First Look Fair: Kaiba

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Our bodies, and not ourselves? This most unusual anime–if it can even be called that in the usual sense–is certainly intriguing, but it’s also far too early to tell what to make of it.

Kaiba is brought to us by Madhouse, a studio known for both traditional works as well as the artsier fare of Satoshi Kon and untypical films like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. This one definitely falls under the “artsy” realm, with only the barest exposition to assist on the show’s background and concepts (reading the show summary is almost a must), and character designs influenced as much by European comics as by traditional manga/anime styles. (It is also reminiscent of some of the creations of Takashi Murakami, Japan’s equivalent of Andy Warhol who uses anime and manga styles in ways that get him into contemporary art galleries.) The art style is thus a potential turnoff for those looking for the usual sort of shows that appear on TV, but there’s definitely more than meets the eye.

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The world that is depicted is one that is very “round”–there seem to be few sharp edges on anything or anyone, aside from the points of the “chips” of people that hold memories. The technology looks like the kind of futurism as imagined in the 1930s or 1940s, too, kind of like in the Fallout series of games. Still, it is a world that is harsh and subtly dehumanized, where “dead” family members are “revived” by inserting their chips into talking machines and near-faceless wheels where they complain about their missing bodies, only to be literally discarded on a pile when there is no room left. The main character, Warp, literally has a hole in his heart. The rich live above in the clouds, and people below, a la Metropolis (Fritz Lang’s and Tezuka’s version–the character designs are also vaguely reminiscent of the latter). Like in many Japanese stories of the ilk, we are treated to a story about the dissociation of bodies and minds/spirits/selves, though just what direction the show wishes to take this idea is unclear. Warp is clearly “missing” something, whether it be the girl in his locket, the hole in his chest, or his capacity for speech. He is also a staple anime character in that a mark on his abdomen seems to signify something larger and sought after, which means that the action will probably revolve around him from this point forward.

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Others more astute than me will probably recognize more visual subtext that I did in this show–am I alone in seeing, for instance, sperm/birth imagery during parts of the initial chase down a tunnel by sperm-like “chips” that attack Warp and others? I caught a whiff of the famous Star Wars cantina scene later, too, which begins the second chase onto the ship. Perhaps, too, the theme of dissociated bodies and selves is coded into the art style itself, which eschews any attempt at realism that many serious anime try for–the floppy and rubbery movements of the characters indicating how malleable this level of reality is, as chips can be inserted into any body. Of course, I could very well be over-interpreting as I am wont to do, but this is one of those shows that seems to invite this kind of analysis.

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This show was late in coming to English subtitles and I had heard much about it before, and with my curiosity partially satisfied, I am looking forward to seeing more. It alone makes up for the near-total lack of originality of last season, at least. There are more First Look Fairs coming for other shows which have been hailed for their originality, from Kure-nai to Soul Eater to Himitsu, and so it looks like we may indeed have a rich season for seriousness after all…which means you can expect to see a little bit more of me this time around. :)

3 thoughts on “First Look Fair: Kaiba”

  1. Wow, great post. To be honest, I was so caught up in the dialogue and story I wasn’t paying much attention to the visuals (that and when you’ve gone through the episode about 3-5 times, your eyes start to glaze over), so I’ve got you to thank for redirecting my attention to that.

    What you said about the symbolism is true, though — talk about missing the forest for the trees! I’m pleased that someone’s tackling Kaiba in this vein, going through both story and visuals thoroughly in order to give it the full attention it deserves, and I’ll be looking forward to your posts on this as and when.

    You also hit the nail on the head regarding the theme of dissociated bodies and how it relates to the art style, but I’ll leave it to you to watch episode 2 when it comes out to find out how that works. (:

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