To all people out there, in one way or another memories are important to them. They allow us to remember, absorb life experiences and learn. Experiences and memories are our own and uniquely ours to reflect on. That said, what if that could be changed? What if memories could be modified, removed or added in order to create a more enjoyable life or even change opinion?
Now this idea of memory modification has been tackled before in movies such as The Matrix and Inception yet it’s a concept anime hasn’t really touched all that much. Kaiba, published in Australia by Siren Visual and created by Madhouse under the direction of Masaaki Yuasa (Tatami Galaxy, Shin-chan) explores a reality where bodies and memories can be changed, stored or stolen depending on the intent. Siren have continued along the path of releasing more unique anime titles, bringing out Kaiba as a 12 episode DVD box collection.
Kaiba has starts off with a seemingly simple story yet as the episode count raises it becomes much deeper and to an extent more confusing. The main character is an individual called well… Kaiba who has fallen from the clouds in the sky landing in an unknown colony. Kaiba has no recollection of who he is or his past and his story is a journey to remember who he is, experiencing many things and changing bodies along the way.
The story behind Kaiba is a very difficult one to detail. Slightly because it’s a little confusing but mostly because of the way the story is presented. If you’re not paying attention you’ll miss key parts that make sense later in the episode or sometimes even in episodes down the track. To know the story ahead of time would in essence ruin the entire series simply because you experience it through the main characters eyes and learn as he does. Character development is also hard to judge until later in the series because it’s difficult to tell who is honest and who has an ulterior motive when it comes to assisting Kaiba. Underhanded and rather cruel activities are commonplace throughout the series and from something that originally looks quite cheerful, you find it transforms into some rather sinister moments from time to time.
Due to the plot element of bodies and memories being lost and then subsequently replaced, characters appearances and previously depicted memories end up changing quite frequently throughout the entire series. Due to the rate that characters are sometimes disposed of or changed, relating to them can be hard until the very end, however there are still those moments that really hit close to home, even if they don’t quite have enough emotional resonance. This description may give the impression that the story is executed poorly or is hard to follow and while to an extent it’s true it has a couple of bumps in the road, ultimately the story is spectacular once you can take it all in.
There’s many small cogs working in this story to help bring it all together and while some of them fall off during the way those that are left behind wind up completing a massive, beautiful puzzle. That is, a puzzle with one piece missing which after crawling around on the floor for a few minutes trying to locate you’ll finally put in there.
The worlds and themes behind Kaiba are presented in a rather retro sci-fi way. Futuristic technology exists in order to advance life such as the memory chips used to store memories of bodiless people, yet in turn life isn’t full of shiny walls and mecha. Expect rocks and your fair share of single colour sphere shaped buildings. That said, the art style in a whole reflects this retro approach feeling like it’s come right out of an old Astro Boy episode in some ways. Character art is thick lined and those who are fans of the Pop ‘n Music franchise of games would swear that those characters would fit into that series and noone would know they’re from something else.
The rest of the art style is in itself a sight to behold. Colours are everywhere and the entire time it all looks very free-flowing and full of motion. Very rarely is the background completely static or uninteresting, there’s always things to pay attention to from either the backgrounds or characters in order to keep you interested.
Complimenting the rather unique art behind Kaiba is the absolutely stunning musical score. The music is a little over the place yet it fits wherever it is used as the art is all over the place also. Expect rather sharp abstract music when the scenery is more machinery based and slower, calmer music in the more nature based scenes. The opening and ending themes are also solid creations, both being slow and really setting the stage for the episodes themselves, wrapping it up rather nicely at the end of every episode which makes you actually want to listen to it instead of pressing Next Chapter.
There’s a strong Japanese voice cast behind Kaiba as well including the seiyuu Houko Kuwashima (Clare – Claymore) taking on the main role of Kaiba. Bar the occasional voice sounding quite similar to other voices in the same conversation which can confuse a little the cast chosen are all good at their roles. Emotions aren’t all too strong initially so they all sound a little deadpan yet that’s the idea and after a while it all settles in and makes sense, turning into very raw feelings later in the series. Like some of the more recent releases from Siren Visual, there is only a Japanese audio track so be prepared to read subtitles. Thankfully, they’re very well timed and easy to read.
Now it sounds like I’ve reviewed an anime that needs a bit of polishing and as said earlier the truth is that it does. Nevertheless, it’s an experience that really must be watched by anyone into anime at all. Although it’s not perfect, that certainly doesn’t make it unwatchable and if anything it’s those imperfections that make it unique and a series worth checking out from start to finish. The confusing story that you learn with the character, the retro yet crazy art setting and amazing soundtrack really make Kaiba one of the stronger series of this generation.
If nothing else, Kaiba shows that you don’t need to be perfect in order to be brilliant.