Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Kaiba Review

What are memories? Souls? Spirits? This is a world where memories can be turned into data and stored. Even if the body dies, its memories live on and can be transferred to another body. Bad memories can be erased, and good ones downloaded. However, this is something only the privileged can do. In a world like this, our protagonist, Kaiba, is traveling in another body with no memories of his own.

Kaiba is an original SciFi/Romance anime. This twelve episode show is from Studio Madhouse (Monster, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad) and directed by Masaaki Yuasa, premiering in the spring season of 2008. It currently is not licensed in America, but is licensed in Australia. Kaiba won an Excellence Prize for animation at the 2008 Japan Media Arts Festival.

One day a man, Kaiba, wakes up in a broken room. He has no memories, only a pendant with a picture of an unknown woman. Outside of the room are grotesque floating electrical clouds of disjointed memories. Kaiba is suddenly assaulted, and escapes into space. He travels to various planets, encountering various people and retrieving his memories. (Anime News Network)

The art style and design for this series really reminds me of the design of the original Astro Boy anime. Plus, I can see why it won the animation award in the Media Arts Festival. The movements of the characters are very fluid, and very precise. This makes the series worth watching for the animation alone. Also, Kaiba has a very unique character design asthetic then the typical anime we’re used to nowadays. It coincides with the animation of that episode, and helps Madhouse escape from their reputation for inconsistent animation. Again, reminds me of the old Astro Boy anime, but this isn’t a terrible thing and I’m not gonna knock it down because of that since Astro Boy was from the 60’s and the animation back then probably wasn’t that great. Kaiba just makes it more modernized and helps make the series as a whole completely different then recent anime.

The story is simple, yet complex. Simple because, on the surface, it’s about an amnesiac man trying to regain his memories and find out whom the woman in the picture is. The story is complex because below the surface the series brings in the concept of editing personal memories, selling your body for money, and similar cyberpunk “loss of self” concepts that Ghost in the Shell usually tackles. And the transition into the complex story line is done really well. For half the series, you’re dealing with the simpler story of getting Kaiba’s memories back. However, the memory and body thing is visited throughout each episode as you meet characters that are tied into that part of the story in different ways. When you get to the second half of the series, the complex story becomes even more complex. I don’t wanna give anything away, but I’ll say that clones, altered memories, and planet eating plants are involved.

So Kaiba has unique animation and a good story. Now here’s where I kinda tear into it a bit. The characters are pretty good. Each of the characters, major or minor, has their own backstory and, for an anime with only 12 episodes, they’re introduced really well. The downside to this is the major characters aren’t introduced to us until halfway through the series, with the exception of Kaiba. Granted, Kaiba is searching for Neiro and his memories, but it would have been nice to see more of Neiro as he regains those memories throughout the ENTIRE series. Then there’s Popo. What about him? He helped out Kaiba in the beginning of the series and then he’s gone. Then comes back half way through. And when he comes back he’s is the villain, why?!... *sigh*. Bottom line, characters could have been presented better.

The Japanese dub for Kaiba is decent. The only complaint I have is the use of adult voices for characters that clearly looks like children. I’ll admit, this is because of the animation that I have this problem, but still it looks awkward. I have to give a lot of props to Houko Kuwashima (Claymore) as Kaiba, who pulls off the character really well. Starting off as curious and child like, it makes a smooth transition into the mature Kaiba after regaining his memories. Another well done performance is Romi Park (Full Metal Alchemist) as Popo. She has just the right amount evil and innocence put into the role. The third role that was a lot of fun was Hisao Egawa (Mobile Suit Gundam 00) as Vanilla. Both parts caring and flirtatious, Egawa plays them both really well. The one voice that I had a little trouble with was Mamiko Noto’s (Monster) Neiro. Again, it’s the problem with the animation making them look more like kids rather then adults, but the role is a good fit. Not amazing, but good.

Something of particular mention is the dialogue, which is actually really good. Why is that? Because there is little to no dialogue in this series, especially with our main character Kaiba. He’s lost his memories and, unlike other amnesia suffering characters, he doesn’t ask questions and he isn’t a complete annoyance. As the series picks up, there’s more dialogue, but it’s still fairly quiet for the most part. The majority of the story is told through the movements of the characters, and the subtle music in the background. This is very different from most storytelling styles and used to great effect. Another bonus for Kaiba is the level of maturity and dark ideas the series has. There is almost nothing light hearted about this anime, and you would think that with the colorful and child-like animation that it would. But no, the content is very mature and raises some very interesting questions. The biggest one being, what if we lived in this world? A world where you can get a new body whenever you want, where people will steal your body for cash, and people can pretty much be immortal. In this world, memories are the most precious thing and no one wants to lose their memories or those of their loved ones no matter what. What makes you you, and how can you be sure that what you have was even yours to begin with? Very good concept! And pulled off very well!

At the end of the space trip, Kaiba is a unique SciFi anime where you ask questions about your own identity and memories. Again, it’s kind of upsetting that this never reached farther then Australia with licensing, but this is certainly one of those, that I would deem, to be a cult classic anime. Very underrated, very different, but if given a chance would become pretty popular elsewhere. Kaiba is a must see, even though some of it’s content can be a little graphic (ex. episode 2, a woman sounds like she’s having sex, but we never see it).

If you want something different or more commonly known to you as an anime, then I suggest looking toward the 1960's version of Astro Boy. The animation is similar looking to Kaiba, but doesn't quite have the though provoking questions Kaiba gives off.

Thanks to Vaughn Simmons for the suggestion!


  1. Your welcome, Stephanie!

    Now I've got to suggest another cult anime to you.

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