Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Jul 2nd 2003
A brilliant scientist named Dr. Komyoji has invented a robot with a "conscience circuit," a special chip that allows him to think and feel like a normal human. This robot, named Jiro, is destined to endlessly fight Professor Gill, the leader of Dark, an underground crime organization armed with deadly androids. Dr. Komyoji's daughter, Mitsuko, is left with the task of caring for Jiro…and finds herself slowly falling in love.
This may come as a surprise to many, but Kikaider is not your typical Adult Swim Action fare. This first volume contains the first four episodes of the Kikaider saga, and fans of cerebral animation won't be disappointed. Those looking for a quick action fix, however, would do better with something along the lines of Trigun or Inuyasha. Kikaider may be about fighting robots, but the pacing, story structure, and narrative do not focus on the action one bit. If you already have a predilection towards robots, Kikaider might be the show for you; for everyone else, it's a bizarre bit of storytelling that should at least be sampled but maybe not consumed outright.
The most unique things about Kikader are the pacing and narrative structure. This show is paced more like a traditional Japanese film than an anime about fighting robots. The first episode alone takes over half the episode to reveal anything that even resembles fighting; the bulk of the episode is very slow, using deliberate character development. Whether or not you'll find the characters engaging is another story. Jiro is the quintessential confused boy, struggling to understand himself and his powers. Mistuko is wide-eyed in disbelief and shock pretty much the entire time, and her young charge is cursed with some of the most ridiculous and ugly facial expressions ever. He rarely does anything but get mad, shout, or cry. Kikaider might not have the most engaging characters ever, but it's interesting to see the path they were trying to go down with this. The bulk of the series seems to be slow pans across backgrounds while Jiro ruminates on his being. When the story does move forward, typically it's brought to a slow boil before the action starts up. Cowboy Bebop, it ain't, but it's unlike any other robot show out there.
Except Astro Boy, of course, from which Kikaider seems to have stolen all of its best ideas. Dr. Komyoji looks a lot like Dr. Ochanomizu. Jiro is the world's first robot that can think and feel; he has a "soul," just like Atom. Like Atom, he's forced to come to grips with his feelings and impulses, learning to live as a robot in a world dominated by humans. Even the themes and morals are the same. It's probably a good thing Bandai elected to release this before the revamped Astro Boy series hits in the fall. I can't imagine anyone preferring this to Tezuka's classic, and there's way too much being borrowed to ignore the similarities.
Production-wise, Kikaider is perhaps the cheapest-looking show available now. There's very little animation, and the bulk of the series seems to be slow pans across stills while a character with two frames of animation moves slowly across the screen. They'll spend minutes at a time panning in slowly on a character's face while their mouth kinda moves up and down, again with two frames of animation. Even the fight scenes are done on the cheap; there isn't a moment of fluid animation to be found in this show (at least, on this disc), so don't expect to be blown away by the amazing visuals. This show is almost as static as The Violinist of Hamelin, a series from the mid-90s known for having very little animation.
Speaking of visuals, the character designs are a mixed bag, and you'll either love them or hate them. They seem to be a bizarre crossover between Osamu Tezuka's design sensibilities and The Smurfs. Everyone has a squashed-looking head and an upturned nose. Everyone who isn't Jiro or Mitsuko is unbelievably ugly, cursed with a horrible gigantic chin and weird-looking ears and big, empty eyes. The entire planet seems to be covered with these freaks and none of them are gifted with more than a few frames of animation; simply put, with the exception of the backgrounds (which are pretty like the watercolor paintings in any Japanese PC game are pretty), Kikaider is one seriously ugly show. Fans of the genre may not care too much about aesthetic, but it's hard to imagine anyone saying they like this show.
The dub is serviceable. There isn't anything to complain about or praise; it's thoroughly middle of the road. The kid is a little annoying, but that's to be expected. The opening and closing themes aren't anything to write home about, and the music during the show seems particularly sparse. Then again, for a show produced this cheaply, we can't expect a big, abundant musical score.
Overall, if you like your anime slow and deliberate, with a lot of philosophical undertones about man's relationship to machine and the discovery of repressed emotion, Kikaider might be for you. Unfortunately, people who really like to ruminate on topics existential typically don't like their philosophizing interrupted by robot fights. Kikaider is a unique show, a strange, extremely derivative mixed bag that will please a very specific type of fan to no end. Your mileage may vary.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : D
Art : D
Music : C
+ Interesting story, unique presentation
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