Challenging the concept of anime and replacing the need for weekend drug indulgence, Kaiba (カイバ) will grace your screens Thursdays at 24:00 JST on WOWOW with its 12 episodes.
An entirely original production by Yuasa Masaaki and Madhouse, this will be the third project to be directed by the longtime animator on Crayon Shin-chan, following his debut movie Mind Game in 2004 and the strange series Kemonozume in 2006. Yuasa’s mark on the show is made even heavier through writing the script and handling the storyboard as well.
A boy wakes up in a room of rubble. His name is Kaiba, but he doesn’t know it yet, having lost his memories. Around is neck is a locket containing a hazy photo of a girl. He studies the picture for a moment, but remembers nothing. He moves on to look at his chest, and finds a hole straight through his body. Peculiar. Outside the room, people are getting their brains sucked out by floating creatures. A second boy appears, carrying a massive weapon attached to his groin, and he tries to protect Kaiba from an attacker, but Kaiba ends up in the line of fire as the newcomer shoots. In the last moment, a cyclopean space ostrich rushes in to rescue Kaiba and it flees with him clasping to its back. This is the beginning of an unusual adventure through a universe where society has advanced technologically to computerize memories, and the mind is stored in tiny cones. Since people can switch bodies at will, death itself has lost meaning, but now the lack of usable bodies to reside in has produced an illegal trade in kidnapped bodies, resold to the rich. Similarly, extraordinary memories fetch a high price, and Kaiba must travel the stars to reclaim his own past and find the mysterious girl in his locket.
Kaiba is not so much an anime as it is an animated picture book for adults. Its character design is simple and symbolic, more art than entertainment. The limited colour palette helps to create an abstract alien environment that’s hard to describe. This is farther enhanced by the odd music by Yoshida Kiyoshi, which seems to simmer at the back of the mind for much of the episode. A lot of the dialogue is haphazard, so it’s hard to judge the voice work in any normal fashion, but they’ve hired solid actors for this title. Kuwashima Houko (Tomoyo in Clannad) plays Kaiba, Paku Romi (Edward in Fullmetal Alchemist) plays the helpful Popo, and Noto Mamiko (Ai in Jigoku Shoujo) will appear as Neiro later on.
Only one word can properly describe Kaiba: trippy. It’s as strange as it gets, and I must ask myself if this is art for art’s sake, or if it’s really supposed to be considered entertainment. This seems to be push the boundaries for what should be contained within the “anime” category, because it differs so much from the stereotype. It’s animated and it’s Japanese, and perhaps it’s best to leave it at that. Is it good? I don’t know. The first episode manages to both bore and captivate at the same time, which is no small feat. Most of all, it’s confusing. There is a clear narrative running throughout the episode, but it’s surrounded by so much weird that it’s hard to grasp. It seems so experimental, with prolonged scenes that don’t appear to serve any particular purpose. The opening and ending songs by Kagami Seira are among the most appealing this season, but at the end of it all, I’m left wondering if anyone will watch more than two episodes.