While Pai looks human she is actually an immortal being who is part of a race called the Sanjiyan Unkara. She longs to be human so the professor asks Yakumo in a letter to try and help her find an artifact called the Ningen No Zou (the statue of humanity) which can supposedly make her dream a reality.

 

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Amusingly enough the OVA never explicitly explains why Yakumo works as a cross gender hostess however the manga offers an explanation (See excerpt below).

 

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Yakumo’s initial thought, having had nothing to do with his father for years, is to crumple up the letter and walk away; however fate intervenes to make his decision for him. A vagrant steals Pai’s cane unleashing her demon familiar Takuhi, a gigantic bird-like creature that runs rampant through Shinjuku. As the pair try to calm down the demon, Yakumo is killed by being crushed in its giant talons. However far from being the end of the duo’s adventures it’s just the beginning. The sanjiyan side of Pai is actually another separate entity signified by a third eye materialising on her forehead and her speaking in a different voice. She awakens and uses her magic to transform Yakumo into a “Wu”: an immortal protector to keep her safe while she is dormant.

Initially Yakumo doesn’t seem to understand exactly what happened to him except for the fact that Pai clearly saved his life. He is marked on his forehead by the sign of the “Wu” signifying that he too is now immortal.

He agrees to help Pai find the statue and the two end up embarking on a series of crazy adventures which begin in Hong Kong.
It turns out that the demon minions of an ancient being (later revealed to also be a Sanjiyan) known as Kai Yan Wang also want the statue in order to resurrect their master and they’ll go to any lengths to get it back…..

There’s a lot of things to love about 3X3 Eyes. The characters for one. All of the characters good and evil are interesting. Yakumo is just such a likable, decent ordinary guy who grows to care deeply for Pai and always throws himself into harm’s way to keep her safe.

To that end he suffers A LOT. Because Pai’s alter ego the Sanjiyan cannot protect herself while she sleeps it’s Yakumo’s job. Since he can’t die he does it without hesitation, however that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. During the course of the series he is stabbed, shot, blown up, crushed, dismembered and smashed into walls to name but a few. The series has a lot of gore as a result, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for younger viewers. Every time I watch it I feel so sorry for the poor guy. It’s not just for Pai either, he’ll willingly get pieces of himself sliced off to help someone he just met.

Strangely enough Yakumo is almost always drawn in both the anime and the manga as if he has his eyes closed. Only rarely does he seem to have them open, usually when in shock or in pain. A 3×3 Eyes fansite I visited years ago said that the creator Yuzo Takada mentioned in an interview that Yakumo’s eyes were supposed to be narrow but open representing the fact he’s Asian. However this seems like a strange decision to me, given that it could be seen to be a racist stereotype.

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A rare instance of Yakumo’s eyes being completely open!

Pai is portrayed as two separate characters : an adorable and exciteable cute young girl and the capable and cold-hearted Sanjiyan who starts out seeing Yakumo as a means to an end (though she does come to like him a little as time goes on). Speaking of Pai’s cuteness she was the first character in any anime I ever had a bit of a crush on. I was thirteen after all! The term “Waifu” wasn’t even a thing back then!

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The demons our heroes face are suitably grotesque and are brilliantly realised. If you’ve read a lot of fantasy and supernatural manga or seen a lot of Japanese or Chinese supernatural movies you’ll feel right at home with some of the scenes of combat between Sanjiyan and the demons. Magical hand gestures are used to banish demons to other dimensions and paper “talisman” scrolls with spells written on them burn the creatures when attached to them.

The series is good at making you care about characters we don’t spend a lot of time with, such as Yakumo’s classmates in Episode 2 and Mei Shin, a Chinese girl who befriends Yakumo and Pai in episodes 3 and 4. These characters are given enough personality that I cared about them despite only having been introduced to them briefly.

Speaking of characters and caring what happens to them: the second episode got to me on this viewing just like it always did years ago. In the episode Yakumo’s schoolfriend Natsuko is “bonded” to a demon that takes over her body and burrows inside of it, bursting out from inside of her and tearing her to ribbons in the process. Thankfully the Sanjiyan’s magic restores her body after the demon is defeated so she does end up coming out of it unscathed in the end. The graphic detail in which this scene is animated is not for the squeamish that’s for sure.
While we’re on the subject of this particular demon he uses a disguise that always amused me as a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Check out the pictures below to see what I mean. It always reminds me of the scene with Raphael and Casey Jones in the 1990 TMNT movie.

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“Sorta looks like a big demon……in a trenchcoat. You’re from out of town right?”

My favourite character besides Yakumo and Pai is the enterprising Ling Ling Lee, a smart and tough as nails Kung Fu practicing girl from Hong Kong who runs an occult investigation agency and is always asking Yakumo to use his immortality to make money with her. She has a funny scene in which she attempts a rescue with grenades and is shall we say….a bit too enthusiastic about throwing them around.

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The animation is mostly of a really good standard. Episodes 1 and 2 in particular look fantastic while 3 and 4 don’t contain movement that’s quite as dynamic but certainly aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. The amount of movement and detail in little touches in the early episodes is great, in episode 1 where Ling Ling is running and she comes to an abrupt stop, the way her glasses tilt up and then come back down again is a nice little touch.

The music of 3X3 Eyes has quite a grandiose feel to it, fitting for a supernatural epic such as this. The main theme that plays over the title sequence has an ominous quality to it that hints at the danger the characters will face. Comparatively there is an oft used piece of music with quite a reflective, contemplative feel that is often used for emotional effect. This particular track has popped into my head over the years so many times its uncanny, even when I hadn’t seen the series for years!

Because the manga was a huge 40 volumes there was no way they were going to be able to come to any sort of natural resolution in such a short lived OVA. As mentioned previously there was a second one though that one doesn’t wrap things up completely either. The ending of the first OVA is dramatic with Pai and Sanjiyan leaving Yakumo behind on their way to confront Benares, the servant of Kai Yan Wang.
I felt very attached to the characters of Pai and Yakumo from the first time I watched the OVA and really wanted to see them succeed in their quest to become human. This time around watching the final scene brought back great memories of watching it for the first time and being gutted that it was the final episode of the series.

In summary 3X3 Eyes is an extremely entertaining OVA with great characters, a decent plot and very good production values. The only thing really holding it back is any sense of resolution and the fact that it’s just a snapshot of the epic scope of the manga version. The manga can be found translated online, however the anime will be a very good primer to decide whether you want to invest your time in the full story; something I should do quite soon I reckon! I’ve waited for the conclusion to this one for a long time.

2nd OVA review coming soon!

Please feel free to comment on this article. Do you like this series? I hope for you older fans it brought back some nostalgic memories.

Availability: The last time this was available in the UK was in the VHS era. (Dub Only). It has never had a DVD release here and is also currently unavailable on Blu Ray outside of Japan.

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4 Comments

  1. It’s definitely worth a look. Because there’s a Japanese Blu Ray you can probably find it using the usual “avenues” (ahem). I have an old out of print US DVD from Pioneer of both OVAs. Be aware that because there’s two OVAs there are 7 episodes total (Four in the original, 3 in the second).

    The second OVA is called “3X3 Eyes: Seima Densetsu” also known in English as “Legend Of The Divine Demon”. That should help you make sure you’ve found all the episodes. A Review of that OVA as well as other articles are in the pipeline. Thanks for the comment bud!

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    1. The Geneon/Pioneer DVDs are pretty expensive now. I’d hope for a licence rescue from Discotek (especially on blu-ray) as a Japanese one apparently exists. I mean if Like the Clouds, Like the Wind can get a US BD release, can’t see why 3×3 Eyes can’t. Pretty decent OVA, though I haven’t watched it in years.

      Yuzo Takada created a lot of great titles that eventually got turned into anime; Nuku Nuku, Blue Seed and Every Day is Sunday, which sort of like You’re Under Arrest, except a bit more realistic in terms of policing. Sort of wish I’d bought the LD bundle of the OVAs I saw in a shop in Osaka a few years back. They were pretty pricy though.

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  2. Yeah those Pioneer discs are quite expensive now. Unfortunately there seems to be somewhat of a “scalper” problem these days with people selling old out of print releases of anime and manga for insane prices on the likes of Ebay and Amazon Marketplace. As soon as something’s out of print someone tries their luck in asking an insane price for it.

    I think there’s a decent chance of this getting a re-release at some point in the future. As you say Discotek would be perfect. Considering some of the other obscurities we’ve been getting of late I’d say a fondly remembered OVA like this one shouldn’t have much of a problem finding an audience. I also like Takada’s Blue Seed and Nuku Nuku. I never saw Every Day is Sunday but I’ve heard of it. I hope there’s a re-release of the 3X3 Eyes manga one day as well and that this time it gets completed.

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