Key The Metal Idol Vol. #1 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000
Release Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000



What They Say
Will you be one of Key’s friends? Her classmates at school called her Key, as in the key to a strange mystery. Key’s grandfather was a kindly old scientist wanting to use his skill in robotics to create peace and love in the world. But when that kindly old scientist passed away, poor Key was left behind, lacking even the ability to smile. There still is hope, however - a message left behind for Key suggests a fantastic possibility. Could it really be possible for Key to become a real, live human, if she can only win the love of 30,000 people?

A dark, haunting tale of cybernetic sci-fi dreams, spiritual visions and the turbulent world of Japanese pop music, Key The Metal Idol will haunt and amaze you.

The Review!
Originally released in the mid 90's and licensed by Viz, Key The Metal Idol has been compacted from it's VHS incarnation to it's DVD release, providing maximum value and maximum entertainment... providing you like shows similar to Serial Experiments Lain. This is pretty similar, though not as "warm and fuzzy" as one chat regular put it.

The audio tracks contain both English and Japanese. The Japanese track sounds a bit fuller compared to the English track and just a touch louder. Performances in both tracks were quite good, with the voice actress for the title character doing a solid performance on both sides of the language. There's some decent directionality across the front soundstage in some of the action sequences, but this is primarily a dialogue show with many quiet moments. The music does come across very nicely though, especially the opening song. Both language versions are quite haunting.

One of the big selling points of this disc is that it contains the first seven OVA's on it, or roughly 210 minutes of animation. While this is indeed a selling point, there are some natural downsides to over 3 hours of animation on it. Overall the animation looks very good and the transfer generally solid, there are a few problems. Throughout the disc, there are some fairly visible artifacts, though the most noticeable ones I found were during the sixth episode inside the cult shrine. Backgrounds were shifting and blocky. There's some pixellation and line noise throughout as well, but it's fairly minimal and doesn't really detract. In terms of the master itself, it looks good overall but there are a few issues there as well. Some scenes were very soft compared to others. There's a bit of grain in some of the early episodes as well.

One other thing that came up in terms of the master is a shiftiness when a scene cuts to another scene. Most noticeable during the opening sequence of the first episode, it shifts left and right and all over. This is part of the master itself and was on the original VHS run as well. It basically comes down to how the show was originally edited in Japan. Many people won't notice this (as it does show up on many shows) and I didn't notice it the first time I watched it either. A second viewing with the knowledge of it, and it's noticeable. My wife took the same approach, and it was only noticeable to her then as well. I doubt it'll bother many people overall, but there's nothing to be done about it either way.

The packaging used for the release is pretty nice, if a little bland. The front cover image does give a bit away in terms of the story, but does illustrate the whole genesis/story beginning motif pretty well. The back cover gives a few choice quotes and a brief summary of the first few episodes. Features are listed prominently and disc information is pretty well laid out as well. The insert has another nice piece of artwork and lists all seven episodes and their associated chapter listings (which are laid out quite nicely, with opening/part a/part b/ending/preview). The disc itself has a variant of the front cover silk-screened on it as well.

A bit of work was put into the menus for this release as well, as they're well detailed and laid out. Animation from the series opening is well used as well as music. The general mechanical feel of things is incorporated into the menu backgrounds as well, which looks good. The only problem is at times the text portions of the extras mesh into the background, making it hard to read them.

Speaking of the extras, there's some nice ones included. The standard image gallery is nicely done with 43 images of both animation images and conceptual pieces of artwork. The character profiles are solid as well. As mentioned above, the frequently asked questions and directors interview can be a bit hard to read, but are definitely worthwhile. A creditless opening and ending would have been nice, though hopefully for the next volume as this disc is a bit maxxed out.

Even with the few problems evident in this disc, the content itself is a sure winner. The story revolves around the high school girl Key, who is really a robot that was created by her "Grandfather". He upgraded her body every year it looks like, which allowed her to grow up with people, though she didn't really have very many friends.

Things go awry however when the Grandfather dies, and her time is limited in terms of power supply. He passes along a final tape with the information that if she can get 30,000 friends, she can become real, much in the vein of the classic tale of Pinocchio.

Realizing that she can't get this many friends in the little town she lives in, she heads off to Tokyo, where she's quickly picked up by an adult video producer. The company was appropriately called VA Productions, which just made me laugh out loud. From there things begin their spiral as many elements are introduced, from the PPOR project that's building high tech military automatons, to the apparent metal idol Miho that is controlled by the same company, the snake cult priest who brings Key to his shrine to help revive a dying boy...

And on it goes. A lot of elements come in and out of play, as well as solid secondary characters and hints of possible relationships. This disc brings us up to the halfway mark in the OVA series, and a lot of things are introduced and the setting is brought into play quite well.

The pacing overall is very well done, though it may be a bit slower for a lot of people, much in the same way that Lain was. The music is wonderful and appropriate since it's about idols to an extent (so far). The animation itself is quite nice, definitely OVA quality from a few years back. My personal favorite so far is Key's friend Sakura. Hubba hubba.

Key the Metal Idol brings about some interesting ideas and sets up the story nicely. Hopefully the next disc will pay off in terms of bring much of the story to resolution or at least to segue into the two movies for a conclusion. Key is a good release overall that may have fared better with less episodes on the disc or a better master. Still recommended however!

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Conceptual Art,Character Profiles & Info,Text Interview with director Hiroaki Sato,Frequently Asked Questions

Review Equipment
Toshiba CF36H50 36" TV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster S-Video cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 210
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Key the Metal Idol