Kikaider Anime Review
人造人間キカイダー The Animation
Jinzouningen Kikaider: The Animation
Android Kikaider: The Animation
US Release By
Cliched Robot Fighting
13 25 minute episodes
2000-10-16 - 2001-01-08(?)
Jiro is a battle android who was created by the mad doctor Komyoji, who also happened to have a son and a daughter. He has a special chip called a 'Gemini circuit' built in, which gives him a conscience and emotions (where have we heard this before?). There's also an evil doctor named Dr. Gill who wants to use robots for evil. Well, after defeating a few robots sent after him by transforming into his full robot form, Kikaider, Jiro is told by Komyoji's daughter Mitsuko that his Gemini is faulty and he'll have to be destroyed, so he runs away. They employ a detective to find him, but one thing leads to another and the detective gets sucked in to a plot by Dr. Gill to, among other things, destroy Jiro.
First things first: Kikaider, to the best of my knowledge, is based off an old sentai show (the type of Japanese show Power Rangers was ripped off from; Ultraman and so forth). This show was based off a manga by some acclaimed artist named Shotaro Ishinomori who trained under Osamu "the father of anime" Tezuka. Well, I'm going to say right here and now that just because something is old doesn't mean it's good anymore.
The storyline in Kikaider is so cliched it hurts. In the first few minutes of the first episode, a laboratory is shown where a mad doctor in a lab coat labors over something in a tank. BAM! After that, a teenage girl is shown saying to a little boy, "And then Gepetto made himself a puppet and wished upon a star that it would come to life!" WHACK! After this, the little boy falls asleep and the teenage girl leaves the room, thinking, "I wish Dad would come home and stop working in his laboratory all the time." BAM WHACK POW PUNCH BEAT CHOP SLICE DICE HEW HACK BREAK PLANK OVER HEAD!!! Later in the show, Jiro begins to suffer from many and varied varieties of angst and anguish, guided by Mitsuko, who's all-knowing in these matters because she happens to be a human. Well, you could have fooled me! (I would explain the pain I went through from how cliched this was, but I don't think I can top that last one).
Why could you have fooled me? Because the characterization in Kikaider is the biggest, fattest load of swear words too horrible to be heard by human ears since Reign: The Conquerer. Jiro goes through all sorts of angst: anger at Mitsuko wanting to destroy him; fear of killing her when under Dr. Gill's unholy control; shame at his ugly appearance in robot form (which retains the retro/sentai cheesiness); and even falls in love with Mitsuko (she eventually gives up on trying to destroy him). Why is this bad characterization? First of all, I could really have cared less about a robot's feelings. Jiro was never happy once in the whole show, and if you're never happy, you're not human or even a reasonable facsimile. The way this was done was also so incredibly ham-handed that it sickened me. Instead of bearing the feelings and trying to do his best, Jiro is always sitting around feeling sorry for himself and blindly ignoring that fact that this is getting other people into trouble. Perhaps this is what a human would do, but not many humans would sit there saying to themselves "I am so ugly. I'm so incredibly ugly. I'm so hideous it looks like someone replaced me at birth with a changeling. I think I'll never show my face to anyone again because it's so incredibly unbearably ugly." It's very hard to feel the slightest bit of sympathy for him because ninety percent of his angst is created in his own mind. Even the most offhand remarks drive him to acting this way. If someone at the dinner table told him to keep his mouth closed when he ate, Jiro wouldn't apologize and keep his mouth closed. Jiro would run away from home and sit somewhere looking miserable and telling himself "I didn't keep my mouth shut. I'm so rude. I'm totally worthless. I couldn't keep my mouth shut. I deserve to be dismantled and sold to charity." (I know robots don't eat; I'm making a point).
At least Jiro had badly done characterization. Mitsuko, aside from some half-baked notion of loving Jiro, spends all of her time lecturing Jiro about his emotions and doesn't make any for herself. If Kikaider was a book, this is how far they would have gone into it: Your dad never came home. And you're sad. And you love Jiro.
The last main protagonist, Mitsuko's younger brother Masato, is just another anxious kid who's angry with being left behind all the time. There's also an episode where, while running through the forest to get to a cabin where Mitsuko and Jiro are, he meets two robots with a robotic bear. He declares them his "friends." After leading them to the cabin, the robots reveal their true identity and attack, saying right out that they'll kill Mitsuko and Masato if Jiro doesn't give himself up. Well, of course Jiro fights them and destroys them (I don't think "kills" is an appropriate word for a robot), and Masato spends five minutes whining about how much he hates Jiro for saving his life (oh yeah, and killing his "friends"). Dr. Gill, our main bad guy, is so evil that he doesn't really want to do anything except be evil. Oh yeah, and destroy the world. And he treats robots as a tool, when, in fact, they are people! (Just like on Beyblade!)
Kikaider shows itself easily as a technical mixture of old and new. The animation is good, being fast-moving and consistent, as well as detailed and computer-assisted. However, the character designs are very obviously old fashioned. They look so much like Tezuka that I thought it was him at first. Everyone has a severely oval face and large, circular hands that resemble balloon shapes. The minor characters look like they came from some common cartoon. Mitsuko also has a neck as thick as her head, which I found unattractive (although Alexander the Great wrote the book on unattractive). Even fashion was retro; Jiro, for example, dresses in a jean jacket and jean pants, both with fringes all around the cuffs and the bottom. Striped shirts are worn very frequently, and the detective's assistant (who otherwise was the best-looking character in the show) wears a hat that looks like a skullcap with two huge balls glued on top. The music was repetitive and generic, but all right. The lyrics were removed from the ending song on Adult Swim (they made leaps and bounds with content but still refuse to let you hear a single word in Japanese). The music in it is slow and boring, just like the show. The dub cast was acceptable. I know I'm in a huge minority here, but even though it's the right way to pronounce them I don't think dub actors should do the Japanese L/R thing or T/S thing. It sounds awkward and strange, as well as annoying, and even in the subtitled versions the actors often pronounce R as just an R. (In Japanese, as you probably know, there is no L, and R is pronounced as a mixture of the two. There is also, in the syllabic writing systems, no 'tu' syllable; instead it's 'tsu,' which is pronounced on the beginning of words something like the end of a 't's' contraction in English). Since it was on Adult Swim, I know nothing about how the subtitled version is, but the cast is full of well-known anime voice actors (among fans and in Japan). Tomokazu Seki (Van, Vision of Escaflowne; Kamui, X: The Movie) plays Jiro. Yui Hori (Naru Narusegawa in Love Hina) plays Mitsuko, as well as singing the ending song. Lastly, Yumiko Kobayashi (Opening song, as well as herself, in Excel Saga, and Sarah McDougall in Love Hina, as well as other roles in things I've never seen) plays Masato.
There were several other reasons why Kikaider was bad, but they're all little niggling things that are largely open to opinion or preference. For example, I found most of the show incredibly boring because all they did was sit around and talk about Jiro's angst and Dr. Gill's totally stupid evil plans. There was one fight scene in the end of every episode. Most of the time when this formula is used, the episode has some sort of plot that leads up to an exciting and unique fight, but neither one is true for Kikaider. The episodes in Kikaider were all about psychiatrist visits and evil plan worries, then the robot would randomly show up in the end of the episode. The actual fights were also very boring, because the bad guys had no powers other than superbly evil strength and claws and talons (oh, did I mention? All the bad guys are giant robot versions of animals!). Kikaider himself also had no interesting powers and his battles with the robots involved a lot of struggling, grappling, and throwing, without a single punch or kick being thrown. Maybe some people find this exciting, but I find it boring and tiresome. The bad guys being giant animals was also very annoying, since everything was supposed to be serious and dire, and the vaguely human robots resembled robotic amusement park workers (like in Metropolis). How can you take a robot who lives in an abandoned church, wears a cape, and turns into a huge bat seriously? Not to mention that the church has cross and gravestone-shaped rockets that shoot out of the ground and destroy intruders.
This review, as usual, is all open to my own opinion. I know some people will love Kikaider because of its retro styling, which they remember from their childhoods, and all I can say is good for freakin' you. You can call me a dumb kid all you want, but I too like things that really aren't that good over nostalgia. I don't have any nostalgia of Astro Boy (oh, excuse me, Tetsuwan Atom), so I don't have any nostalgia for Kikaider, and judged on its own merits, it's a cliched, badly-written piece of trash with ugly character designs and laughably campy bad guys. So there.
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Notes and Trivia
Was originally a manga by Shotaro Ishinomori (famous for creating series like Kamen Rider), then adapted in the sixties to a sentai (live action costumed hero) show. The Kikaider form looks exactly like a drawing of a guy in a spandex suit and a plastic helmet.
US DVD Review
Bandai's DVDs are bilingual and list as extra features an illustration gallery and previews.
It's on Adult Swim, but it's not terribly adult; about 10-up.
Violence: 1 - Mostly robots; only one human has actually died.
Nudity: 0 - Not a thing.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - No sex to speak of, but some of the themes are a little weighty.
Language: 1 - Some 'damns' and 'hells' in the dub.
Staff & Cast
Based off an original work by: Shotaro Ishinomori
Jiro/Kikaider: Tomokazu Seki
Mitsuko Komyoji: Yui Hori
Masato Komyoji: Yumiko Kobayashi
English Dub Cast
Jiro/Kikaider: Dave Wittenberg
Mitsuko Komyoji: Lia Sargent
Saburo/Hakaider: Steven Jay Blum