Cine du Monde
16 Nov 2011
Every now and then, you come across a piece of media that is undeniably powerful. As you begin to read, or play, or watch, you can feel an instant reaction to it overtaking you and within minutes you know for sure that you have stumbled upon something special. Sometimes, this reaction is positive. For me, I experienced this reaction when I started reading the Excel Saga manga series - a revelatory moment spawning a long-term love of the series and an appreciation for manga that continues until today. Sadly, sometimes this overpowering reaction is negative. You can feel a bottomless dread creeping into you, gnawing at your very soul, harrowing you to your core. For me, watching ICE was one of these overpowering negative experiences.
ICE takes place in a post-apocalyptic near future where a lopsided disaster has killed off all of the planet's male inhabitants. A much-reduced and fractured all-female civilisation survives in Tokyo, where tensions run high between two factions who squabble over a precious resource called "ICE" and over how humankind should invest it's energies in the twilight of its existence. There are more details to this 100 minute long OAV collection, but good luck deciphering any of it.
Top to bottom, ICE is an utter mess of the highest order. It is honestly hard for me to pick out where to start, but perhaps the most noticeable offender is the story driving ICE and how it is presented. Plot beats in ICE simply happen, with no rhyme or reason as to what has motivated the actions presented, what impact they have, or even when they are taking place. The script does not make a lick of sense, and often barely relates to what is taking place visually. Almost voyeuristic levels of violence and gore is used apropos of nothing in an attempt to induce shock in the viewer which feels almost insulting in how exploitatively it is used and falls utterly flat. The show makes no effort to construct any sort of framework for its confusing, schizophrenic world and instead left me floundering trying to make sense of any of it, especially in the frequent cases where the characters explicitly dump exposition on the viewer, only to then be accompanied by something utterly unrelated appearing on screen or even something directly opposite to what is being said. Trying to comprehend the central conflict of the film is an exercise in futility, even when the show takes pains to directly tell you as it does such a poor job of it.
The show has no sense of pacing, something which is constantly exacerbated by its love of cutting away to other time-frames, and the flow of events is convoluted and at times flat out bizarre. Events quite simply do not follow any kind of coherent flow or pacing, carved up as they are into a perplexing ordering of scenes and events with no effort at either stringing them together or separating different threads. One of the more frustrating examples of the show's inability to pace itself or notify the viewer is when a sizeable timeskip occurs in the middle of an ongoing scene with absolutely no indication that this is happening - one second the cast are stood around, a pan over an empty scene with a continuing idle voiceover occurs, and then suddenly the cast have set up a mechanised command centre and containment field. When did that happen? No explanation is given, and indeed the cast are giving you glazed looks through the TV, expecting you to know what is going on as if they hope you might fill them in.
Frankly, giving each other glazed looks is the majority of what the cast seem to do in ICE inbetween bouts of spouting confusingly constructed exposition or outright stating their emotions. The character designs and personalities are almost exact recreations of dull, well-trodden tropes and even the more important or detailed characters have very scant actual personality. Even the character closest to acting as a protagonist in ICE, Hitomi, has the depth of a puddle and has no real motivation or personality to reinforce her actions. But she has the most screentime and individual character design, so the show creators really wanted you to pay attention to and care about her. As well as a chronic lack of personality, the characters are often afflicted with a lack of budget, their features going walkabout or suffering from a chronic lack of detail in their animation both in motion and while static. This very noticeable lack of budget extends to the whole of the presentation of ICE, covering every aspect from laughably cheap CG; a conspicuous lack of animation even in fight scenes or other fast-paced situations; cheap, tinny sound effects and background music. It really is a painful thing to behold as the show stumbles from one poorly executed scene to the next, seemingly unaware of how bad it looks.
Perhaps the most egregious sin that ICE commits, at least for me personally, is that the show clearly thinks it is being really damn smart. This isn't the calm, self-assured confidence in the content presented and the viewers ability to follow along that you find in more accomplished works, but instead an irritating smugness to the show that only serves to further alienate the viewer. Characters will often climb on top of a soapbox and vomit steaming nonsense for minutes at a time - common themes are how men are evil, how humankind is really damn good at self-destruction, and a recurring brazen metaphor comparing guns to the cursed male-driven past and swords to the more elegant female-driven post-apocalyptic land. While it could be said that these ideas are nothing new, they are presented in such an elementary manner as to be insulting. The characters take every opportunity to make these points directly to the viewer, trying to impress on you how intelligent it is and managing to fail utterly in the process. The show also manages to confuse its messages with constant moody cut-aways to unrelated scenes that try and inject symbolism into proceedings in an attempt to add a level of depth that comes off as being forced and artificial.
ICE is, quite honestly, one of the worst pieces of media I have had the displeasure of consuming. The first warning probably should have been the moment the show (already presented in 4:3 format) letter-boxed itself leaving a pitifully tiny portion of actual viewable animation on my TV, a touch that left me laughing. The show plummets right down into depths of terrible and doesn't rebound into "so bad its good" territory in any way - it's just crap. Do yourself a favour and stay well away from this dross.