First impressions of Kaiba: big surprise, I loved it

Apologies, I know things have been quiet around here of late. While everyone gets so excited about all this new anime airing in Japan, I just get tired of it. There’s too much to watch, too much to read and too much to say. It tires me out just thinking about it, so, despite having downloaded first episodes of 9 different anime last week, I’ve watched merely two. One was Code Geass, which, true to form, was great, stupid fun, and the other was Kaiba, a show I’ve been anticipating since, well… forever. But wait, Kaiba hasn’t been fansubbed (yet), right? Such enthusiasm forced me into yesterday’s impulsive decision; I decided to watch it raw. For the record, my understanding of Japanese is next to nothing and never before have I bothered to watch anime untranslated, but, at this point, I may as well just quit anime blogging if not inspired by something like Kaiba, something that’s so completely new. Code Geass R2 isn’t new; it’s just the same old collection of genres with a different lick of paint. Mecha, shonen, shojo, moe, harem, sports, we’ve seen it all before, but let me tell you this, you’ve seen nothing like Kaiba. Asked to describe the story, director Masaaki Yuasa mentioned suspense, romance, science fiction, comedy and action, and depending on your perception, it’s all of that, or nothing, but at least it’s new.

I won’t bother with an extended episode synopsis, as aside from my noted lack of comprehension regarding the Japanese language, Owen and BluWacky have recently posted some fine coverage on their blogs too. All I really want to say is that I liked it, a lot. With an aesthetic that’s part Astro Boy-era Tekuza, part Flintstones, it certainly looks different. It’s nothing like Yuasa’s previous work, Kemonozume, where the characters were grungy, gritty and blue (in the greasy, erotic sense). Here, the designs are clear and bright, as if lacking sophistication, an obvious ploy to violently contrast a playful, child-like aesthetic with a disturbing reality tainted with memory-stealing and body swapping. I’m reminded of Roald Dahl’s twisted style of storytelling, especially The BFG; all the excitement of Sophie’s wide-eyed adventure into a hidden world of friendly giants, offset when she discovers that they munch on humans.

The evocative visuals are well-matched by a soundtrack that’s ambient, electronic and artificial, yet emphasizes the fantasy and excitement on screen. In truth, it’s wonderfully apt for Kaiba, as a story so removed from reality shouldn’t sound familiar or contemporary; in particular, the opening and ending sequences are beautifully presented; setting the tone for what is an escape into a dream-like, distant plain of imagination.

People might think I’m talking this up because it’s different, because it looks weird. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be writing this now. It’s true that it’s unconventional, you won’t immediately feel empathy for the characters, or understand their feelings. You have to be prepared to submerge yourself in Kaiba, to accept things that might be unrealistic and weird. In this sense, it’s absolutely authentic animation; the product of boundless imagination, and it works because, despite everything, it still feels human; funny, weird and sad. I hope you like it!

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

15 thoughts on “First impressions of Kaiba: big surprise, I loved it”

  1. Oh Kaiba :)

    I was excited to hear your impressions. Of course I am not sure how this is going to turn out storywise but I can say I adore the style at least. I wish I had more to say, although I expect I will once it starts getting subbed and more episodes air. I am really looking forward to following this and I expect to post more about it on my LJ once I get a hang of the plot.

    Oh and that opening is incredible.

  2. I decided to skip Kaiba since it came from the creators of the bizarre Kemonozume (which I think is much more conventional) which I stopped watching cause it was just too darn weird. Judging from the comments and posts I’ve been reading (pictures too!) it seems that this isn’t as accessible as Kemonozume since that had some grip to reality, if just a little. This on the other hand seems too down right out there that I’m too cautious to even consider watching the subs. Since you liked it though, I guess I’ll give it a try as it might impress in a way I never thought something could. I just hope I don’t get too narrow minded while watching this, I just can’t help it lol anime has made me a touch shallow.

  3. Not sure which version you grew up with, but might you be attributing it to the wrong person? While Dahl did write them, Quentin Blake sounds more like the person you’re talking about, being the illustrator for all of his books and whatnot.

    Of course, at this point in time I associate Blake with Dahl as much as I do Dahl with Blake, so you get the idea. Looking forward to see what you think of the subbed version — I handed in my second edit yesterday after consultation with the translation checker, and it’s out of my hands now.

  4. I also hunkered down and watched this raw– which I haven’t done for a show in a year or two. Was very excited, and not disapointed. :) Personally, I enjoyed this more than the first ep of Kemonozume– there’s some sort of flavor of Mindgame in this that K didn’t have… the pure imagination at play? the visceral kinetic energy of the animation? the mellow, completely non-narrative based playfulness of certain sequences that are just there because they’re fun?

    What I love about shows like this is that they’re obviously not out there to simply earn a buck, but are actually trying to be expressive of a person’s real artistic values. Am I going to like it all? Probably not. But the complete lack of being generic, of using all the same old tired tropes is refreshing– it comes across as actual “art” to me, and in the best way…. namely, not in a high or elitist way, but rather that I feel like someone is actually trying to express their consciousness with no holds barred. It isn’t meant to be what’s palatable, but rather what is “real” to the creator. Shows that are so cookie cutter that I can’t even disagree with them are depressing.

    I can understand people who like some stupid fun– I love my stupid fun too… just turn off the mind and play, watch, etc. But I’ve never been able to understand the aversion people have to actually exploring, challenging themselves as viewers, etc. The kinds of shows and movies that Studio 4C is putting out– people who say its just being weird to be weird are completely missing the point. It’s being crazy and wacky because it is fucking fun to watch and to make stuff that doesn’t sprout from the mind preordained by public opinion. That chase scene– pure fun. The quirky emu– fun. The blonde dreadlocks– fun, and also a pleasure to watch animated. They have real weight and are very dynamic. The hole through his chest– interesting and metaphoric. etc etc.

    Anyways, I loved the show, but it kills me when people don’t like things like it because its quirky and too different– that just isn’t really valid aesthetic criteria for me. Now, say, the characters are paper thin, or the plot too convoluted, or the emotions contrived, or …. other stuff. Well, I might not agree, but I atleast I feel like they were trying to engage with the work.

  5. @Kim: Nice. I’m subscribed to your LJ feed, so I’ll be reading. I’d be posting comments on there too, but I don’t have an account. As a side note, you have an awesome friends list; seems like everyone on there watches anime like Kaiba, Mononoke, Dennou Coil and so on. It’s quite rare to find such a group of anime fans who are so open minded (and with such good taste to boot). I’m not stalking you, honest :)

    @Ivy: As long as you give it a chance, that’s all I ask. We’re all different and some of the things that work for me won’t work for you, but Kaiba deserves a fair chance, if just because it’s such an audacious, ambitious attempt to break from the boring ranks of sameness.

    @Owen: I did consider (and probably should have) mentioned Quentin Blake, as his contribution to Dahl’s books were almost just as important as the writing itself. To be honest, when I mentioned Dahl, I was mostly thinking of the BFG’s animated movie;. Kaiba riding away on that weird animal reminded me of Sophie’s witching hour escape with the BFG. Anyway, I’ll be first in queue to download the fansub. I’m sure you did a fine job, and I’m anxious to read reactions to it elsewhere too.

    @Cameron: Mission complete :) But now you’ve got me all nervous you won’t like it… I hope I didn’t build it up too much, as Kaiba certainly won’t pander to any preconceived notions.

    @Steve: Exactly, the intent to push boundaries and try something different should be celebrated, not criticized. I can’t fathom the drive of people who will sit down day after day, hour after hour, watching the same old stuff again and again, seems like a great way to lose interest in anime after a couple of years worth of sameness (nail on head with “Shows that are so cookie cutter that I can’t even disagree with them are depressing.”). So, like you, I guess I feel like my heart is being ripped out when I read them having a go at anime like Kaiba just because it looks a little different. One comment on Random Curiosity even suggests that “oh my god, this is cartoon not anime”! ARGH!

    For whatever reason, I’m really protective of anime like Kaiba, Tekkonkinkreet, Kino, Kemonozume, Gankutsuou and the rest, as if it personally insults me when I read people writing them off just because they dare to look different or whatever. We all have different tastes in anime, but don’t criticize a series for trying something new.

    Anyway, great comment, Steve :) You’ve really expressed a lot of my own feelings on this whole feeling of requiring an open mind to enjoy something like Kaiba.

  6. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a LJ feed. Although I sort of recommend joining live journal anyways. Even if you are not going to blog (because you do that here of course). You can join the communities for series you like and get helpful things (media) from locked posts. And well I would like to have you on my FL of course. :)

  7. damn i really need to get back into anime… my to watch list is growing and growing… i miss the days of noein, nhk, black lagoon, blood+ and utawarerumono when i was literally dying for the next episode. lol i remember when i’d be on irc and all of us were simply waiting for a release haha… now im in one of those phases where the magic is gone. the last anime i was really really into was romeo and juliet which was phenomenal by the way. i think every anime fan goes through this phase… ive really gotten into audiobooks and novels now… i should stop by martin’s and say sup.

  8. @Kim: I’ll look into it. I’m losing track of all these communities, websites and hidden conspiracies I’m a part of :) Basically, if there’s a Kaiba group on there, I’ll join. Also, thanks for posting that small image from Avatar on your blog; after seeing that and reading your comment, I decided to check it out once and for all. Serious and angsty animated characters almost always do it for me.

    @kauldron26: Every time I go through one of those phases, I’ll end up finding a new series I’d either ignored or just didn’t know and hit it harder than anything in the past. You know, at this point, I’m totally resigned to the fact that I’ll always be an anime fan. Even when I’m 70 years old, unable to walk without breaking my hip, I’ll be watching One Piece and Naruto, complaining about moe anime and writing pretentious blog posts. Also, as I said above to Kim, I’m going to check out Avatar soon enough; one of your favorites, I believe? :)

  9. Fansub for ep 1 is finally out for everyone that doesn’t understand Japanese. Just finished watching it and didn’t understand half of what happened in the ep but can’t wait to find out more. Anyone else think Warp looks like Link from Wind Waker/Minish Cap? or is it just that Tri-Force type mark on his stomach?

  10. I loved it
    but alas only 12 episodes and no manga.
    god the end was disappointing.
    but if anyone knows differently let me know, or if you know of another show like KAIBA.

  11. I loved it but alas only 12 episodes and no manga. god the end was disappointing. but if anyone knows differently let me know, or if you know of another show like KAIBA.

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