It's pretty obvious why some of the early Japanese live action super-heroes wore masks. Prancing around in a baggy, brightly colored suit while cracking poses at guys in latex monster suits probably isn't something to brag to the grandchildren about. Then again, it provides a good basis for some retro revisionist anime to re-tell the story.
We begin by joining one of the most messed up families in anime. In fact the family only contains a young woman and a young boy. Mommy walked out when her contract was up, older brother was killed in a lab experiment and their scientist father never recovered from it. I can be definite about that because the very first event is his lab exploding with him in the middle of it. It seems he's been working on a series of ever more powerful robots, and progress just came to a rather explosive end.
Meanwhile, nearby, a young man awakens. He's got a cool jacket, a guitar on his back, and absolutely no memory of who he is or how he got there. He's also unsure why some people he meets are so surprised, and shocked, when he recovers their toy plane by calmly pushing over the tree it was lodged in. Obviously he's no normal human but it turns out to be even more complex. He has access to huge amounts of power and a barely finished and slightly buggy `humanity' circuit. He's the scientists masterpiece, a source of concern to those who know his secret, a monster to those confronted by his power and a `defective product' to the one who ordered his construction. As you can see, being an artificial human is not easy, and this is even before dealing with the problem of suddenly having `human' feelings.
The first thing I must do is admit that this series was watched through the dodgy English contained on Hong Kong DVD's. As a result names were completely stuffed, the dialogue was simplified and weird, and I can't be sure how much story subtlety I lost. It's simply not possible to make allowances for this `damage' so I'll simply warn that there is a sizable margin of error in this review. Should I get the opportunity to view it with a superior translation I will revise this review.
Even with this sizable disadvantage I must admit this was still surprisingly good fun. Naturally the foundation, derived from the TV series isn't the most complex anime plot ever devised. Likewise the whole `android' and `living puppet' elements are not unfamiliar and the show is not above laying it on thick to make sure you get the point. It doesn't matter though, because the show clearly wants to stay within the boundaries of the original but explore the issues more deeply and with more maturity. It's a sort of clever way of making a decent anime while keeping the retro crowd mostly happy.
There's also a couple of slightly unusual elements. To begin with there is a nice emotional sub plot. Not just between Kikaider and the two family members, that goes without saying, but also within the mind of the young woman. She's had many confusing things happen in her life and she's desperate to make sense of them. Which links nicely to the suspense sub-plot. The question here being why was daddy making insanely powerful robots, who was paying the bills and what does he intend to do with the ones that were completed before Kikaider. The final element being how exactly do the androids themselves feel about the whole thing. Since the `humanity' circuit is so uncertain, and troubling, might one not be happier without it?
I cannot easily judge how well it does this, but it looked interesting to me. If I had to guess I'd suspect it manages only an average mark on originality but does much better in melding it all together and applying a touch of style. After all, this formula still has a lot of potential left in it. It also gains in that the world, content and action are nicely done. The world feels like a quite dark and unforgiving place in this series, and it is not afraid to have some quite aggressive violence. There are bad people as well as good, good people may fall prey to anger or fear, and no one is safe from the power contained within these robots. Which incidentally gives Kikaider the chance to do his transform sequence and kick some butt.
The production is quite good, but once again shows the various pressures on the show. The visual style is intentionally retro which can look quite strange, and doesn't seem to make much sense since the original Kikaider was live action. This quite `manga' style sometimes competes with their attempts to get a dark and more modern appearance. They've also done their best to make Kikaider, who's costume seems very archaic now, look cool and dangerous. Fortunately for them they do seem to have got the fights down pat. A nice overblown design style meets some computer assisted animation to provide some rather entertaining action. It's also nicely varied because the powers, personality, and appearance of the enemy robots are all built around a different `monster' theme. It also uses the `environment' very well. This is completed with some quite decent voice acting and some nice moody acoustic guitar music (Kikaider is always seen with a guitar on his back) which is actually rather nice.
None of my regular sources have a review for this title at this time.