Agent AIKa Anime Review
Studio Fantasia, Bandai Visual
US Release By
Underwear Fetish Action-Comedy
4 episodes, 30 min each
1997-04-25 - 1998-01-25
What's In It
- Catfights (with jets)
- Super Technology
- Superpowered Fighting
- Superpowered Undergarments
- Just Plain Stupid.
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 4 (heavy)
- Sex: 3 (significant)
- Language: 2 (moderate)
It's Waterworld if Kevin Costner was a beautiful woman with superpowered underwear and all the other dirty people were replaced with attractive young girls in short skirts! Well, sorta...
In the not so distant future, a mysterious catastrophe wreaks untold destruction, covering 90% of Earth's land area with water. 20 years later, a new profession has developed: Salvagers, who make their living by taking submarines into the sunken remains of once-great cities and retrieving the technological and informational riches lost there. Among these is Aika, a beautiful woman who now works for a reputable but unsuccessful family operation with the boss' daughter, Rion. But even if she's fighting for scraps with the hotshots in the business (like the showoff Gusto), Aika is more than she seems; she's one of the best, even if she's working above-board now.
Until a job too good to pass up comes along, that is.
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Composed of roughly equal parts James Bond, Victoria's Secret catalog, and sophomoric anime comedy, Agent AIKa it is unparalleled in its combination of half-decent dumb action flick and unrelentingly pervy underwear fetish video. It actually has a lot of potential--appealing characters, impressively "messy" action and realistically untidy plot progression, nice art, lots of action--but it blows it by being tremendously inconsistent. It swings between interesting and awful constantly, and even when it's good it's busy earning its reputation as the absolute pinnacle of panty-peeping anime in every, single scene.
The underwear exposure so far overboard the "parody" excuse is just that, and it's too relentless to ignore if you wanted to watch the rest of the series with a straight face. Whether the constant bombardment adds up to an endlessly tasteless ordeal, a funny romp, or just guilty pleasure aplenty will depend entirely on your personal taste and sleaze-tolerance. I can't say it worked for me--just lots of wasted potential.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Agent AIKa is infamous, and unlike most anime in that category, rightly so. Composed of roughly equal parts James Bond, Victoria's Secret catalog, and sophomoric anime comedy, it is unparalleled in its combination of half-decent dumb action flick and unrelentingly pervy underwear fetish video. Seriously--more camel toes than Lawrence of Arabia. It earns its reputation as the absolute pinnacle of panty peeping anime in every, single scene.
Of course there are drastically "worse" anime, but the way AIKa approaches the titillation--underdressed and from a low angle--puts the sleaze meter at a truly amazing level without crossing the line into outright porn. "AIKa: Naked Mission" sounds bad enough, but it's not accurate (though there's plenty of naked to go around)--"Up-the-skirt-camera-angle Mission" better captures the spirit of it. Sure, there's lots of action, nice character designs, and a moderately whacked-out plot, but that's not what you're going to notice, no matter how hard you try.
See, action anime sprinkled with random upskirt shots and gratuitous bath scenes are common--Go Nagai and Satoshi Urushihara have practically based their careers on that. And if AIKa had just featured a gratuitous nude scene or three (which it does), you'd watch, enjoy or ignore, and move on. Instead, it features short skirts. Lots of short skirts. Lots of really, really short skirts. Skirts so short you wonder why they even bother putting them on. On every, single female character. And as if that wasn't enough, the camera is perpetually fixed at about knee height. If you think I'm exaggerating, you haven't seen AIKa. In fact, I don't think I could exaggerate.
Seriously, I'm willing to bet that at least two thirds of the shots feature women's undergarments, and about half of what's left has nudity of some sort. Had it just been the nudity (which is plenty gratuitous), you could have tried to ignore it, or had there been an unusual proportion of awkward shots, I could have chalked it up to satire or humor, but the continuous bombardment of way, way too short skirts, lecherous camera angles, and willfully unladylike poses make it seem downright dirty. There aren't two minutes straight where you can even pretend you're watching a serious action movie, and the whole sordid affair is just plain embarrassing.
If it's not obvious, I didn't think that much of Agent AIKa. Sure, there are plenty of people who will enjoy four solid episodes of leering (you know who you are). Good on them, and the decent action is a bonus. As for those who'll argue that it's a send-up of all those low-camera-angle shots in other anime, that's plausible: "Let's make fun of up-the-skirt camera angles by making a series with one in every frame!" Riiight.
But let's pretend for a second that you couldn't see up some girl's skirt in every shot. Actually, let's not. If, however, you take your eyes off the invariably white underwear for a while, you'll see one of the most spectacularly uneven action OVAs in anime history.
The basic plot is simple enough: Crazy villain with a battleship full of underdressed henchwomen seeks to gain a mysterious thing that will allow him to do evil things on a global scale, leaving it up to heroine with mysterious past and her spunky sidekick and cheesy friends to save the world. Much fighting is sure to result.
Looking at the most obvious positive, the action is varied and reasonably good--you've got a couple of brutal brawls, a gunfight or two, a dogfight in episode 2, and a big ol' superpowered brawl (in space!) for the finale.
This is, unfortunately, offset by the fact that every fight is designed to maximize the number of high kicks and miniskirted henchwomen sent flying spread-eagle toward the camera. The thoroughly unladylike brutality would be appealing were it not so transparently designed for underwear exposure.
Then there's the humor. There are sporadic bits of really funny interplay, mostly between Rion and a not-entirely-competent secret agent. Also, the eventual explanation for why the villain's entire crew consists of attractive women with no sense of shame is not only pretty funny in a backhanded sort of way, but it borders on plausible. Ok, as plausible as such a thing could possibly be.
But, of course, there are also plenty of just-plain-dirty jokes that aren't even particularly funny. Worse, there's a lot of stuff that is oddly serious, so it keeps switching gears from comedy to straight action movie that really isn't.
Oh, and the third episode is composed almost entirely of the crew of the villain's battleship relaying orders. Seriously, it's like a babe-heavy military chain-of-command promo video. Trying for some kind of military fetish, maybe?
Or the characters. Aika herself is quite appealing--mature in both appearance and demeanor (she's--gasp--over 25), she is pleasant, very competent, and human enough to stay likable and fun. The rest of the cast are more traditional--spunky Rion, mouthy showoff Gust--but still fun.
But then there's Hargen--one of only three male characters in the whole thing and among the ickiest characters you're likely to find. Not creepy, not scary, just ewww. He's smooth, blithely pervy, refined sleaze incarnate, has an entirely inappropriate relationship with his sister, and has the worst fashion sense ever. That he wears makeup and dresses (no short skirt, thankfully) would be bad enough, but toward the end he puts on shoulder pads adorned with gigantic, gold, 3D mudflap girl statues. I wanted to see him killed by the heroes mainly so he'd get off the screen.
Most surprising about Agent AIKa, however, is that the plot doesn't play out like you expect. We all know the action cliche--villain has a crazy scheme, good guys figure it out and hatch a plan to stop it, the villain outwits them, and at the last minute when everything appears lost, the heroes prevail. Here, it's more like the heroes have no idea what the villain is planning other than that it's bad, but their plan to stop him actually works. The guy who goes off to set the explosives, who you're expecting to show up and save the day at the last minute, doesn't--he goes, does his job, and then waits. The big showdown happening elsewhere is just extra.
This surprising level of messiness--a sort of realistic disorganization--was appealing to me. It also made me wish desperately that everything else wasn't so abjectly awful.
Don't worry, though--to contrast with this is plenty of spectacular incompetence on all fronts and plenty of awful science and general nonsense. There's some mystery about Aika's superpowered bustier, but that goes basically nowhere.
There's not much to complain about on the visual front, at least--other than bland backgrounds the art is good and the (female) character designs are attractive and varied. Even the mechanical designs are decent--some relatively realistic submarines, moderately cool jets, and the villain's battleship/sub/rocket, which we see way too much of. Aika's also got a cool retro car--kind of a '50s cruiser with something like a jet engine on the back. The animation is more uneven, but is largely above average in the many action scenes.
The Japanese voice acting is quite good. Rei Sakuma is the standout as Aika's very appealing voice--pleasant, womanly, with a mix of cute annoyance and all-business agent. Hiroko Konishi is sufficiently spunky as Rion, the large cast of henchwomen are, at times, impressively official sounding (even if it got boring listening to relayed orders for 20 minutes straight), and the rest of the cast does its job well enough. As for Hargen, Kaneto Shiozawa's soft, oozing voice fits the character perfectly. Unfortunately. Again, eww.
The casting in the dub is good--Scott Cargle as the effeminate Hargen and Alvaro Gonzalez as the cheesy Gust in particular--but most of the acting is unremarkable. Admittedly there's not much to work with, and the bad "guys" do turn in decent performances.
Junichi Kanezaki's soundtrack fluctuates between too quiet and overdramatic, but at least it's not cheap-sounding. The opening and particularly end themes aren't half bad.
Summing up, Agent Aika is a crying shame--a cheesy action series with lots of interesting potential that blows it by being hugely inconsistent and filled with such unrelenting underwear exposure that it drives itself right past parody and into fetish territory. Like a cross between Plastic Little and Porky's, it's so adolescently dirty that even if you wanted to watch it for the story or action, you probably couldn't convince yourself that you were. There's guilty pleasure aplenty for lots of people, but for anyone else it's not worth the time... and shame.
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In a league of its own. Most similar is probably Nishijima's other sleazy (but marginally more parody-like) series, Labyrinth of Flames. In terms of the setting and action, Daphne in the Brilliant Blue is very similar, but much funnier and drastically less sleazy despite also featuring very skimpy outfits. Also has something in common with Cutey Honey (but AIKa is much sleazier), and harder sci-fi Dirty Pair (which it also out-sleazes). If it weren't for the nudity and skirts, it would bear a passing resemblance to Birdy the Mighty as well.
Notes and Trivia
Agent AIKa is an original concept by Katsuhiko Nishijima, the creator of Project A-ko. In addition to the OVAs, there is also a single manga prequel book, Trial 0, that hasn't been translated into English as of this writing, by Ayumi Konomichi. It's funny to note that the manga (perhaps not coincidentally drawn by a woman), is more or less what Aika would have been without all the nudity and underwear--there's actually a comment in the introduction that it doesn't have all the famous panties. There are a total of maybe a dozen upskirt shots in the entire 200 page length (well below par for a normal book), and no nudity at all.
The original Agent AIKa 4-epsiode OVA series was followed almost immediately by a 3-episode continuation (3.5, really--there's a short promo episode that's included as an extra on the US DVDs), though they're often counted as a single 7 (or 8) episode OVA series. More recently (2007), there was a prequel OVA series made, AIKa R-16. It takes place a decade before the first series, following a 16-year-old Aika. It, in turn, has a sequel set 3 years later (7 years before this series), AIKa ZERO.
Also, a quick name note: The series title is AIKa (funky capitalization included) in both Japan and the US, but the main character's name is Aika Sumeragi--Aika is a normal Japanese given name. The cheeseball Gust(o)'s name is harder; it's not obvious from the Japanese whether the final "o" is intentional, or due to the Japanese pronunciation of "Gust" as "Gasuto." The correct answer turns out to be "Gust," revealed by the Romanized version on the official Japanese AIKa website. USM clearly couldn't make up its mind, either--in the English dub they went with the more logical-sounding Gusto, while the subtitles switch back and forth, dropping the "o" in episode 2.
US DVD Review
Bandai's Anime Legends complete collection 2-disc DVD set contains all seven episodes of the classic series with both subtitled and English dubbed audio, and claims for special features the Special Trial bonus episode (subtitled-only), a live-action episode, and textless opening and endings.
USM's older single-disc DVD release, subtitled "Naked Missions," includes all four episodes reviewed here, a lengthy music video, and a short "meet the cast" section, plus USM's standard battalion of DVD-ROM features (cast, scripts, and an art gallery).
Easily qualifies for a 16-up rating; the first episode is almost exclusively underwear (which would be enough), but the rest features more than enough nudity to go with it and there's plenty of sexual content, explicit and implied.
Violence: 2 - Not overly graphic, but violent enough.
Nudity: 4 - If it's not clear already, plenty.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - Some rather crude visual jokes and plenty of more overt adult content, including the villain's unsavory relationship with his sister.
Language: 2 - Not noteworthy.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Translated by AAW; names are listed Japanese-style, family name first.
Sumeragi Aika: Sakuma Rei
Aida Rion: Konishi Hiroko
Gasuto Taabiransu (Gust Turbulance): Kosugi Juurouta
Ba Bandora: Kyouda Hisako
Rudolph Hargen: Shiozawa Kaneto
Nena Hargen: Tanaka Atsuko
Aida Gouzo: Ohtsuka Akio
Black Leader: Nishihara Kumiko
Blue Leader: Shiratori Yuri
White Leader: Nagashima Yuuko
White A: Yanagihara Miwa
Client: Komuro Masayuki
Bodyguard: Hoshino Mitsuaki
Colonel: Arakawa Tarou
Guide: Yamazaki Wakana
Meipia: Tamagawa Sakiko
Blue Leader: Shiratori Yuri
White Leader: Nagashima Yuuko
Assorted Bad Gals:
Black A: Yanagihara Miwa
Black B: Asahina Mio
Black C: Sugimoto Yuu
Blue A: Masuda Yuki
Blue B: Tanaka Ryouko
White A: Miura Urara
White B: Natsuki Rio
English Dub Cast
Aika: Debbie Rabbai
Rion: Purva Bedi
Nena: Suzane Savoy
Hargen: Scott Cargle
Gusto: Alvaro J. Gonzalez
Bandra: Mina Sands
Gozo: David Logan Rankin
Guide: Tracy McQuade
Additional Voices: Matty O'Shea, Tom McKeon
Original Story: Studio Fantasia
Producer: Kazuhiko Ikeguchi
Script: Kenichi Kanemaki, Katsuhiko Nishijima
Character design/Animation Derector, Executive Animation Director (ep 2): Noriyasu Yamauchi
Assistant Character Design: Yuji Moriyama, Takehiko Ito (ep 2)
Animation Director (ep 2): Yoko Kikuchi
Mechanical Design: Hidefumi Kimura
Action Coordinatior: Ryo Tanaka
Art Director: Kazuo Ogura
Photography Director: Yoshihito Sano
Music: Junichi Kenezaki
Director: Katsuhiko Nishijima
Animation by: Studio Fantasia
Produced by: Bandai Visual
Opening Theme: "Silent City"
End Theme: "More Natural", sung by Konishi Hiroko
By: Studio Fantasia, Bandai Visual
Currently available in the US from Bandai on a 3-disc complete "Anime Legends" set of all 7 OVAs.
Formerly available in North America from US Manga Corps on two bilingual DVD volumes, three dubbed VHS volumes, or two subtitled VHS volumes (the third VHS volume was never released in subtitled form). All are out of print and relatively hard to find as of this writing; you might try eBay, but there are a lot of bootlegs there so buyer beware.