Kikaider Vol. #1 (of 4) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, June 19, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, August 05, 2003
What They Say
The genius robotics professor, Dr. Komyoji has created Kikaider – a humanoid robot tasked with the protection of Dr. Komyoji’s son and daughter. Gifted with the ‘conscience circuit’, Kikaider is given the power to simulate real emotions that helps to distinguish between ‘right and wrong’. Can Kikaider protect Dr. Komyoji’s children and battle against the evil Dr. Gill and his army of androids? The fight against world domination lies in the hands of Kikaider.
With a varied history, Kikaider has been revived for a new generation (as have some other Ishinomori properties in recent years), this time being rather faithful to the manga by all impressions.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. Sporting a solid stereo mix, the opening episodes here have a good sense of directionality that’s used primarily for sound effects as opposed to dialogue. There isn’t a lot of depth to it, but the track overall sounds quite good, particularly the instrumental moments. Dialogue is nice and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2000, Kikaider is a series that uses the digital animation look to mesh with the feel of the series 70’s style. This results in some rather great looking areas, but also provides some trouble here and there. The main problem is that there’s chunks of screentime throughout that really suffers from aliasing. The Pinocchio story in the first episode is very problematic as the artwork looks like it’s making a mad dash to be anywhere but where it was drawn. It’ll then settle down for awhile but creep up again, typically during an up or down digital panning sequence. The positive side is that with the very vibrant colors and clean look of the show, this feels and looks like a very stylized color version of the manga.
With this release having been delayed for what seems like a year, this cover art is something that’s been nagging at me for some time. The entire piece is done in the foil material with the front cover using a lot of color in the character design itself but letting the background go silver, allowing for a very rainbow hued piece depending on how you look at it. The cover is definitely stylized, but I don’t know if it’ll get someone to pick it up or cringe. The back cover makes better use of the foil but providing a schematic look at Kikaider while fleshing the rest of it out with artwork and story premise information. The discs features and basic production is clearly listed though a bit hard to read due to the foil on some areas. The front cover and the spine earn extra kudos for listing the volume number while the back cover lists the episode numbers and titles. The insert uses regular painting for a variation of the front cover artwork and opens to a listing of each of the episodes and a summary for them. The back of it provides the full credits listing including bilingual actor credits.
The main menu is nicely done and keeps in theme with the show in a unique way, utilizing the split aspect of some of the Kikaiders designs. The bulk of the screen is a static image of the body blueprint with selections ringed alongside it while the left quarter of the screen has animation from the show playing over the solid aspect of the body shot all while some of the more action oriented music plays. Access times are pretty fast and the menus load nice and quick.
There’s only one extra included in this release and that’s a brief art gallery that showcases several pieces of black and white (pencil?) artwork of the various character designs for the humans and the creatures.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the areas my anime education is lacking is shows from the 70’s. There’s been a fair amount of revivals in the past couple of years as creators either pass on and their works become available or they decide to try and revive something that they haven’t thought about in decades. Shotaro Ishinomori started to gain a bit more recognition last year when a revival of his Skull Man manga came over. Upon realizing that he had been involved in the original Kikaider manga (and presumably in some way with the resulting live action series that was made for kids), I was keen to see what this was like, especially after having zero interest based on Bandai’s trailer for the show.
After taking in these four episodes, it’s likely that Kikaider is going to be another really underappreciated show. The opening volume to this series just oozes with its own sense of style and coolness. One of Ishinomori’s trademarks, at least in my mind, is the creatures that inhabit his worlds and Kikaider is no exception.
The premise is fairly straightforward, as we’re introduced to the gray haired scientist who is working on creating a robot of some sort. This creation is told in parallel to his daughter reading Pinocchio to his much younger son, giving away the basic idea right there of how some of this will play out. Something goes horribly wrong and we see his laboratory go up in flames. The father is missing and so is whatever was created inside, much to the horror of the daughter, Mitsuko.
Enter Jiro, the classic image of a young man from the 70’s with that special kind of hairstyle, the clothes, the frayed bellbottoms and a guitar slung over his back. He’s wandering the countryside trying to figure out who he is, apparently having lost his memory. Through a few not so subtle encounters, it’s easy to see he’s not exactly human. He’s also being followed, and ends up coming across Mitsuko and her brother Masaru, only to be taken into their house as they try to figure out what’s going on.
Mitsuko learns of what Jiro really is through her father leaving a secret message for her, detailing what Jiro is. A highly developed and very powerful android, Jiro also has something called the “conscience circuit”, a piece of hardware in him that should set him to do the right thing. This may not actually be working though, and she learns that if it can’t be repaired, she must eliminate Jiro. Their relationship, as he learns of this, takes an expected twist as he tries to figure out himself and she tries to find him to help him.
The style of this show is very good, with a number of aspects of the look being reminiscent of how much of Leiji Matsumoto’s work has translated into the digital anime age. The lead characters such as Jiro and Mitsuko are done in a traditional design but with the very vibrant look to them, such as having the massive buttons on their clothes and simple straightforward single color clothing items. The bad guys, such as Lord Gill and the creature-androids that he controls that are seeking to destroy Jiro are simplistic but manage to evoke a creepiness to them, particularly when combined with some really nice dark backgrounds. What stands out in an amusing way is the introduction of the detective and his assistant in the third episode, where they’re so comically designed that they don’t “fit” in the design of the world and really stand out, but still manage to not be annoying.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is that’s really intriguing me about the series. So far, it seems pretty simplistic in terms of the storyline with its shades of Pinocchio. The animation is good but has some poor parts to it. But right from the opening sequence, where they layout was so masterfully done as well as having the opening sequence feature just an instrumental piece, such a rarity these days, that it manages to evoke a real mood to the show right from the start that I became very curious at the first episode and almost enthralled by the fourth.
Kikaider has something about it, but it’s elusive at the moment.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Art Gallery
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: C
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2