Where there is a body, there is a mind. A mind that is unquestionably a part of us and remains to be this way until our eventual passing. Throughout the centuries of philosophy and science, it is one of the most utterly fascinating aspects of human existence that has yet to be explored fully. There have been many stories that have delved into the realm of consciousness as a main plot device from the mid-20th century science fiction authors, and anime has had its fair share of shows that are akin to this. One of which is Kaiba, a fascinating trip that shows no boundaries of animation and how it can use different styles in anime that have largely been redundant at the time.
It is true that this type of story has not been done before. One that deals with the concept of minds and how it’s essentially our own selves, but with Kaiba, it’s like a journey you go through with our main hero, named Kaiba. He meets different characters from his journey that all have distinct characteristics that make them stick out from the rest, who may or may not help him in his search to find his own memories that have been lost after his long slumber. As we follow our likable hero, we discover how the world that Kaiba inhabits has begun to crumble under its own dystopia. Although they portray the setting in a surrealist manner to give it a distinctive look, there’s still the lack of any depth to the world itself. In other words, there’s not enough to go around from the lack of exposition it gives to the history of this world that Kaiba has to offer, and it only succeeds halfheartedly.
With that said, even though the plot features some mind-bending, philosophical facets that incorporates Kaiba, the story-telling that helps guide them through the narrative is rather lacking. Nonetheless, when the show starts off, it manages to make a very good first impression in showing us first-hand what the world is like and how the other people who live in it go through the absolute turmoil that plagues their way of life. Some moments were even strong enough to invoke tears from my eyes. However, it doesn’t take long until we cutaway from the protagonist and then start going into the character back story of another named Chroniko. To explain this clearly, Kaiba implants his memories into Chroniko, and from then on we get to explore Chroniko’s past and how she was brought up into the world. While this might seem admirable to make us know that there are, in fact, more than just Kaiba that might matter, I feel as though it wasn’t even needed in the first place when we already have to follow Kaiba and his journey to get his memories back, even though technically he’s inside of Chroniko in these scenes.
Furthermore, we follow other characters such as the sheriff, named Vanilla, and his fascination with Chroniko, or in this case, the body that Kaiba inhabits. This plays off more like a desperate attempt to make the show longer. After that, we completely discourage that whole moment that involved both of those characters and we follow Kaiba like nothing ever happened previously. One could say that those plot arcs were important in order for Kaiba to understand the meaning of human emotion and the human condition, but it comes across as a bit trite and forgettable once the next episode rolls in.
Although, with that said, the conclusion to the story felt incredibly fulfilling to experience after a brilliant romantic setup between Kaiba and Neiro, who play off each other very well. Their immediate feelings for each other might seem a little cliched, but how they direct the dialogue they say to each other comes off rather fluently and feels genuine. Right near the very last frame of the last episode, it felt like the best way to give Kaiba a sense of closure.
By far the most alluring aspect of Kaiba that has made it somewhat of a indistinguishable show amongst the anime community is the art and animation. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, who also directed the classic The Tatami Galaxy and directed the animation and wrote the surrealist film Cat Soup, this man definitely knows his way of transforming his own visions into reality and making us clamor for more of his ingenious creativity. Kaiba’s hook from its animation relies not just on an unconventional art style, but also its seamless implementation to the story and tone it tries to convey to us. Once we see the art style which Yuasa executes on constructing Kaiba’s world, the result is no less than jaw-dropping. In some areas it might seem even a little forceful in the attempts of making things a little too wacky and cartoony, the moments where it shows how people can invade someone’s memories look incredible at face value.
The fluid motions that the characters exhibit in the show’s animation feel reminiscent of western-influence and the works of the great Osamu Tezuka. The abstract shapes of the buildings and vehicles give the show its unique identity and ultimately becomes very memorable in that aspect. There is about as much creativity as one could get from a studio named Madhouse, who’s no stranger to producing shows similar in nature of Kaiba.
On the overall quality of the sound production, the voice acting is serviceable with the veteran voice actresses Romi Park and Mamiko Noto giving out terrific performances. Even with the limited amount of dialogue that the character Kaiba has throughout the story, Houko Kuwashima plays out the amnesiac archetype rather convincingly in how her voice emotes perfectly to an unemotional character who has lost all sense of meaning in his life because of how memories play a huge role in his character and how that was perpetually lost within him. One thing to note in music is the opening song for Kaiba which is composed quite beautifully from the sublime electronic ambiance mixed with subtle orchestration. On top of that is the beautiful voice of Seira Kagami, giving a dazzling performance that sets a tone of pure melancholic loneliness, one of the main themes of the entirety of Kaiba.
There’s nothing quite like Kaiba’s style and finesse to be found in most anime shows. I say style as in the animation, which is really the only big aspect of the show that makes it worth watching, but that’s not to say that the story is terrible by any means. There’s more to be seen in Kaiba than just the art and animation; but if it was only focused a little more tightly and given more world-building for it to be memorable, this could’ve been ranked higher. There is no doubt people will be looking at the art style and start thinking it’s nothing like anime they’re used to and reject it immediately. Distinctive qualities are a rarity these days, and I’m perfectly fine with this. No doubt we need more creative measures put into the medium, but when one show comes out in that one particular season that puts a lot of effort into its aesthetic qualities that challenge the norm, then that makes that one show all the more special.