Dec 252010

Santa’s going all stealthy rogue on me this year or something, and he gave me a choice of three anime series to watch and review as a part of some global anime conspiracy to induce a sense of communistic good will amongst anime bloggers. Or something like that. The red man allowed me to choose one of three anime series to report on to the public: Kaiba, Heroic Age, and Gundam 00. I neglected to report the fact that I had already watched some of Heroic Age to MyAnimeList, but I was granted a reprieve from being sent to the work camps due to my prior service in the great Anime Army. With one anime off of my list, my decision came down to Kaiba and Gundam 00. The decision was easy for me, being a closet anti-Gundam guerilla who cares not for the series outside of the rebel faction G Gundam.

So my choice was made. On this most holy of days, I would report to you, my comrades, on the anime known as Kaiba.

I liked Kaiba. It’s good stuff. But a lot of my affection for the series boils down to its visuals. The director’s other series, Tatami Galaxy and Kemonozume, go for a sort of stylized realism. While the designs are simplified and stark at times, which I assume was done to allow for more ease in animating action sequences and the like just as much as it was a purely aesthetic choice, Kaiba tosses that out completely in favor of something decidedly more “cartoonish.” Most people seem to compare Kaiba’s style to the likes of Astro Boy and other old school anime and manga, but what it reminded me the most of was the sort of cartoon shit you saw pre-Looney Tunes.

Kaiba feels more like a rubber hose cartoon more than it does any anime I can think of. Characters look more like Betty Boop’s fuckbuddy Bimbo moreso than traditional characters, with their childish bodies and abandonment of anything resembling human-like anatomy. Combining that style with the director’s penchant for impressive, flowing action sequences and you have a damn good-looking anime.

And I can’t help that this style was chosen deliberately, and not just for shock value reasons. Yeah, there’s definitely a “What the fuck” vibe when you see these more-cartoonish-than-usual characters killing and fucking and contorting bodies and the like. It adds to the alien-like feel that’s innate to the sort of Transhuman shit the series is tackling.

Going with the whole “rubber hose” look nails home the idea that if humanity went down this path where bodies can be freely swapped and created artificially, while the human “soul” becomes effectively immortal, would we really be the same as we are now? Once you get that freedom from the limitations of the human form, will we not branch out and alter our appearances in ways that would make us look like something completely different? If the possibility of humanity diverging so far exists, why not adopt an art style that emphasizes that fact? That’s why I think Kaiba went with its cartoonish look, and it makes the whole thing feel far more distant and alien. Good stuff there.

The series is something of a two-sided coin. The first half of the series is basically a big exercise in world-building. It feels more like Galaxy Express 999 or the novel The Little Prince, in that we follow Kaiba/Warp as he travels to different planets and encounters the strange world born out of humanity’s “evolution.” We get to see just how fucked up things can get when you can extract someone’s memories and the power people hold when said memories can be cast aside like they’re nothing but trash. We get tidbits of the overarching plot, but for the most part the first half of the series exists so that the second half’s plotline has that much more of an impact.

And that’s where the series kinda gets away from itself. It’s dealing with all sorts of bizarre stuff, but in the end it ends up boiling down to very basic and banal points. Everything builds up to a climax. People betray each other for various reasons. Identities are revealed, people die, and the very existence of the world is at risk with the appearance of a planet-sized plant that eats the memories of humans. Will everyone join in unison and allow themselves to be devoured by the Kaiba plant, thus attaining the equality and unity many of them desire? Will everyone revolt against such notions and fight for their individuality? There’s a lot of self vs group shit playing out in the last few episodes, and it seems like the series couldn’t quite tackle such abstract concepts. Rather, the climax boils down to simple mommy issues.

And that’s the only thing that irks me about Kaiba. There’s an awesome world. We get to see it in action and we get all sorts of crazy shit going on, and the resolution boils down to “No, Warp/Kaiba/whatever your name is, your mother did love you. Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? That’s good. The End.”

After everything that happened up to that point, the ending feels like a massive cop-out. I will say this, though. I like that the ending ends with a simple smile between Warp and his gal pal. No speech. No confession. They just look at each other, and their expressions say everything. It’s a beautiful moment, but it’s a shame that it comes about during such a mediocre climax.

Despite the lousy ending, I still like Kaiba quite a lot. Not as much as the director’s other series, but it’s quite good. It just doesn’t live up to its potential.

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