The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide
KADO: The Right Answer
How would you rate episode 1 of
KADO - The Right Answer ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
A first contact scenario that doesn't immediately turn into an apocalyptic shootout? Yep, looks like we've got some proper grown-up science fiction on tap for this season. With a cast of (mostly) reasonable adults and an underlying theme of negotiating instead of fighting, Kado is setting itself up as a series that can provide some genuine food for thought. With plenty of other titles lined up to provide action and spectacle, this is a niche that I'm happy to see filled. Quickly, to the meeting room!
This double-episode premiere makes an interesting choice by devoting its opening story arc to something much more mundane than its core subject material. We get a chance to see the main character display his negotiating abilities in the relatively ordinary context of keeping a factory open. It provides a useful baseline for Shindo's personality, and also allows us to meet most of the ensemble cast before the big rainbow space cube shows up. I'm not convinced it's a storyline that needed a full episode to play out, but helps alleviate the inevitable scramble to remember who everyone is and where they work.
Once the big cube does arrive, things pick up in a manner that feels pretty realistic. There's an obvious rush to pull the airline passengers out of the mystery box, but nobody goes crazy and hits the big red “START WAR” button. This is an encouraging sign, because it implies that Kado is more interested in what an otherworldly being's arrival might mean than it is in the excitement of the event itself. The big question will be whether or not the characters can reach an understanding with the alien. For my money, that's a much more intriguing question than whether or not yet another angst-ridden teenage boy will be able to pilot another giant robot.
Of course, your mileage with Kado will vary depending on what you're looking for in a sci-fi anime series. These episodes could easily feel mind-numbingly boring if you went in expecting more of a thriller setup, and it does admittedly take quite a while for the show to start dropping its best hooks. I'm also a little worried that the cast seems to be divided into “comedy relief” and “calm adult professional” camps, though there's plenty of time to develop their personalities later in the season. For now, Kado has posed plenty of questions and I'm curious about what the answers might be. That's more than enough to hold my interest.
Most of the early signs are good for Funimation's English dub. The script punches up the dialogue to make it sound a little less formal than the subtitle track, but generally avoids going overboard. The result is a little more individuality in each character's lines, which may help add some extra personality to what has been a rather impersonal story thus far. Ian Moore delivers a solid performance as Shindo; the character sounds a little younger than he does in the Japanese version, but not to such an extent as to be distracting. Kyle Igneczi strikes a good balance as Hanamori, preserving the character's goofy side without making him seem incompetent.
Since we only have episode 0 to go on at the moment, there are still a lot of blanks to be filled in. A lot will depend on how the dub handles major characters who haven't had any screen time yet, like zaShunina and Tsukai. For now though, things appear to be on the right track. Casting choices, scripting, and performances are all solid in the first episode. The dub also boasts at least one advantage over the original: English-speaking viewers don't have to split their attention between the dialogue and the on-screen translations of each character's name and job title.
KADO is a bit of an odd one. I'm not surprised this show released its first episode as “Episode 0” along with the proper Episode 1 premiere – after all, episode zero is essentially just a mediocre salaryman procedural, the kind you might find in a modern Japanese novel or playing as a prime time drama. But after a good twenty minutes of “jeez, our ace bureaucrat-negotiator Shindo sure is helping this steel company adjust to the modern age,” a giant cube manifests over Tokyo and swallows Shindo's plane whole. So I guess we've got our premise.
Even with that scifi shift, KADO still feels like a show that might have been planned as a boilerplate prime time thriller. The character work and storytelling are strictly functional, the show doesn't seem to have any aspirations beyond being a page-turner, and the visual execution is pretty lackluster. The show relies heavily on awkward CG characters, and even has scenes that combine traditionally animated and CG characters in active conversations. Outside of the cube, which is rendered in CG anyway, there's nothing about this story's visual execution or storytelling that makes it feel particularly specific to its medium. You could well see this show popping up right after CSI.
That said, as far as shows that pop up right after CSI go, KADO is a perfectly competent thriller. Dull episode zero aside, the actual premiere keeps up a snappy pace as it explores the consequences of this giant cube, offering small narrative cliffhangers all along the way. The show's broader, government-focused perspective is also refreshing; we get to see how a wide variety of government branches interact with this one larger conflict, offering a sense of urgency and solidity to the overall narrative.
So far, KADO is basically just a reasonably well-paced page turner. The show's visual execution is mediocre and its character work strictly functional, so its appeal comes almost entirely down to how much you want to know what happens next. That's not really my kind of show, but if you're in the market for a traditional thriller with a scifi twist, KADO is solidly written so far. By the end of this episode I did want to know what happens next, so KADO seems to be working as intended.
Most of episode 0 of this aimed-at-adults series plays out like the whole series is going to focus on Shindo as he goes around solving bureaucratic problems in his own inimitable way: with a heavy emphasis on negotiation and thorough research. Indeed, I think a successful series could be made of just that, as while navigating bureaucracy seems frightfully tedious and dull on the surface, watching someone who knows how to work the system to solve problems could be very insightful. But then, at the end of the episode, the series finally reveals its true colors in a dramatic scene where an alien cube descends from the skies and swallows up the airliner that Shindo was going to be taking off in.
I didn't read any description of this series ahead of time, so boy, that was a twist that I didn't see coming, as there was zero indication up to that point of an eventual sci fi angle. Episode 1 spending its first few minutes replaying a slightly expanded version of the same scene was a waste of time, but I actually didn't have a problem with the series taking most of the rest of the episode to show how the bureaucracy and a too-young scientist cautiously approach the matter of the mysterious cube; too many series either jump right in at this point and/or don't bother to take time with the details. The exuberant behavior of the scientist did irritate me a bit, as it seemed too starkly at odds with the serious and heavy tone of the two episodes, but it's forgivable in light of how well the writing sets up the climactic scene where Shindo emerges from the cube along with the being calling hmself Yaha-kui. I don't think any other series so far this season has landed a stronger or more intriguing plot hook to end its proper first episode.
I have to wonder, though, if episode 0 was actually necessary for setting all of this up. To be sure, it did showcase Shindo's skill set and thus lays a foundation for why he's an ideal choice to negotiate with the government on the behalf of an alien, but by shortening a few things in episode 1 here and there time for a more condensed version of it could have been fit into the same episode. That they did it in more stretched-out form suggests a very deliberate pace throughout, and despite my earlier praise of the writing for being thorough, this makes me very leery about how involving the content can remain. But the first couple of episodes look good and present an interesting situation, so this should be another solid offering for older-leaning crowds.
Well Toei, I can't believe you did it, but you did it. You finally made a CG anime that doesn't make my eyes want to burrito up in my eyelids for safety like gerbils during a thunderstorm (yet).
To be honest, most of Kado's visual success compared to peers like Knights of Sidonia and BBK/BRNK comes down to what it doesn't do. This show's CG is much easier on the eyes due to slight technological advances and a purposeful combination with traditional animation in most shots to get your brain used to the blend, but there's another saving grace at play here under the surface. Previous CG anime have tried too hard too fast to imitate the organic visual effects (fiery explosions and alien ooze in Sidonia) or squash and stretch expressiveness (painful attempts at cartoonish or superdeformed animation in BBK) of their traditionally animated counterparts. Kado plays to its visual strengths by focusing the story around working adults who express themselves with restrained body language, then introducing aliens whose flat-textured and sharp-edged technology seems right at home in simplistic CG, choosing to show off with otherworldly kaleidoscopic overlays on the alien cube rather than ill-advised attempts at detailed gun-metal gray. It's not flawless by any means, but by playing it safe, this is the least distracting and disturbing attempt at cel-shaded CG I've seen yet, good enough that I'd feel comfortable watching the show if the story is compelling enough. Well done!
So where does that leave the story? Just like the visuals, it's nothing spectacular, but it's surprisingly good too! There are some definite hiccups in terms of getting to the point, but the plot that's finally established after two episodes is intriguing. Kado seems kinda like a bright and cheery version of Arrival where the focus remains on the nitty gritty particulars of alien invasion and diplomacy, but unlike in Amy Adams' version, everyone seems to be getting along pretty well at the outset. Because Toei wanted to devote episode 1 to action and worldbuilding, I get why episode 0 was made, but I still think it would be wiser to have tried to mush the two together. There are other ways to establish that our hero is a thoughtful master negotiator than spending twenty minutes on the fate of a steel mill.
It's a lot of great ideas with uncertain but by no means poor execution so far, and if it can pick up the pace and continue to balance its worldbuilding dives with character development (the greatest strength of the script so far), I'll be happy to put my usual revulsion for cel-shaded CG anime to the side to enjoy a solid story.
Kōjiro Shindō has the right answer for everything. So much so that his reputation precedes him at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other department heads recognize him as a force to be reckoned with. That isn't to say that he's overly aggressive. He has that special kind of businessman intimidation that comes with being highly competent at his job. Toei wants the audience to get a deep sense of this aspect of his character and so the staff spends an extra 25 minutes on an “episode 0” that contains none of the anime's main sci-fi hook just to establish Kōjiro. I'd dare say you could skip it entirely if you're not interested in watching a character work the system to get an old factory back on its feet, but I found it engaging despite how rote that short synopsis makes it sound.
I credit this to the precursor episode being really well paced. It never spends too much time wallowing in government jargon or expository dialogue about the secondary characters. The audience gets a good sense of Kōjiro and his coworker and “roommate” Shun Hanamori's relationship. (Checking in bros: have you ever removed your buddy's pants while he's passed out drunk because you didn't want him to sleep uncomfortably? Asking for a friend.) By the time we get to the real premiere episode, the audience has a good grasp on the protagonist. Unfortunately, he spends that premiere trapped in an alien cube and we get stuck with child-like scientist Kanata Shinawa filling up the majority of the screen time. Kanata is one of those obnoxious character archetypes that quickly grates on my nerves and she's leading the government's investigation into exactly what the giant cube is and why it's appeared.
Again, the idea of watching government bigwigs sitting around a table and talking about an impenetrable shape sounds dull as dishwasher but Kado is effectively paced and its tight script keeps things chugging along up until its climax where Kōjiro finally reemerges. The show's animation choices, though, are a bit of a headscratcher. The entire prologue episode is presented in traditional animation up until Kōjiro and Shun board their plane. It then switches to full CG animation and stays that way through the first episode. Kado was advertised as being a CG anime, so I'm not sure why it isn't that way from the get go. CG anime can be notoriously rough and I personally have a hard time looking past the medium's noodle limbs, staggered facial emotions, and poorly matched lip-flapping. Color me surprised but I had none of those problems with Kado. If you usually avoid CG anime on principle, give this one a shot. I found it steps ahead of, animation-wise, of BBK/BRNK.
I'm more than intrigued to see where this one is going. The next episode teases that we'll find out what happened inside the cube. Hopefully we'll find out that platinum-haired alien is a Lovecraftian harbinger of doom. But probably not.
The first episode, numbered “0,” is not a good indication of what this story is about. It does, however, set the stage for the real plot, by not only introducing us to the ridiculously large cast of government workers (and if you're bad with character names like I am, the dual intro is very useful), but also by assuring that we get to know the series' protagonist, government negotiator Shindo Kojiro. Since episode one throws us into the actual action, this is important, because despite his awesome negotiating skills, Shindo's a fairly quiet character, showing more in his actions than his words.
This is a case where showing rather than telling works especially well. Shindo's a detail guy, but rather than just having someone comment on that, we see him examining everything in the office of the factory he's been sent to, slipping away to talk to workers while his partner Hanamori discusses things with the owner, and later crafting intricate origami animals. For Shindo, the little things all come together to create the big ones, which is part of what makes him so good at his job. It also feels like it could be a simile for the giant puzzle box that engulfs the plane he and Hanamori are on at the end of episode zero – its surface is constantly shifting, changing hues and patterns with a kaleidoscopic bizarreness. It gives off the impression of not being a single cube, but many things in cube shape, its surface reflecting the things within.
For a show that relies largely on government meetings, who-you-know vs what-you-know, and lots of people in suits talking, Kado: The Right Answer is surprisingly engaging. Even before the arrival of the cube, watching Shindo work his magic is fascinating, and the relationships between the characters also carry hints of who they might be when work is over; for example, Shindo and Hanamori feel closer than just friends, particularly given the amount of touching the two do and how casual they seem about it. The tension when the box lands on the plane is palpable, all the more so because everyone is making such a concerted effort not to be. (Security ministry member Natsume Ritsu seems the most concerned, or at least hides it less than the others.) The character of goofy scientist Dr. Shinawa does ruin this carefully created atmosphere somewhat, both in the fact that she's way too excited about a plane with 252 people simply disappearing inside a weird cube-thing at 10:05 am on July 25, 2017, but also because she's the most stereotypical character in the cast so far.
The animation is a bit more of an issue, with somewhat clunky CG being used for the people being much more of an issue in episode one; it isn't noticeable until the scenes that replayed at the start of episode one in the prequel. The music, on the other hand, really enhances things nicely, especially the ending theme.
On the whole, Kado is much more than I expected. It's intriguing, manages to tell enough without giving in to melodrama, and gives us just enough before cutting us off to wait a week. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more.
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