Good anime really does come in small packages, or so Judge Sandra Dozier discovered when she unwrapped this short OAV series.
"Although I am a machine, I can appreciate these things…like the beauty of a butterfly, or the sun as it's coming up."—Jiro
Boy, I love a good story. You know, the kind that has you clenching your teeth against the emotion you feel for the characters on screen? When I really connect with characters, and care about what happens to them, I know somebody has done something right. The creators of Kikaider 01: Another Journey certainly did something right by delivering a tight, moving story set in the Android Kikaider universe.
Facts of the Case
Our hero Jiro has an interesting past: he's an android, created to have feelings due to Gemini (pronounced "Jiminy"), a "conscience chip" installed by his creator, Dr. Komyoji. Jiro is a modern-day Pinocchio, aware that he's an android, but longing for humanity. There was an accident and Dr. Komyoji was killed, setting Jiro free; he befriended the daughter and son of his creator and set off to destroy DARK, the organization that was responsible for the doctor's death.
In "Another Journey" he meets Rieko, who is on the run with a small boy (Akira). The shock comes when she reveals that Akira is actually the son of Professor Gill, Jiro's old nemesis. Worse still, Akira is the key to a massive weapon being built for the purposes of taking over the world. Jiro's natural instinct is to care for and protect his new charges, but can he trust them?
There were two animated series for Android Kikaider. Series One chronicled the adventures of android Jiro and humans Mitsuko and Masaru after the death of Jiro's creator, Dr. Komyoji. The second series was produced as a four episode OAV, contained entirely on this DVD. Other than Jiro, all the characters in this second series are new. It isn't necessary to have seen the first series to enjoy this story, and what a great story it is.
It's difficult to say much more about the plot or events without giving away key details. Events unfold like an onion, everything intertwined and revealing itself at just the right moment to heighten or enhance the drama. This story was designed to make your chest tight with the joy and injustice of it all. It is not particularly epic, and some may find it sappy, but it is at once bittersweet and tragic, and fans of this type of storytelling will certainly respond to it.
Kikaider 01 introduces several new characters, including Jiro's "older brother" Ichiro and a new sibling, Kikaider 00. They also meet and fight Hakaider, an android that looks more robot than human with his exposed brainpan, and Bijinder, a lovely and powerful android that is also trying to capture Akira.
The story is tight, action-packed, and moving. It has its share of slow scenes and lame mecha to fight, but overall I thought it was well told, and there are a couple of surprises at the end that add particular significance to Jiro's arc. It's also interesting to see Jiro next to Ichiro, who looks just like Jiro but doesn't have the Gemini chip, making him reckless, uncaring, and unmindful of the presence of others.
Extras for this DVD amount to an illustration gallery, previews, a mini poster insert, and a reversible cover. The picture is clear and shows bold colors, with pleasing contrast between the dark world of the bad guys and the sunny hopefulness exhibited by Jiro and his companions. There is some compression artifacting on the transfer that is occasionally distracting, but it isn't too bad. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is crisp and lively, and the English voice acting is very well done. Subtitles are offered for the Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack as both signs-only and full subtitle.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I found the first episode for this short series to be unnecessarily jarring—after a brief prologue, the opening scene drops you into the middle of the action, as Jiro is fleeing from huge flying creatures while a mysterious woman and a small boy huddle together in the sidecar of his motorcycle. At first, I wondered, "did I start this on the right episode?" There is no explanation for several minutes, and the viewer can quickly become disoriented. Of course, they defeat their pursuers and regroup to talk, but it left me wondering: how did she get into the sidecar in the first place? It isn't essential to know this, but a little backstory would have been helpful for the purpose of good flow. This is the only point at which I felt disoriented in the story.
To a lesser degree, I was disappointed with the quality of the animation in this series, compared to the other Kikaider series released around the same time. Character design is consistent, but animation is simpler, and at times the fight scenes are not as detailed. I want to qualify this by saying that it is still quite enjoyable to watch, well done, and easy on the eyes. Whatever the animation lacks is made up for in a beefy storyline that introduces several new characters but never loses the viewer's interest.
It seems this second series is a real "love it or hate it" title for fans. With a storyline that focuses more on what it means to be human than on action and fight scenes, some were left cold by this title. However, those who aren't specifically looking for cool mecha action, and appreciate an emotional, bittersweet story will find themselves richly accommodated by this Kikaider tale.
Kikaider 01 is definitely worth checking out. As a complete series on one DVD, it offers some bang-for-your buck in terms of watchability and the convenience of being able to put in one disc and see an entire story. Those new to the Kikaider universe can pick this second series up and watch it without having seen any previous Kikaider releases. Finally, if you are a fan of bittersweet tragedy, you will be caught up in this story and what happens to these characters and to Android Kikaider himself.
Kikaider 01: The Animation is found not guilty, but he'll probably feel guilty anyway due to his conscience chip.
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