Reviewby Justin Sevakis, Apr 25th 2008
Several years after the events in Kite, a new teenage assassin is cleaning up the gritty streets of Tokyo. Her name is Monaka, and her calling card is an explosion of feathers scattered across her bloody crime scene. To everyone else, however, Monaka is a clumsy teenager moonlighting in a maid café trying to get enough money to move out of her uncle's apartment. Her father is an astronaut on the international space station, and she hasn't seen him for four years. But as unbelievable as all that is, even she'd never believe what's become of him in space.
In 1998's Kite, Yasuomi Umetsu explored the dark, gritty world of a teenage girl assassin. Though little more than a clone of La Femme Nikita on the surface, the piece was practically drowning in atmosphere (to say nothing of the hardcore sex scenes, added as a compromise to get the film produced in the first place). Violence was cranked up to achieve a sort of visual poetry; a hyper-realistic backdrop of urban decay that echoed the loneliness and emotional turbulence of its protagonist, the abused girl assassin Sawa.
Those expecting more of the same in Kite Liberator, which is more of a spin-off than a direct sequel coming ten years later, will probably not find what they're looking for. Indeed, this new work has little in common with its predecessor, other than the general set-up of a girl assassin.
Actually, Monaka isn't so much an assassin as much as she is a super-hero. Often springing into the scene just when a dastardly act is about to be committed, she saves the day when the police aren't able, filling criminals full of holes and leaving a trail of feathers in her wake. Each afternoon she works for Rin Gaga, a flaming middle-aged punk rocker with a lovely eyepatch and a creepy maid café at the edge of town. She lives with her uncle and cousin, and while there's nothing particularly horrible about the life she leads, like most teenagers she's aching to get out on her own.
Meanwhile, her father is an astronaut on the international space station. Due to an unfortunate mishap with the new medically-enhanced curry rice served aboard the ship combined with the radiation of the sun in space, he and a fellow astronaut are transformed into lethal killing machines made of solid bone. Never mind how the science of this is supposed to work; the show seems to realize how ludicrous this is and proceeds without working up an explanation. After destroying the space station and killing hundreds, new Calcium Fortified Daddy crash-lands in Tokyo. Only Monaka can stop him!
At this point, one might intuit that it's nearly impossible to take this OAV seriously. One of these admittedly tired anime set-ups might be difficult (or at least, slightly unpleasant) to swallow. When both of these worlds combine they simply become ludicrous. One might think this unintentional if it weren't for an increasing pattern of silly homages peppered throughout the show, building to a crescendo just as the story reaches its climax. They're subtle, but depending on how easily you can recognize all the genre tropes, they're pretty damn funny.
Umetsu, who is nearly 40 at this point, cut his teeth in the anime industry during the OAV boom of the mid 80s. Kite Liberator seems to reflect fondly on those days, when the musings of a young man -- usually involving science fiction, cute girls, violence, monsters or some combination thereof -- could get funding for production with little to no adult supervision. The result was usually something of a bizarre mish-mash (sometimes barely making sense), but just as often engrossing and even mind-blowing in its day.
Kite Liberator seems to take the modern expectations of realism and lovability (moe, if I must use the term here) and uses them to pay homage to these 80s orgies of visual spontaneity in a deliberately male flight of fancy: in one scene Monaka will trip over herself and cutely spill a drink, in the next she'll be doing backflips and filling a criminal full of holes. Then she'll be falling in love, eating ice cream, and going through her spreadsheet of hit jobs. Minutes later, she'll be fighting her calcium monster father, realizing that her exploding bullets don't work when there's no skin to penetrate. Just when the genre clash can't get any more ridiculous without falling off the metaphorical cliff, as if sensing that he's taken the silliness about as far as he can, Umetsu does what the last episode of The Sopranos did: he stops.
The technicals are inspired without being lavish, clearly being more the product of hard work than an overflowing budget. CG looks mostly good (with the exception of one or two awkwardly rendered cell-shaded cuts) but 2D is where the piece really shines. The attention to detail and consistency is nothing short of stunning. Seldom does a character have so much as a hair that strays off model. Music is lush and orchestral, punctuated with sweet ballads performed by voice actress Marina Inoue.
Voice directing, on the other hand, were never Umetsu's strong point, and the Japanese cast (lead by Inoue as Monaka) turns in unformly passable but uninspired performances. The English dub by Bang Zoom works a talented cast and a good eye for dialogue to mostly strong effect (Xanthe Huynh as Monaka particularly shines in her moments of feminine strength), but the production is sloppy. I've never seen so little regard paid to matching lip-flap in an English production before. In many places, it seemed like the Japanese matched the mouths better; in others, it seems like some sound effects have even been bumped out of sync.
Many will hate Kite Liberator. As a story it makes little sense. It chops and splices genres in the silliest way possible. Admittedly, it isn't as effective as it could have been. The straight-forward nature of many scenes doesn't quite maintain the goals of the piece as a whole. But taken as a gentle, self-reflective Tarantino-style satire, it works. And lord, if it isn't a whole lot of fun...
Overall : B
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Beautiful artwork and attention to detail. Smart dialogue, particularly in the dub.
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