Straight from episode 1 it's clear that Madhouse tries to pull off a narrative in a reversed timeline as the first scene shows a strange boy waking up to discover that he has no memories. The setting is that of a future where memories can be transformed into data and transported from different bodies and as the world is explored more thoroughly, we also receive shattered pieces of information about the protagonist. These do little more than confuse you at first but prove to be vital if you want to comprehend the latter part of the show.
Pulling off a story with such an unconventional timeline takes creativity, but Madhouse is up to the challenge. Amongst the numerous clever plot twists and shocking revelations they bring up several questions of relevance; can the concept of a free will truly exist in a world where memories and one’s physical form is so easy to tamper with? And is a technological advancement that trivializes the vitality of one's memories and the body one was born into, an insult to nature and life itself? Several other issues that become relevant with body-swapping and such are the less pleasant topics of sexuality that happens to be a not precisely prominent but still featured theme. People in the Kaiba universe have been known to download false sexual memories for their own pleasures, as well as create their own collections of mindless children to abuse.
Kaiba proves to be an intellectually satisfying ride with an equal ability to confuse and enlighten. Remain concentrated though, and I promise that everything will turn clear when the show is finished!
From the more experimental depths of studio Madhouse comes a mind-numbingly amazing piece of visual eye-candy that would justify watching Kaiba even if the story was horrendous. Eccentric character designs merge with a world of strange shapes and colors that use the potential of sky-high production values to be about as memorable as the animation in Mononoke. Action scenes are usually impressive, and my only real complaint is that a few episodes (the latter ones in particular) seem to fail in bringing the same visual splendor to the screen as their predecessors.
It could be argued that Kaiba's soundtrack is way too minor to fit a story of such extravagance, but just like in Serial Experiments I saw the muted use of music to be both favorable and negative. Most of the scores are memorable and well-made, but there are many emotional key moments that are accompanied with nothing but silence. The emotional punches tend to hit you effectively regardless thanks to excellent scripting and voice acting, but obviously they would have reached even higher levels of impact if they were backed up by some music.
The opening theme, as well as the ending theme, is a calm and most fitting song that lays out expectations for the sci-fi love story you're about to see.
In the end, this section is not rated positively due to an abundance of likeable characters. In truth, the individuality in Kaiba is so muted due to the constant swapping of bodies that you might end up perceiving each character as pretty much devoid of any form of personality. What becomes important is thus the way they interact and change over time, and in the end you might discover that they were in fact better than you thought.
Without resorting to spoilers I might just add that many characters are revealed to hold extremely fundamental secrets related to their actual identities that are exposed later on, but only implied in earlier scenarios. Your personal perception is bound to change over time as you learn new, unpredictable, things about characters that seemed trivial at first. Said unpredictability is most likely one of the key factors to Kaiba’s awesomeness.
Though-provoking, extremely well structured and filled to the brim with frame after frame of artistic wonder; Kaiba is that rare anime that has shockingly few flaws that you can expose. I also reckon that it's rewatch-friendly as it might be fun to search for details in the storyline when you already know the largest aspects of the world. Warmly recommended anime from a person who rarely likes anything this much!
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