Monday, May 5, 2008

Impressions: Kaiba – somewhat better than five fingers and a palm

Oh Kaiba… how people will lavish over you. How you will stroke people's brains and make them think about things. How you will bring together people.

Okay, so enough of that. When I read one of the first reviews of Kaiba, I'll admit I was a bit skeptical. Call it Curmudgeon's Law. Call it "Cameron is a contrarian and will disagree for the sake of disagreeing." Call it whatever you want to call it. But I promised some folks that I'd give it at least three episodes.

And I have.

Now, Kaiba follows the idea of most hard sci-fi. You take a scientific development (the fact that people have their memories stored in capsules and transplanted between bodies.) Then you examine the effects on society. And I'll admit freely that part is great. I mean you have a Marxist society. You have a very visible "afterlife" that might not really mean death. You have the idea that there is a "sanctity" to being an original, but copying yourself is illegal. And you have it all without any of the visual confusion that I get from a show like Ghost Hound or Serial Experiments Lain.

In fact, the amount it can tweak my brain makes me interested in the show.

But you know there's always one guy every season, who stands up in the middle of the parade and shouts: "The emperor has no clothes."

Well, I guess this time that guy is me.

Because for everything that this show does well, it has one major flaw: Kaiba.

Good lord, this guy isn't a main character. He isn't even a plot device. He's a piece of equipment. He's a camera for the plot to happen to or around. The only time he actually ACTS is late in the third episode. Otherwise, he's running away or peeking into people's memories or getting dragged around. What's worse is that he doesn't actually HAVE a personality. He hardly asks questions. I mean he has his body stolen from him and what does he do? Oh, peeks into the room while his body is having sex with a stranger. Good lord, am I supposed to believe this guy is for real?

The thing is that without a character who I can invest myself in, who I care about, all the great world development doesn't mean squat.

It's just something that provokes a whole lot of mental masturbation, without the benefit of actually getting off.


huffy said...

"What's worse is that he doesn't actually HAVE a personality"

I don't see how you can expect much of a personality when the guy has amnesia. The whole point of the show from what I can see is to slowly develop the main character's personality and/or revive his memories, which is starting to happen in the forth episode in wonderful ways. Giving him an artificial personality just to make it more accessible would be cheap in my opinion.
The first three episodes were nothing but world-building, true, but necessary world building. I had some criticisms of the show initially (though not nearly as many as you do) but the third episode absolutely sold me on it, especially the ending; easily the best direction I've seen for a single episode in a long time. Of course I am biased, as I still maintain that Yuasa's Mind Game is easily one of the very best anime films of the last ten years. Anyways, the fourth was the best yet.

HK said...

I think it's weirdly refreshing to see a criticism of the show that doesn't involves the art or its "weirdness."

Kaiba is obviously a cipher so far, but that's not a negative. This allows exposition and direct audience interaction without coming across as awkward and clumsy.

Shades of Kaiba's personality are already showing themselves, too, in episodes three and four. One thing I believe that Yuasa may be going for is to show a sort of infant-like development -- what impact does it have on a person who has no memories and knowledge of his environment, learning more about others than himself?