This is my first review of a commercial series using a DVD by mail service. As a result it ended up taking a long time to get access to the full series, but it was interesting to get the chance to see just what sort of titles get commercial releases, despite having marginal to no presence at the anime fan level.
At some point, in the safely distant future, mankind has spread throughout the galaxy and mastered all sorts of incredible technologies. However human society has not changed much at all, wealth and power are still divided unevenly, and there is a continuing struggle between those who have too much, too little and those who are willing to do whatever is required to get more for themselves. Standing in between are various organizations, one of which is GOTT, the galaxy office of trade and tariffs, which strives for fairness in the economic system.
It sounds like a place of bureaucracy and the digital equivalent of paper, and indeed it is, but for the problems that have gone too far the GOTT has other resources to call upon. Eclair, energetic and excessively physical and her partner Lumiere, petite and refined, are members of the ES group. Agents with secret powers, skills and resources that allow them to get involved in even the most aggressive of conflicts and come out on top. There is a price to pay however, an ES member has seen too much, had too many things done to them, to ever be a truly "normal" person.
There are many anime titles that fail, and some fail badly. In a lot of cases something went wrong in production or planning, in others it was because the creators aimed much higher than their talent (if any) allowed them to actually manage, or perhaps there was just something wrong with the core concept. This is fine, every artistic creation is an experiment and some are going to fail, you need these failures in order to create surprise successes.
Kiddy Grade is almost entirely the inverse of that. This is a series which should have been an easy sell, but which fails almost entirely because of an obvious lack of care or commitment by the creators. I would have to suspect that someone drew up the character designs, sketched in a little backstory, and then passed it off to people who just had to make it stretch through 24 episodes. You can almost sense them wondering how they can extend this limping mess of a title for another couple of episodes, but not actually willing to invest the time to do it properly. I just don't have tolerance for that, there's so much interesting anime around that spending money making "filler" is disheartening.
So why does it fail? The primary reason, without a doubt, is the storyline. It is incredibly fragmented and unconvincing. Silly little episodic stories that go nowhere, huge jumps and reversals as plot elements come from nowhere and then vanish just as suddenly. They set up all these elements and then manage to do nothing useful with them. One example is that there are actually multiple teams of ES members, each of whom seem interesting, but which in reality end up doing nothing more than providing distracting cameo appearances. Another example, during the story, is when the lead characters are cloned to be used as mind controlled soldiers. These clones are freed from bondage, have to cope with the fact that they are illegal creations, duplicates, and have only a short life span. It's such a rich story vein, but instead they simply vanish from the story and it jumps to something else. It's all so incredibly shallow. One of the biggest story threads is when Eclipse and Lumiere become renegades, hunted by those they once worked beside. Another great story thread that ends up fizzling completely with a "oh well, I'm sure you had your reasons"... despite the fact the whole arc ends up making no sense at all.
It also becomes more than a little annoying that they use such cheap tricks to cobble together what they have. The number of times characters would have a dramatic event, up to and including their death, and then suddenly "reset", was much too noticeable. If, just as an arbitrary example, every atom in your body is disassembled into raw energy, then you don't get an encore.... unless you're in something silly like this. The character's powers end up being just an easy excuse to tie up plot holes, which of course makes them ill-defined and inconsistent the rest of the time. That may be a good thing though, the original concept included lipstick and a wine-bottle as their respective "super-weapons", which is pretty damn silly.
The action component also manages to generate a remarkable lack of interest or excitement. One reason is that it is un-imaginatively staged, and represented, but it's actually something more than that. The problem with it is, I think, that it feels scripted. This might sound strange, obviously all action is scripted and pre-determined, but good action has you always wondering what's going to happen next, what move or strategy the participants will employ, and who's going to come out the victor. In other words it has tension, and drama, of its own. This show has none of that, it is blatantly obvious that any action is the minimum required to transition from one plot point to another. The characters don't plan, fight cleverly or worry too much about the dangers because they know the story will come up with some illogical way for them to win... or at least die in a properly dramatic fashion. There's also an excess of "energy" battles, beams of energy and "nano-mist" shields, which mean that much of the action is fairly static, even if it wasn't way too "talky" to begin with.
This is just really poor, mass produced anime. "creativity-lite" just to fill up some air-time and sell some DVD's. And because there are obvious signs of money behind the production, and the plot was so clearly aimed to be mainstream, I find it really distasteful. I'd much prefer an anime that fails dismally but at least gives the sense the creators tried, and had some belief and investment in what they were doing. I really feel for anyone who bought this, ouch.
The production focuses strongly on the characters who are clearly considered to be the central selling points, or perhaps offer good prospects for merchandising. This includes stills for cutting in and out of the add break, also included on the DVD, which are sort of disturbing. At times they look like fan art, at other times they look like fan service. There is also quite a lot of fan service in the anime itself. Exactly why the safety of the universe depends on a bunch of teenagers, who look like they're about to head out clubbing, is never explained. There's also a fair amount of technology but it tends to have a very complex design, lots of spikes and features, without any sort of logic behind its appearance, which actually reduces the visual effect. It is glossy though, and there is some money and skill behind it, so it's much better than the story deserves. The music is forgettable and the voices of the leads curiously weak, possibly due to the stilted dialogue not giving them enough to work with. This is a real problem for Lumiere who tends to fade into the background much too easily, both visually and in her dialogue.
A glossy series featuring two teenage girls, with super powers and fan-service compatible outfits, saving the galaxy one episode at a time. A very lightweight premise that more or less fizzles completely in execution. If you look at some of the screen shots of the character art you've probably seen all you want of this limp and pointless story.