The first three volumes of Kiddy Grade were mostly composed of episodic fluff with the barest hint of an underlying plot. That began to change in episode 9, when Éclair's experiences on Dardanos caused suppressed memories to start to resurface. With these three episodes the plot development kicks into high gear, as a continuing flood of once-suppressed memories unsettles Éclair. Though the memories come to her in a jumble, they suggest of multiple past incarnations of herself and other
ES members. They also suggest of dark secrets that made her voluntarily suppress her memories and seek to start over again. When Éclair is pushed past the breaking point on a new mission, however, it becomes apparent that even having lost her memories won't prevent her from repeating the actions of her forgotten past. Her rebellion against Eclipse's orders gets her and Lumiere stricken from the ES roster and labeled as renegades, to the amusement, shock, and/or dismay of their fellow ES members. Éclair and Lumiere are left to fend for themselves when an elite strike force is sent to hunt them down, though Amblast (who is still traveling with them) might have something to say about the matter. . .
The more light-hearted, high-spirited tone of earlier episodes of Kiddy Grade is gradually being replaced by a darker, edgier tone as the series approaches its midpoint. Throughout these three episodes tantalizing hints are dropped about the real natures of the ES force and its members, including suggestions that Éclair may actually be far more powerful than she realizes or anyone else has admitted up until this point. A viewer of these episodes should also start to suspect that there may be a reason (beyond general cutesiness and anime stereotypes) why so many of the ES force members seem so young. None of the questions raised by these episodes are answered, but the series is only half done so there's still a lot of time left for the mysteries to be sorted out. This volume also introduces Unou and Aou, the last of the main pairs of ES members, although all the pairs presented so far get at least a little bit of screen time.
The darker shading of the plot in this volume does not dampen the bright, vibrant artistry that has been a hallmark of Kiddy Grade to date. The series features clean lines, smooth animation, and a seamless use of CGI effects to enhance the cel art – but you'd expect nothing less from a GONZO production. The soundtrack does an excellent job of highlighting the action in each scene. Also worth noting is that episode 12 features the first true nudity amongst the minor bits of fan service scattered throughout the series.
The English script is significantly different from the original Japanese in many places, although I did not feel that this created any gross inconsistencies in meaning. The English vocal cast is well-chosen and its actors consistently do a fine job of capturing the essence of their characters in any particular scene. The biggest difference between the English and Japanese voice work is that Monica Rial uses a much higher and gentler pitch for Lumiere's voice than the original Japanese voice actress, but the portrayal is, I think, better that way. English performances in key roles are solid on their own merits, although there is a bit of a quality drop-off in the lesser supporting roles. Overall, fans of dubs should be quite pleased. The opening song, which is in English in the dub, also translates remarkably well. If you haven't paid careful attending to its wording so far, do so now, as the song is now speaking more directly to what's going on in the series than may have been apparent in earlier volumes.
The extras on volume 4 continue the standards set by earlier volumes, i.e. an image gallery, a feature of one of the songs, brief profiles on key characters, and a more detailed dossier on one of the ES force teams (in this case Tweedledum and Tweedledee). Also as in previous volumes, look for an Easter egg in the form of a comical take on copyright legal warnings, which can be accessed by going left from the “back” arrows at the bottom of the Extras screen. Also worth noting is that the opener and closer allow you to use the angle button to switch back and forth between original Japanese credits and their English translations. In a curious move, turning the subtitles on while watching the English dub just gives you a word-for-word rendition of the English script rather than the direct translation of the Japanese script that you get when you choose the Japanese language option.
Kiddy Grade is showing signs of being a much deeper and better series than it originally appeared to be. It is a welcome change of pace for those of us who muddled through the uninspired earlier episodes.