DVD Review: Kiddy Grade – The Complete Series Collection
A surprisingly rich and intriguing series with a cast of interesting characters!
Based on the Tomohiko Aoki light novel of the same name, Kiddy Grade originally ran between 2002 and 2003. Previous reviews of this series have been mixed, often due to reviewers only critiquing early episodes rather than the series as a whole. Though the narrative of the entire series is a slow burn, it rewards patience.
The twenty four episode series is based in a scientifically advanced future in which the human race has expanded and colonised a multitude of planets throughout the Universe. It centres around the GOTT (Galactic Organization of Trade and Tariffs). As the name suggests, many of the missions we concentrate on are based around political intrigue, transport and smuggling. The protagonists are Éclair and Lumière; members of the GOTT ‘Shadow Unit’, a group of super-powered agents with cyber-enhancements.
Initially each episode is completely self sustaining, each dealing with a separate case, and generally taking place on different planets or in different systems. The crimes range from transporting political refugees to child trafficking occasionally introducing new ES members (Encounter of Shadow-Work). Gradually it becomes evident that Éclair and Lumière have a long and rich backstory together, though this is not obvious for the first half of the series, which works on establishing the universe rather than its inhabitants. The truth behind the GOTT also becomes clearer as the two agents begin to question the motives behind the organization they work for and themselves.
After about eight episodes, it is clear that a strong narrative is set to emerge. We are slowly leaked details of Éclair’s past and learn that although the ES members appear as young children or teenagers; their minds are in fact transferred between young bodies over generations, making them much older. Éclair soon begins to discover her ‘past lives’ leading to intriguing revelations and a few rich twists.
Kiddy Grade received much negative criticism from reviewers, notably on its slow start and excessive fanservice. However, if one has patience with this series you are rewarded by a captive story-line and likable characters. The initial episodes play very much on the popular Anime tropes of scantily clad young women, kinky costuming and questionable camera angles, giving the fans what they want and consequently alienating a female audience. This treatment of the series as well as its separation into independent, episode-centric story-lines can make the series seem hollow without any real message or anything new to add to the sci-fi, adventure genre. However, once this blatant fanservice has served its purpose and an audience is reached, Kiddy Grade pushes on with a serious plot-line and political undertones.
It is a shame that Kejii Gotoh felt the need to play to the crowd with his use of chauvinistic imagery and objectification in the early stages of this series, as, if women are not too put off by such blatant sexualization, they are rewarded by some surprisingly strong feminine characters. Éclair and Lumière’s relationship is never treated as questionable, but as a pair of loyal partners who love each other unconditionally and trust each other completely. Although Lumière criticizes Éclair for her ‘un-lady-like’ way of handling things (”A lady should be more elegant”), which may be seen as a criticism of women not knowing their place in society; she is ultimately wrong in her critique, as it is Éclair’s rash and passionate way of dealing with confrontation that ultimately makes her a stronger soldier.
The powers that the ES members actually have are an interesting mix of technological and psychic. Lumière’s power to communicate with technology is by far the most interesting and allows for some of the most imaginative moments of the series as she can retreat into the mind of a computer and communicate with it as a person, she may also create small ‘chibi’ copies of herself to search for data or re-arrange the archives to resemble a library, etc… Éclair’s initial power, on the other hand, is far more trivial in style, though not necessarily substance. She can gain super strength and invulnerability… when she puts on lipstick! (”I find it hard to control my powers when I wear lipstick”) She can also use her lipstick mark as a whip once she has written her name on a surface, or wipe it across computers to gain access. This of course may be read as a metaphor for a woman using her sexuality as power but I think we have discussed gender politics enough for one series.
The story-line which emerges out of the mire of childish episodes and pizza delivery girl costumes is one of great maturity and complexity. The galaxy which our protagonists inhabit is spread out from its originator and capitol planet, Earth. This planet is made up of the ‘Noblesse’ or original ‘humans’. These ‘pure-blooded’ Earthlings consider themselves above those born in the colonies and therefore treat their laborers as slaves and expect a higher form of living. As the story progresses we learn of the GOTT’s part in the historical subjugation of the other colonies and compliance with the Noblesse, and Éclair and Lumière’s eventual revolt against this society. The politics of this series are complex but wonderfully presented in an entertaining way.
There are a wide range of characters within the series and each get their own unique introduction in the form of an episode dedicated to them. Most of the other characters are other ES members with a wide and exotic array of powers and no one is irrelevant. Even the smaller characters from the seemingly frivolous beginning of the series play some important part in the grand scheme of the plot. These characters range in style from the high fashion of Alv and Dvergr, the lolita style of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (echoed wonderfully in their Victorian names) or the romantic style of Sinistra and Dextera.
The animation, costuming and setting of the series itself are gorgeous with rich cityscapes, mech and futuristic architecture. The music is also atmospheric and changes from the fun, bouncy melodies of the first half of the series to sinister and disturbing towards the end. The change from flamboyant to serious is almost tangible and it is no coincidence that it takes place in an episode based around brainwashing and hypnosis. The world that Gotoh has created is inverted almost instantly, much as the mind of Éclair is switched from fun and childish to ancient and traumatic.
Overall this is a surprisingly rich and intriguing series with a cast of interesting characters who go deeper than their initial portrayals may suggest. Although, Kiddy Grade may have benefited from a quicker sprint into their wonderful story-line rather than attempting to gather fans with cheap exploitation. What we do get is half a series of frivolous, pointless action and stereotypes followed by half a series of wonderfully constructed intrigue, plot twists and action.
Label: MVM Entertainment
Release date: 7th May 2012
Running time: 85 mins
Genre: Anime, Science Fiction
Director: Kejii Gotoh
Language: Japanese/English (Dubbed)
Anastasia Catris is a freelance illustrator, writer and actress based in South Wales. After graduating in English Literature from Royal Holloway, University of London she studied for a year in comic book art and design in The Kubert School where she nurtured her love of Japanese animation and cartooning as well as its cinema, video games and culture. You can keep up to date with Anastasia’s activity via her website www.anastasiacatris.wordpress.com or her Facebook page www.facebook.com/acatris. You may also follow her on Twitter at @acatris.