The story for Key the Metal Idol is good. There were a lot of things I couldn't guess at, or that I guessed wrong- and for me that's a good thing because it spoils an anime if I can predict all of the plot events. Part of the reason I think it was hard to predict was because of how bizarre it all is. The plot was also interesting, and there are smaller sub plots going on underneath the surface to follow, as well. There are a lot of things to pay attention to.
For the most part the plot sticks to the scifi and mystery elements of the series and problem solving- any romance in the series is only one of those subltle sub plots I was talking about.
I think it's worth noting that sometimes the english dub doesn't explain things as thoughly or clearly as the subtitled japanese dialogue does. I watched the dub with the subtitles visible (something rare for me- but the dub sounds good and it was nice to be able to look away for a second and not miss something. ) so I could see differences and not miss anything- and the differences weren't huge, but they were notable and could sometimes alter your perception or understanding. I thought the english subs explained the "gel" better, for example.
The plot is coherent and you can follow one thing to the next- although at some parts I had to rewind to make sure I didn't miss anything, or go over it again. I watched a couple episodes twice because I watched them half awake and felt like I didn't get it all. This anime doesnt really spoon feed revelations to you- sometimes the scene where you learn something will be very short- or the explanation won't be long or detailed- but I think this is on purpose so everything is slowly revealed in its entirety, keeping you curious and on your toes to look for small clues hidden throughout the episodes. This isn't an anime to watch casually while you do something else. the end, there are a couple of things I still wonder about but they are very small questions. For the most part they manage to tie all the loose ends and it's pretty obvious what happens. (spoiler alert- I wish they had done one more episode showing everyone's life after the ending events, where everyone ends up and how they live on.)
I don't really think the animation for Key is anything special- maybe it is a little better than some other titles studio Pierrot put out in the 90's, though. It wasn't, in my opinion, noticably jerky, awkward, or filled with distracting stillnesses- but it wasn't anything noteworthy. The art is pretty standard looking, with the exception of Key's odd character design, which stands out compared to the ultra standard looking Sakura and Shuuichi.
I really liked the english op/ed for this series, I think they will make it on to my Ipod ;) There is something haunting about them and I found myself listening to them fully almost every time.
For the english dub the voice acting is very good!! There weren't alot of great dubs around this time period in my opinion but this is an exception. However it does what a lot of dubs of the time period did, where certain things get lost or slightly changed in translation. (I think more recent efforts to adapt anime into english have made an effort to cut down on this compared to in the 90s where a lot of titles changed significantly when they were translated, sometimes becoming almost different shows ... which is why alot of people, including me, have become subtitle snobs for the most part.)
The Japanese seiyuu sounded good too, although to be honest I did mostly watch the dub with the subtitles playing for this one.
There were alot of interesting sounds used thoughout the anime indifferent ways- the sounds of a robotic body, the ticking of a clock, the lullaby that plays through the pc... aurally, this anime is pretty intriguing.
I think that Key the Metal Idol had really good characters. There was something about them which made them more than 2 dimensional, they had multiple facets to their personalities like real people. They weren't perfect- even the good ones were sometimes selfish, or weak, or surprisingly immature. Lisewise, most of the bad guys (with the exception of the insanely evil Ajo) also have things about them which make them understandable, human, and sometimes even kind of likable. The subtleties of the characters really makes this show great. You want to figure them all out but you feel like- just like real people- you can't know everything. They don't have just one motive like most simple anime characters- and sometimes their actions are a little difficult to decipher the motivation for.
I absolutely fell in love with Sakura Kuriyagawa! Loyal freind, strong woman with good common sense and street smarts and a tsundere personality akin to Akane from Ranma 1/2- with a classic beauty like Madoka- she looks and acts like she could have come right out of a Rumiko Takahashi manga on the outside. But underneath that is a more complicated person- a person who can't help but being a little bit selfish sometimes. A mature person with secrets, and hopes and dreams that aren't all obvious.
This next part may be a spoiler for those who haven't seen. Use caution ;)
I think the realism of the surrounding characters really points out the lack of humanity in Key. It's obvious that she is the least explained or fleshed out personality in the series, despite being the main character I had a feeling the whole time that I didn't really know what she was thinking, what she was capable of doing, or if she was really "good" and would save the day, r choose to be selfish instead. Some people really don't like this about Key, I've noticed in a couple reveiws people were very annoyed by the lack of personality in the MC. However, I think this is a purposeful point of the anime. For most of the story Key is supposed to be a robot, the show creates tension from her lack of a personality and sometimes frustrating or tiring lack of understanding and humanity. You see how it is hard on Sakura to live with such a person. The anime explores themes of humanity and what makes us human- I don't think it's any accident or failure of the writers that Key seems so boring, flat, and unknown compared to the well rounded, imperfect humans around her. Sometimes watching I felt like "screw Key, what about Sakura and Shuuichi? What will happen to them as they try to save a girl with no personality who can't help herself or anyone else?" and I became more invested in the humans. Its easier to care about them, It's not surprising because watching it we feel like we don't know Key- which is true, because her human self still lies dormant. We only see it for breif moments- a glimpse of the person we never get to know, because the whole plot of the anime is setting her free. When we finally do see her it's obvious she's someone we've never met, with emotions and feelings completely new and seperate from Robot Key- emotions that wouldnn't be so surprising, moving, or impactful if they were fabricated before to make Key more "interesting" early on. I dont think this anime lacks for having Key be so flat and frustrating- I think it succeeds!
I really enjoyed watching this anime. It's a keeper and I'll probably watch it again. It wasn't the best anime ever, or even in my top 10, but it definately deserves a solid 8. If you find yourself attracted to the 90's animation and the mysterious, unique plot- give it a watch~! I dont think it will dissapoint you. It might dissapoint you if you are one of those people who like very scientifically accurate sci-fi, though.
What I Liked: Both the OP and ED. The fact this series practically screams "experimental" at times. The final act is quite nicely handled. Has a interesting mix of ideas and themes, using Pinocchio-style motifs to deconstruct Idol culture and hint at the intersection between mythology and science. Pacing is good, if not slow, until the final two episodes. Visuals are solid for the most part, especially when it comes to the robots, the cityscapes and the concert scenes.
What I Didn't: The fact this series practically screams "experimental" at times. Viewers may be deterred by the fact the last two episodes are both 90 minutes long. Episode 14 and the first half of episode 15 is just an incredibly clumsy feature-length info-dump. YMMV if you're at all squeamish - there's a fair amount of violence and disturbing sexual content. Key herself can feel rather passive to the point of annoyance, depending on your point of view.
Final Verdict: An interesting deconstruction of Idol culture, Key the Metal Idol is an ambitious experiment that risks being overencumbered by all its ideas. Sure, it's a rather pretty experiment with good visuals and an even better soundtrack, but the poor handling of the penultimate episode nearly undoes this nicely complex cyberpunk tale.
Usually gets decent reviews, but I found the overly placid and feebly pathetic lead character to completely turn me off the series before I could finish it.
Don't take my word for it if it appeals to you, even though it appealed to me and my hopes were DASHED. If you like dissapoinment then be my guest. I took this on holiday with me to deal with 4am jetlagged awakenings. Imagine watching something so dull that you would rather be asleep, but it can't even get that right.
Bad animation, crap sound, awful characters, lame tired story.
Dementia anime were scarse back when this show aired and made quite an impression for that reason. It is also a surprise to come from a studio such as Pierrot, since it is not yet another silly shounen adventure. Its production values though are poor, as the norm goes in most of their titles.
Like a Picasso painting, it is symbolic and artistically speaking the series is exceptional. At first glance, it has no attractive artwork, eye-catchy character figures or even originality in the backgrounds. Yet if you start to notice what’s going on under the surface you find various optical tricks and imagery to actually make you feel what the characters feel. The teaser in the beginning of every episode and the intro song are breath taking, without using explosions and other fancy but otherwise pointless visual effects. Fast camera changes, insane grimaces, serious tone of voice, mute characters moving while the sound of spinning cogs is heard, weird body mutilations, eerie songs and many more truly make you feel the anxiety, sadness or madness the characters experience. Forget about those ridiculous splatter movies that try to be scary by having a monster chasing and killing naked chicks. This series is scary by simply looking into the eyes of someone or even by the darkness enveloping the action.
The visuals are of course quite dated after all these years and many new viwers will have a hard time to watch the show. If the whole thing feels rather dull and crude, then try to see it this way. As in any good mecha series, you care about the pilots as much as you do about the cool robots. This series is not of the mecha genre but has robots. You are not supposed to care about how cool they are drawn or how great they fight (they are pretty ugly and slow to begin with). You are supposed to stick to the symbolisms and the body language, which tend to be rather subtle half the time. The show simply looks nice (in an artistic way of course, as it has lots of dementia that screws with your mind).
The series is, amongst other things, also about pop idols. It has nice songs that are not deified in any way as in other titles that promote singing. They don’t even do a playback most of the time so they feel more natural. Also, the voices vary from emotionless to over the top, so they have both variety and fit with the personality of their character.
The premise is very interesting and the story is philosophical and allegorical; exploring the things that make us human, set us apart from machines and turn us into monsters. It is a blend of Pinocchio, Ghost in the Shell and Looking for the Full Moon all in one. A girl that is considered to be a robot is raised by a mad scientist. The scientist dies while leaving a message that tells her to become human before her batteries run out. She must make 20.000 friends in order to do that so the only way she can think is religion or becoming a pop idol. She is aided by two people, a girl they grew up together that has inferiority complex, and the scientist’s aid. She is hunted by a secret organization that wants to use her for acquiring the technology to fuel terminator-like androids and monopolize the war trade. She faces another pop idol and her teacher, both of which went insane on power and fame. Even a mystical priestess that controls spirits comes along to make things even weirder than they already are.
Another great feature is how the story flips back and forth amongst the cast, making the story to unfold in a non-linear way. All the characters affect the story; even the minor ones. And all of them have a different feeling to add to the whole. A good way of coloring the story this way.
As artistic and mature as it may feel though, aesthetically speaking the series is quite bad. It has a really erratic plot that fluctuates from being very interesting to becoming very boring. Half the time, it feels like dead time instead of an emotional or scenario build-up. The characters will be standing idle, with weird grimaces and pondering about the meaning of life for half an hour … instead of just telling the truth, pressing the trigger, or just running away and ending all their troubles in 2 seconds. It has events that are left unexplored and others that begin and end out of the blue.
Another problem is how the peaking moments in the story are resolved in a silly magical way, which border Deus Ex Machina. And sure, it fits with the theme but it is still far fetched. Every time Key is in danger, her human supernatural side awakens and solves everything in a fairytale-like way. It almost feels like the villains in the story had no chance of winning in the first place.
It even fails to have a proper episode count, since it ends abdruptly in episode 13 and has two extra OVAs working as a finale. Said OVAs are very rushed and wrap up everything in a half-baked way, as if the show was supposed to get a second season that got canceled. Thus it is leaving you with a feeling of stupidity for expecting something sane to come out from such a great story. We had to endure Key turning into some sort of witch and making the bad guys go away and the good guys come back to life with a wave of her magic wand… Ok, it didn’t really happen like this (no spoilers) but you could easily do the parallelism with what truly happened in the end and the result would be the same. There is an ending (which in the anime world is rather rare) but it feels stupid (which is the norm of most stories, anyway).
The characters are drawn very generic so they are not attracting in the way they look. Their presence is felt by their actions and talking (which is a good thing). They all have distinct personalities, different mannerisms and various goals, making them rather realistic.
I say “rather realistic” because in times of anxiety or battle, they act like idiots. Indeed, a weird plague that has afflicted most anime, the cast acts out of place and does unreasonable things even when the course of action is pretty much obvious. Perhaps some will excuse this by saying that the characters are insane and don’t act properly under pressure. Or don’t act in obvious to an average viewer’s ways in moments of passion. Whatever the reason, you will feel like their reactions to something are stupid or unreasonable. Imagine having a mastermind of a multi-corporation in the form of an insane old man who likes to gut little girls and laugh like a madman while treating his employees like dirt. Or a muscular henchman who brakes orders every 5 minutes and wrecks havoc just because he feels like it. Or robots with super-strength that are supposed to be the top weapon on the block and yet move like snails and go haywire in every episode, making more trouble than providing results.
“You didn’t obey my orders and jeopardized my entire secret operation that will affect the future of humanity. I will punish you by giving you everything you need in order to make sure this will not happen again.”
Oh, well, dementia anime seem to dig this sort of characters…
Beyond all these ridiculous reactions, the characters do act in an appealing way. Key truly acts like a robot, with spaced out eyes and dry speech. Her friends truly act sad and depressed. The villains truly are megalomaniacs and crazed on power. If only they made sense too…
A generally ok watch. Still, by today’s standarts has little hopes of being very likable as dementia series have improved a lot in the last decade.
Ghost In The Shell
Battle Angel Alita (the manga)
Palme no Ki
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (artsy)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (artsy)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 3/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 0/2 (very erratic)
Complexity 0/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (solid but cop-out)
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 3/10
Historical Value 0/3: Forgotten.
Rewatchability 0/3: The erratic plot ruins most chances of watching it again.
Memorability 3/4: It packs a great story and has partially interesting characters. Generally, something worth remembering.
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Art 1/1 (looks artsy)
Sound 1/2 (I liked the songs)
Story 1/3 (interesting premise but presented in a very messy way)
Characters 2/4 (they are interesting but tend to act silly half the time)