Mania Grade: NA
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- Audio Rating: N/A
- Video Rating: N/A
- Packaging Rating: N/A
- Menus Rating: N/A
- Extras Rating: N/A
- 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
Key The Metal Idol Vol. #1
By Roman Martel
February 14, 2002
Release Date: July 25, 2000
Overall Rating: 4
(on a scale of 1-5)
English Acting: 4
Back during the release of Serial Experiments Lain on DVD, the show that most people compared Lain to was Key The Metal Idol. I really enjoyed Lain and so when Key came out I decided to give it a shot. Is this an accurate comparison? Is Key as good as Lain? Or is it better?
My last Viz purchase was the Ranma OAV box set. That had been done rather well, so I was expecting a lot from Key. Luckily I got it. The sound was top notch. For a TV show it was done very well, nice and clear. The picture was also very sharp and clear. There were some moments of pixellation, but nothing distracting. I will mention that in the first episode there seems to be a jitter in the screen right before a scene change. This is most likely in the original master and not a DVD error. It didn't bother me too much and it only happened a few times in a couple of episodes afterward, but Ladycat found it really annoying. Just a warning, you might be able to ignore it, but than again you might not.
The menu is the best I've seen from Viz yet! It's filled with great music, lots of motion and a real atmosphere to it. There is a slight problem with the menus on both my set ups with the extras portion of the disc. When you first pick the extra's section you see the many selections on the disc. Unfortunately there is no way to know what you have picked. Moving the up or down arrow on my DVD remote appeared to do nothing. When I hit select however I was automatically taken to the character bios. When I returned to the extras menu, a squiggly line over the selection had appeared, and using the arrows on my remote I could move it around. When I tried it on my DVD-ROM I had a similar problem except the first time you go to the extras I am not immediately taken to the character information. You get to go wherever you place with the cursor or however many times you move the arrow key. As I said, this is corrected once you come back from your first selection on this disc. It's a bit of a hassle, but if Viz corrects this in the next disc that would be great.
The presentation of the DVD is pretty good. The cover is eye-catching. The back has some quotes about the show and brief synopsis. It has all the information on the cover; region coding, Dobly Digital 2.0 (in super tiny letters under the Dolby Digital logo), and time. It doesn't have a rating per say, it does say "Not rated. Parental Guidance is Suggested". That's a bit of an understatement. What was interesting was that I had to disable my parental lock on my DVD-ROM to get this to play. I don't know if this was an intended thing or if it was just my player being feisty again. This disc comes with lots of goodies, and would have gotten a 5 if you had been able to read them better. The background on the frequently asked questions section had me straining a bit but the info was really interesting. You get: Interview with the director, Frequently Asked Questions (both in text form), Character information, Concept art, voice credits and DVD credits. This is the best looking Viz title I've seen yet. And to add to it, the content on this one is also top notch.
I can see where people could compare Key to Lain. The two have many similarities to each other. You got a main protagonist who is a girl in junior high. She is uncertain about her own origins. There seem to be mysterious people are after her. Slowly the mystery unravels to reveal the truth about our heroine, but is the truth what she really wants to know, and how will it effect others? That little summary will work for both Key and Lain.
The main difference between Key and Lain is the visual style used to tell the stories. While Lain uses much more style and technique to bring its story to the screen, Key is far more direct. Lain had whole sequences that left you scratching your head, and yet in the end they seemed to make some kind of sense. Key has a few of these moments, but they are often clarified much quicker than in Lain. Key is focused more on the plot and moving it forward, Lain was more focused on the mood and style and used it to move the plot forward. Two very different techniques to tell a similar story.
The first seven episodes of this series focus on Key's first experiences in Tokyo. We are introduced to Key, a young girl who thinks she's a robot. When her grandfather/creator dies he leaves her with this simple task. If she makes 30,000 friends she can become human. Key, being the little logical robot she is, realizes that she must go to Tokyo to meet the most people. Of course, Key is not ready for the dangers of the big city (she lived in a small village before). She encounters a very sleazy porn director who thinks Key would be perfect for his next movie! Before Key becomes indecently exposed, her childhood friend Sakura shows up and saves her. Sakura takes Key in and promises to help her on her quest. Of course this journey is not an easy one. The mysterious Jinsaku Ajo and his henchman "D" are after Key for some reason. Throw in the born again cult leader, Snake Eye, and the mysterious Wakagi (who appears when Key is in danger) and there is a whole lot of intrigue going on. At the end of this disc Key decides to become an idol singer just like the infamous Miho. (helpful hint for Key. People will like your songs if you put just a little emotion in them ;-) )
Of course that little summery is just a small taste of the show. Key is packed with plot points and interesting characters and lots and lots of intrigue. Now don't get me wrong, it's not hard to follow, but it is a lot to take in. In each episode, lots of stuff happens and it all effects the next episodes, so watching this in one big chunk could be more of a detriment than a help.
The animation is pretty good all the way through. As I stated above, it's got its share of interesting animation techniques and angles. This show is not quite OAV quality but it's very good TV quality. I am enjoying the look to it, especially the night scenes and darker scenes. They are well rendered and often leave you feeling more than a bit creeped out (especially when Ajo is in them... that guy should be in a straight jacket). The character designs are a bit unique. This is going for a more realistic look to the show and pulls you in that way. Lain seemed more sterile and less gritty than this show. Again this is just a difference in technique. The grittiness adds a realism, and in this case and it's off set by some of the more surreal and fantastic moments in this show.
The sound works well with the visuals. You've got a great combination of real world sounds and some interesting robotic sounds. As with the visuals the mixture works well and serves to pull you into the reality and at the same time remind you that this world has it's share of the impossible and surreal.
The plot to Key is the important focus. We basically follow Key into the city of Tokyo and experience things with her. On the other end we also follow Ajo and "D" in their quest to perfect the robotic puppets they've created. It's pretty obvious that both of these story lines will collide (they already begin to by the end of the disc). What's interesting is the way the story melds the use of backstory, and character development and still manages to move forward with each episode. This is a solidly written show that doesn't seem to have much filler in it at this point. Every character is well developed and integral to the plot (or will be, by the looks of things). The three and one half hours spent watching Key flew by (yes we watched it in one sitting). And while I am interested to see the rest I'm not panting for it. It's a good story but it hasn't got me completely hooked yet. We'll see how the next disc works.
I thought the English dub was very good. Everyone did a great job in their parts and made the characters seem much more real. I was afraid that Key would get annoying after a while but she works great in the part. In this type of story a good dub makes it more entertaining and easier to follow. I did a quick comparison to the Japanese and found that the English cast does a pretty good job holding their own against the original cast.
The music works on all levels. The score fits the show, and adds the right tension and mood to the scenes. It also uses interesting sound effects to add to certain moments. The actual songs in the show are also excellent. I'm definitely going to get my hands on this soundtrack. I was surprised that Viz chose to dub the songs in the show. With a quick comparison I found that they were also done very well and the singers have the same voice quality as the original singers. Not an easy task to pull off but I have to say it works well in this case.
When it comes right down to it, Key is a great buy for anyone who likes a good plot driven anime. Key is not filled with action or fan service but it moves forward very quickly, develops it characters and keeps you interested in the whole story. As I said above it hasn't got me completely hooked yet, (it took me a while to get hooked on Lain, EVA and Escaflowne as well) but it has potential. I will say that so far it is the best TV series I've seen this year on DVD. Let's see if it can keep out-classing the rest of the competition in the next disc.
Roman J. Martel
Panasonic A110, Pioneer Elite Pro-107 (45 inch screen), Kenwood THX certified 4.1 receiver, Boston Acoustics (5 speakers and 2 subs)