Taking place shortly before Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer film, Ichi the Killer: Episode Zero explores the the circumstances that ultimately created the monster. Hajime Shiroishi holds the mental capacity of a six-year-old in many ways and his general weak nature made him a magnet for bullies. However, inside the shell of a pathetic person lays a monster of uncontrollable rage. Based on the original manga by Hideo Yamamoto and animation produced by AIC comes Ichi the Killer: Episode Zero from Central Park Media’s U.S. Manga Corps.
Audio: English 2.0 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English, Signs-Only
Extras: Art Gallery, Trailer, DVD & Manga Previews
Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.
Anyone who has seen Ichi the Killer already knows that Ichi is one sick bastard pushing perversion to new limits with his sadistic nature. The animated prequel (there is also a live action prequel following a similar High School theme for Ichi) pushes back towards Hideo Yamamoto’s original creation by capturing the look and style of the manga. The animated series also bounces back and forth between Hajime’s youth before the key violent incident and his dealings with life after a probation officer agreed to watch over the mentally-dimished adult. Shock and rage have reduced the formerly-capable person to being a shell, probably never understanding life or the fact that he remains a puppet controlled by another.
Kantou Boys’ Medical Center houses a sick boy who was arrested and sent to the center after commiting a horrible violent crime. However, he has forgotten the incident to the point that he doesn’t believe it really happened. Instead, Hajime now practices one-thousand squat thrusts daily among other fitness routines. He does these in his room as a way to relieve the sexual desires in his body that his mind can’t understand. But in the hands of the right probation officer, Hajime’s life could be turned around for the better. Tanabe is willing to take a chance and guide Hajime towards what he was ultimately meant to be.
A lifetime ago, Hajime Shiroishi would spend much of his day getting beaten up by bullies. Kaneda, his only friend, stepped in to check on him after the wailings, but never to really assist Hajime. Home life wasn’t much better, with a younger brother who picked on him and two parents who laid on the reality of life too thick in between their own sadistic sexual practices behind closed doors. In class, the bullies and other students pushed the weakling into doing things no one else wanted to do, like dissecting a frog. The class would antagonize him while Hajime got a hard-on at the sight of sliced-open animal. At home, the shock at his excitement over the dissected frog, the horrible names his classmates wrote in his notebook, and the sounds of his parents having rough sex in the next room drive Hajime crying into the streets.
Running with tears streaking down his face, Hajime comes across a cat that has been hit by a car and left for dead. Hajime closes in on the poor animal, but the cat reacts too quickly and bites his hand. The rage welled up inside him overflows as Hajime Shiroishi loses control and repeatedly smashes the cat under his shoe until the body is beyond recognization. The next day in school the remains are found smeared over the ground and lockers while Hajime sits alone in the classroom erasing the terrible names written on his desk. Kaneda steps in and mentions having witnessed Hajime’s outburst the previous night, but promises not to tell because they’re friends. The friend then begins to extort money out of Hajime to keep quiet over the incident while Hajime’s personal life falls apart. The family hits rough times that cut down on the money Hajime recieves to give his blackmailer. The school bullies increase their need to beat up Hajime for fun, which also tears up his mental state. The unstable home-life—between the accusations and rough sex fillng the air—wrecks any chance of a full recovery for Hajime.
Ichi the Killer: Episode Zero gives the audience a chance to try to decipher some of Ichi’s true origins while also presenting a stand-alone horror OVA. Watching Ichi the Killer before the prequel could be handy, but isn’t necessary to enjoy the Zero episode, just as watching the prequel before the actual film isn’t a requirement. If you would like to understand Ichi better before the live action Takashi Miike film, this is a great start, but leaving it until afterwards will help preserve some of the bizarre mystery hidden within the live action movie. Personally, I have always hated the Ichi character because he is quite literally a whiny pussy who is just sick in the head. I was a far bigger fan of Kakihara and his sadistic nature. Where’s that prequel when you need it? The Japanese cast provides a solid job of capturing the perverse nature of each of the characters. Chihiro Suzuki works well for Hajime/Ichi as he falls down the rabbit hole into hell itself. Sayaka Oohara always provides an interesting performance as Midori, who helps Hajime complete the crossover to become Ichi while getting him off by being beaten within an inch or two of her life. The English production by TripWire Productions provides a solid number in direction and writing, thanks to Tom Wayland. Michael Tremain does a good job capturing the lost boy nature and sadistic rage sides of Hajime as he becomes Ichi the Killer. The supporting cast is equally filled out, with several fine performances that fit well with the style the series is presented in. Only Rebecca Miriam’s Midori shows some weakness in delivering lines that should be soaking with lust as she pushes Hajime to beat the living crap out of her.
Ichi the Killer: Episode Zero is great for the fan looking for some dark violence and thrills. While having seen or planning to see Miike’s Ichi the Killer would not hurt, it is not a requirement to enjoy this tale as a stand-alone title. Central Park Media has done a stunning job with the title, matching the subtitles for signs to use a unique font for title cards written out like they were sliced and bled. Overall, the subtitle tracks are flawless and the video is very clean thanks to it’s AIC produced origins. The DVD extras available are a trailer for Episode Zero and a slideshow art gallery. While I still hate the whiny bitch Hajime eventually becomes, Ichi the Killer: Episode Zero gives a good look at the origins of the bizarre character before he became the enraged puppet everyone has come to fear.