Monday 29 December 2014

Anime Review: Kikaider 01: The Animation

Kikaider 01: The Animation

In the live-action tokusatsu version of the Kikaider franchise, Jiro's story ends with the defeat of DARK and Professor Gill - with his older brother Kikaider 01 taking up the fight against the revived Hakaider and the forces of evil organisation SHADOW. However Shotaro Ishinomori's manga series takes a different approach to things, with Jiro remaining the main focus of the story as he meets his brother and fights against this new threat. The four-part OVA sequel to Kikaider: The Animation continues Jiro's story in the same way, however like the live-action sequel switches the name to Kikaider 01: The Animation to mark this new instalment in the story.

Jiro, Ichiro and Rei (and Akira)
The brothers three

Picking up sometime after the events of the first Kikaider anime, Kikaider 01 opens with Jiro protecting new friends Rieko and Akira from the forces of SHADOW, led by the cycloptic Shadow Knight. After his systems lead them to an ancient shrine, Jiro comes face to face with Ichiro/Kikaider 01 - his older brother who was left there by Professor Kohmyoji to assist Jiro when the time was right. Together the two are able to fight off the advances of Shadow Knight, but are then interrupted by arrival of an enemy Jiro thought long dead - Hakaider!

The return of Hakaider also marks the resurrection of DARK's evil leader Professor Gill, whose brain has now been placed in the robot. While fighting off both the forces of SHADOW and the newly formed Hakaider Four, Jiro and Ichiro clash with the beautiful but deadly Bijinder and also find a new brother in Rei - aka Kikaider 00!

While the first Kikaider: The Animation series was able to closely adapt its source material with a more generous running time of 13 episodes, with only four episodes to tell its tale Kikaider 01 unfortunately takes considerably more liberties. If you're unfamiliar with the story of Kikaider outside the original anime this will simply come across as rushed storytelling (and a bizarre little inconsistency), but those who have read the manga or seen the live-action series will be far more aware of the chops and edits made to fit everything in just under two hours. I'll try not to give too much away in this review since Kikaider 01: The Animation has the kind of ending its better to go into blind, but where I can I'll be illustrating some of the differences in the other versions so you can see what was sadly sacrificed.

Shadow Knight
Basically the entire SHADOW organisation other than grunts

Kikaider 01: The Animation continues it's predecessor's darker and more character-orientated approach to the Kikaider franchise, but the biggest of its problems is that it lacks both depth and context. The first episode opens with a very brief sequence that introduces the viewer to SHADOW and their plans to create the 'Armageddon God' robot, from there immediately launching into a high speed chase where Jiro, Rieko and Akira are escaping from SHADOW's robot forces. Clearly a fair bit of time has passed since Jiro defeated DARK and began his aimless wandering, but the show has no interest in explaining what's been going on since or how he even met his two new human friends. After a rather explosive battle the story is quickly moved to the shrine where Ichiro is introduced (along with ex-scientist and priest Fuuten - a character completely absent from the live-action 01).  From there it quickly moves into Shadow Knight's proper introduction, a subsequent battle and then the episode ends. While the original anime had a rather minimal approach to its fight sequences, Kikaider 01 is almost the complete opposite - to the point where the big fight scenes take centre stage and its the story that's dotted about in-between. There's no denying that this fights are truly a cut above those displayed in the original, but with less focus on story the sequel is lacking the punch that made it truly unique in the first place.

Perhaps the biggest alteration from the manga is the promotion of Gill Hakaider to SHADOW's leader, a position he didn't take in that or the live-action show (instead being headed by a rather uninteresting guy by the name of Big Shadow). In the live-action version Hakaider is coerced into becoming a SHADOW general after his own evil organisation falls to pieces, and in the manga doesn't actually join them at all! Here their more a "DARK 2.0" than an entity of their own, which makes Shadow Knight's comments about "investigating Hakaider" in the second episode all the more bizarre. Here Hakaider is simply just Professor Gill in a brand new 'immortal', which is a far cry from the Saburo version of the character and also a little different to the live-action version. Sure toku Gill Hakaider had more in common with DARK's leader than Saburo ever did, but he referred to him in the third person and had a much more thuggish nature about him. In the 01 anime it doesn't take long for every character to just drop the 'Hakaider' monicker and just stick to calling him Professor Gill. Gill himself is a brilliant villain, completely outclassing his cruelty from the original, but it certainly takes the edge off of Hakaider's most interesting trait.

Gill Hakaider
Only leaders get capes

Given the title of these OVAs it's rather fitting that the most interesting character in the sequel is Kikaider 01 himself, who's VERY different to his live-action counterpart. Whereas the live-action Ichiro is very much a big-brother type character who shares the same strong sense of justice as Jiro, the manga/anime version of 01 is hot-headed, impulsive and somewhat insensitive thanks to the lack of a conscience circuit (or 'Gemini' as it is continued to be called in this version of the story). He looks and feels like the prototype Jiro he was perhaps always meant to be, which makes him a more interesting character at the expense of pushing him into the background a bit.

Kikaider 00
The one with the guns

On the flipside, Rei/Kikaider 00 is a completely underwhelming character to the point where the show would have been exactly the same had he not been included at all. After making a rather explosive entrance, Rei's personality stays undefined (we're told he's even more primitive than 01 and speaks a few lines, but there's never any sense of character) and is simply there to give Team Kikaider a bit more firepower and attempt to give a bit more weight to the finale. Rounding off the robots are Bijinder, who also gets a brand new backstory that's tied more closely to Rieko. Binjinder loses a lot of the edge she has in the live-action series, but in turn gains a boost in fighting prowess and quite effortlessly fights the Kikaider bros. to a standstill. She's certainly an interesting character, but the show simply doesn't have enough time to develop her story as much as it needs to.

But arguably the biggest talking point of Kikaider 01: The Animation is its ending, which takes all the the pain and emotion of the original and truly amps it up to 11. It's an emotional gut punch that you really won't see coming, and truly cements the story of manga/anime Kikaider as one less about superheroes and more the pain and suffering of becoming human. The biggest problem is that, just like the rest of the show, it's far too rushed to unleash its maximum potential. Rather than focus on the emotional side of the shock it instead mainly relies on its graphicness, which is about as gory as you can get in a story about mostly mechanical beings. This is also where the poor development of the characters comes into play - with some not getting out alive a little more time spent with them could have gone a long, long way.

The cost of those big battle sequences begins to show in another area too - the animation budget. It's bad enough that Kikaider 01 is less polished than its predecessor, but as the story goes on the visuals begin to get less and less impressive. Hakaider's increasingly muppet-like expressions in the final episode are more than a testament to this.

Gattaider: SIGNIFICANTLY better than his live-action counterpart

Overall Kikaider 01: The Animation is a pretty mixed bag. It's explicitly short running time costs it dearly, both in streamlining the source material and dashing any sort of hopes for character development for anyone that isn't Jiro. But even as a shadow of its former self it still manages to be a rather enjoyable set of OVAs, offering both a very different take on Kikaider 01 and a shocking conclusion to Jiro's animated adventures. It's mostly a shame really, because two or three more episodes could have gone a long, long way.

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