Do not adjust your sets, the colours are meant to look like that.
Yes, this is Kaiba, a disturbingly whacky sci-fi series set in a universe where memories have been digitised and can be traded if you're lucky enough to have the riches to buy them. The beauty of Kaiba, however, is that it is a multi-faceted series, in that it melds several different genres and philosophies together to become one darkly complicated whole.
At heart, this is a love story, but there are a few major differences. The protagonist - who we'll name Kaiba for now - has amnesia (not an unusual plot device admittedly - see: Elfen Lied, Kanon) and his only memory appears to be related to a photograph of a girl in a pendant he was wearing when he wakes up at the beginning of the series. So, he sets out across the universe to find her. Simple enough, yes?
Well, as I said, Kaiba is a complicated series. While I enjoyed the romance immensely, especially the later sections where we get flashbacks of how the two met and their past, the crux of the series rests on its political and social messages. Due to the nature of using memories and bodies as tradeable amenities, we're invited into a whole new world of thought, where ultimately, it's human life (or alien, as the case may be) that's being traded. This is presented to the audience as an epic journey for Kaiba, where we gradually realise how everything revolves around money, and that everything else is laid to waste in its path - however, where most series would wallow in its misery and ultimately, drown the viewer with it, Kaiba makes good use of characters who live opposed to the views of the worlds. In a sense, we are treated to slice-of-life snippets within the constructs of a science fiction universe.
And Kaiba succeeds at this in remarkable fashion. The odd weaponry, as well as Kaiba's ability to enter into other peoples' memories (and everyone's ability to swap bodies too, it seems) builds a realistic platform for the series, despite the psychedlic animation style. There is no point during the series that this can be dismissed as just another sci-fi series - the social commentary is astoundingly resonant but unfortunately there's just too much of it to talk about it in this review space (my personal favourite would have to be the dynamics of the terrorist organisation Issoudan).
The only reason the story falls down slightly is how slow-burn it can be at times. The asides are well-thought out, but they become a little episodic at times. Luckily, the series' short length saves it and the ending is action-packed enough to make up for the earlier introspection.
Kaiba is one of the most uniquely animated anime series I've ever seen, and definitely the most psychedelic. Even more arthouse titles like Cat Soup and Paprika haven't reached the height of vividness that Kaiba aspires to. Each character is rendered imaginatively, with each being particularly memorable (Kaiba's green hair, Popo's green quiff, Vanilla's likeness to a gorilla).
The art direction is fantastic in its use of flashbacks and the way it fully realises even the most difficult of sci-fi concepts. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones where Kaiba enters other peoples' memories, which are generally conveyed as large rooms with books in (representing memories).
While at first I almost dismissed the series' art because it looked like a children's series, I'm glad that I retracted that within the first few minutes of watching. The choice of art style was inspired and I feel the series would lose a great deal if it had been animated normally. Of course, sometimes it feels like you're tripping out with all the psychedelic paint being liberally thrown about the place, but just every aspect is perfectly realised - from world creation, to animals, to vehicles.
Now, don't get me wrong, what music there is in the series, I love. Every piece of music fits its scene perfectly and the OP in particular is a soothingly peaceful piece of music. Even the voice actors were great, their acting really brought the series together and for a series that relies heavily on its performance to help the viewer stomach its abnormal visuals, this is golden.
However, that's where my praise stops regarding the sound in the series. Simply put, there just wasn't enough of it. It doesn't help that there were a number of episodes that were slow-paced, but coupled with the silence that accompanied most of the scenes, there were points where everything just dragged. Similarly with the seiyuu - fantastic, but underused. The main character doesn't string together a sentence until at least the third or fourth episode, and that's just not enough to convey anything.
Yes, the series is introspective, and to some extent, the lack of sound conveys that. But there were some pretty major points where I wanted to feel the music working my emotions, I wanted its presence or its absence to move me - but I ended up confused by the lack of any music direction. Unfortunately, this is actually one of the times when my viewing experience has been affected negatively my the music and I wouldn't be overly surprised if some viewers can't overcome this barrier of silence.
This is a difficult one to score in that there are a lot of memorable characters, a lot of side-characters and a lot of bodies who aren't characters but that characters reside in. Confused? Yeah, me too.
I think what makes this so hard to consider is that even characters who are in several episodes rarely speak. In fact, by the halfway point of the series, I related more to the ogre of a law enforcement officer, Vanilla, than the protagonist - and for all intents and purposes, his development starts as an antagonist. So you can see my confusion.
I found myself liking the random characters that only appeared in single episodes. The old woman who lives in a lighthouse is a wonderful character and her sentimentality is one that stuck with me long after she disappeared from the series. Also, Chroniko is an odd character to talk about, as she takes on various forms in the series, and it's not always her character that we're asked to judge, but others inside her body. This makes it difficult to understand and even like the characters - even characters I did start to like met untimely ends before they started to develop. At times, Kaiba is ruthless with its characters, and there was at least one point in the series where I thought it was going to bump off every character we met.
However, the second part of the series rectifies this when we're introduced to the various members of Issoudan who become longer-standing cast members. Cheki and Popo are well-developed and their subplot appears a lot more character-driven than any other storyline in Kaiba.
But what I really take away from the series is the sheer wealth of characters we're introduced to. We meet a cat-faced fashion designer who designs new bodies and his faithful dog complete with wind-up tail; we meet an old couple who take holidays to a museum to memories; we meet the terrorist faction whose leader, Dada, appears to have powerful abilities including walking on thin air. If Kaiba had only thought more about full development (and reduced its cast size a little), this would have had another perfect score.
In conclusion, memorable art styles are the way forward. While it was a huge risk to market something as clearly off-the-wall as this, I feel Kaiba has the depth it needs to pull this off. The storyline easily makes up for any misgivings about the childish art style.
And at no point can the series be called childish either. In fact, there are some mature themes dealt with in the series (automated sexual gratification, seductive nudity, murder, extreme unprovoked violence) and I suppose it wouldn't be a dystopia without these - its dealing with these issues makes this dark universe all the more believable.
So in short, Kaiba is definitely a series you must watch if you like to be intellectually challenged by your anime. The romance also develops into one of the sweetest stories aired to date (amidst huge weapons, no less, as seems to happen in sci-fi series). There are some scenes in the anime that will touch even the stoniest of hearts. True, the story gets a little confusing at times, especially when Kaiba swaps bodies, and sometimes the cast becomes a little too temporary, but if you can follow the director's madcap camera angles and fast-paced chase sequences, it's well worth it.
Welcome to a world in which memories can be transferred from body to body; old painful memories can be removed and replaced with new ones, and the poor sell their bodies to the rich to survive. Waking up one day, Kaiba finds himself in a strange place with no memories of his past and a mysterious hole in his chest; the only clue as to his identity is a locket with a picture of a girl hanging from his neck. Armed with this token, Kaiba must now travel across the galaxy to discover who he is and what the girl in the locket means to him; however, his journey will bring him into contact with many people whose lives have been tragically affected by the manipulation of memories. All too soon it becomes clear that something is very wrong with this world…
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