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Key The Metal Idol Anime Review

Key The Metal Idol Box Art

Key The Metal Idol

4 stars / OAV Series / Drama / 13-up

Bottom Line

A generally solid, if a bit creepy piece of anime.

It’s Like...

...Serial Experiments Lain does Pinocchio.

Vital Stats

Original Title


Romanized Title


Animation Studio

Studio Pierrot

US Release By

VIZ (also Pioneer Animation)


Creepy Robot-girl-wants-to-be-human Thriller

Series Type

OAV Series


15 episodes; 1-13 30 minutes each, 14-15 90 minutes each

Production Date

1994-12-16 - 1997-06-18

What's In It


Look For

  • Psychotic bad guys (these people have got some serious issues)
  • Downright strange dreams (Key's mind is one odd place)
  • Gunfights
  • Fistfights
  • Idol singers
  • Fanboys

Objectionable Content

  • Violence: 3 (significant)
  • Nudity: 2 (moderate)
  • Sex: 3 (significant)
  • Language: 2 (moderate)

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See Also


  • None

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Plot Synopsis

Will you be one of Key's 30,000 friends? Key is a robot who has been living with normal people all her life. But when Key's Grandfather mysteriously dies, Key is left with a tape recording saying that if she can make 30,000 friends she will become human. Key believes her Grandfather and travels to Tokyo. With her pale skin, her large glazed eyes and without even the ability to smile, it doesn't look as if Key will be able to accomplish her goal. However, she does have one friend from Junior High in Tokyo. After accidentally running into each other, Sakura, Key's friend, takes her into her home.

As hard as it will be to make 29,999 more friends, Key, Sakura, and their friend (Guess that makes it 29,998 now) Shuichi are brought into the mystery surrounding Key's Grandfather's death and the many other mysteries spanning from that. What are those huge robots and why do they go berserk around Key? What's the story behind the popular idol singer, Miho? While Key has made two friends, she has come to a city with many questions and the only people who hold the answers are her enemies.

Quick Review

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Without a doubt one of the most well made series I have seen recently. While the concept sounds kind of dumb, it's written in such a way so those thoughts don't come to mind, and describing it as a darker take on Pinocchio barely scratches the surface. Dark, unsettling, and atmospheric, the pacing is excellent and each captivating episode bombards the viewer with many questions and few answers. The subtle animation enhances the mood and adds some strange dreamlike sequences, and the broad cast is well acted in both languages. The only mixed bag is the music; the songs are very good in both languages (they are re-dubbed in the English version), but the background music and sound effects are lacking.

In all, Key the Metal Idol is a satisfying series I would not hesitate to recommend.

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Full Review

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I'm going to come right out and say it. Key The Metal Idol is, without a doubt, one of the most well made series I have seen recently. While the concept of a robot making 30,000 friends to become human sounds kind of dumb, on top of not having any scientific value to it, it's written in such a way so those thoughts don't really come to mind. Not to mention that, believe it or not, it all makes sense in the end. It's safe to say that Key can be described as a darker take on Pinocchio, although that's barely scratching the surface. To elaborate somewhat, the setting and mood of Key is not only dark but slightly unsettling. The pacing of Key is excellent and is without a doubt one of the strongest elements in the series. In fact, throughout Key, the viewer is bombarded with many questions and few answers, yet I personally found each episode captivating.

It's difficult to analyze Key's story since there's so much going on. But even though the story is convoluted, it's written in such a way that you kind of know the writers will fill every hole by the end. And indeed they do. I'll admit that all the questions and unexplained plot twists may be overwhelming to a lot of people (I certainly felt so at times), but if you're like me and you like a good, creepy mystery, then Key will be right up your alley. It manages to be philosophical, like Ghost in the Shell, by asking questions about humanity (although considering the premise, that's kind of a no-brainer). It even adds in some religious elements. Basically, there's a little bit of everything for every kind of sci-fi fan.

I won't spoil anything, but I'd like to touch upon the ending. I've heard some people complain that many things aren't answered and it's all-around confusing and disappointing. I'd like to respectfully disagree. While the answers to the numerous questions in Key The Metal Idol don't turn out how you may have thought they would, almost everything is answered. Plus, when you think about those answers, they do make sense. To nitpick a little, I felt the latter half of the last episode lost a lot of the dark edge that the rest of the episodes had. Understandable I suppose, since there was no mystery left by that time, but a little disappointing nonetheless. I also felt more closure should have been provided for the supporting characters. Don't get me wrong though, I felt the ending was pretty darn satisfying.

The characters in Key have a very wide range. You have your bad guys like D, who seem to have a very dark past and have a rivalry with one of the good guys. Then we have the head bad guy who seems to be one of those calm and cool level-headed people with very dark plans for Tokyo, but we also see he has a really psychotic side. Then there's the sleazeball who we think is just around for an episode or two but he surprisingly plays a significant role in the grand scheme of things. Then there are the good guys. Key's friend, Sakura Kuriyagawa, may not look like she will blend in with the story. She's cute, busty, and looks like she'd be suited to wearing a skimpy outfit and a carrying a huge gun. However, her character is actually well done and I never felt she was out of place for a second.

The same goes for Shuichi Tataki, who is kind of on the same level with Sakura. That is, he's probably what you would call a bishounen. However, he's a good character and easily very likable. Shuichi and Sakura are both remarkably human. They don't take the situations brought upon them with ease; they get overwhelmed, confused and frustrated and it helps you care about them a lot more, especially later on. Of course there's Key, who is a total enigma. She can't even smile, let alone show any emotion. Yet she's very interesting. Her very existence is the cause of all the mystery, but her origins are shrouded in mystery. We may know next to nothing about her, but she's the main reason for why we're watching this show in the first place.

There is more to like about Key aside from it's dark atmosphere and mysterious story. While Key is set in modern times, the atmosphere is well designed and appropriately dark and unnerving when it needs to be. Otherwise it might seem like the visual side of Key isn't much to write home about. I felt it was all around solid though. The animation looks good, even when there's not much excitement. Some of the more subtle plot advancements are animated quite well with downright odd dream-like sequences and generally unnerving character revelations (Ajo and Tsurugi take the cake in the latter). While there isn't much fighting, the physical violence is animated well enough. The character designs are not really memorable, and we've seen them before, although Key herself has a very distinct look to her that I haven't seen anywhere else. The art in general is pretty solid. The backgrounds, while they may not jump out at you, are drawn well and blend right in with the atmosphere.

As far as the sound goes, the acting in both languages is quite well done. I'll admit that I like VIZ's dubs and Key's dub is certainly no exception. In fact, this is a fine dub and one of my favorites from VIZ. To be honest, I felt some of the casting in the dub was better then the original Japanese, despite the somewhat inconsistent voice cast. Shuichi and D had voice changes later on in the series. However, the replacements didn't lose a beat and were able to keep pace with the previous actors just fine. Key was solidly voiced and was, without a doubt, the one of the biggest stand-outs in the cast. I even felt the slight robotic effect to her voice was very appropriate. The two lead supporting characters, Sakura and Shuichi, were solidly acted (twice over in Shuichi's case), which is fortunate, since they carried the bulk of the drama. The bad guy, Ajo, was also very good. His voice matched the face to a T and his acting made the character all the more appealing. One final note on a very worthy performance would be Hikaru Tsurugi (which would be the other stand-out by the cast). The actor who portrayed him is noted for more psychotic roles and he did not disappoint. I'd even go as far to say that he out-performed the Japanese voice actor.

The Japanese acting, as I mentioned, was somewhat oddly cast in a few areas, in my opinion. Shuichi and Wakagi sounded like they should have their voices switched. What I mean is, Wakagi is bigger and a little older then Shuichi, yet he sounded slightly younger than Shuichi. Shuichi sounded too old for his age. The voice I really couldn't warm up to, however, was Ajo's. He simply sounded too young. Don't take this to mean that I didn't like the Japanese version or that the dub surpassed it, because that's not the case. Key was every bit as well done originally as she was in the dub with an emotionless, robotic-sounding voice and performance. Sakura was solidly acted as well. The same can be said for all the cast members, despite the few oddly chosen voices. In defense of the original, the dub had some poor performances in the minor and extra characters. That may not sound like a big deal, but Key had several important scenes involving large crowds and these scenes had a greater impact in Japanese.

The music in Key was a mixed bag. The opening and ending themes are very good, in both languages as well as all the other vocal songs. VIZ choose to dub all the vocal songs in Key and did a great job in doing so. The songs are great in both languages with neither one surpassing the other. The background music, however, was poor and not noticeable, although some music in the final episodes wasn't half bad. The same can be said for the sound effects which, while it may not matter to some, I personally found them to be lacking.

I really enjoyed Key. I had a very good feeling about how the plot would further advance and conclude. I've seen a couple series, which shall remain nameless, that have built up a great story and then gave a very disappointing ending. But all in all I felt quite satisfied with Key The Metal Idol and would not hesitate to recommend it.

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Related Recommendations

If you liked this then you should definitely check out Serial Experiments Lain and vice versa. Ghost in the Shell might not be a bad idea either.

Notes and Trivia


US DVD Review

As with most of VIZ's DVDs, this one was co-produced with Pioneer and isn't a bad production, but does have some problems. First off, these DVDs are of good value, containing all fifteen episodes of the OAV series on three dual-layered DVDs. However, I'm afraid the video was not so great. The main offenders are the darker sequences, which unfortunately accounts for 60-70% of the show. During these dark sequences, I noticed a fair amount of ghosting (which is when the image seems to 'blur' when characters move or the camera pans). The video also looked kind of harsh on jackets and trench coats and even characters faces once in awhile. Combine that with some master flaws, like dirt, and some harsh grain on the last episode, and you get something that's a little hard to get excited over. Also, the image jitters a bit due to how it was edited in Japan. Think Gainax and you'll know what I'm talking about, although it wasn't quite that bad. The video isn't a total loss, however, as daytime scenes looked good, clean and sharp. As for audio, we're given an English and a Japanese language track, with an English subtitle track, which is of no surprise at all. While there are some action sequences that sound very good, this is mostly a dialogue show and therefore won't sound terribly dynamic either way. However, the stereo sound does do its job well. Definitely a better job than the VHS version.

VIZ has treated us with some pretty decent extras. There's some conceptual art and character profiles on all three discs. The last disc has a creditless opening and ending (unfortunately only the Japanese audio was encoded on it). But the real treat is a three-part (one part a DVD) text interview with the creator Hiroaki Sato from an issue of Animerica and an FAQ about the show (first DVD only), with answers from the creator himself. Both the interview and FAQ help give insight to the show and the creators intentions. Finally, the extras section provides voice credits for both languages, but the end credits themselves only list the English actors.

Parental Guide

This one's got some odd imagery and equally odd characters who do very strange things. Combined with some nudity and graphic violence, it's on the heavier side of 13-up, possibly 16-up.

Violence: 3 - Some bloody and graphic violence here, but pretty sparse overall.

Nudity: 2 - A couple non-erotic scenes with Key, a shower scene, and a couple of weird scenes.

Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - Those weird scenes mentioned above, plus a crush.

Language: 2 - An appropriate amount of profanity.

Staff & Cast

Original Japanese Cast

Tokiko Mima (Key): Junko Iwao
Sakura Kuriyagawa: Miki Nagasawa
Shuichi Tataki: Toshiyuki Morikawa
Tomoyo Wakagi: Hiroshi Yanaka
Hikaru Tsurugi: Shinichiro Miki
Maestro: Kaneta Kimotsuki
Jinsaku Ajo: Sho Hayami
"D": Jyurota Kosugi
Tokoyo Mima: Kikuko Inoue
Murao Mima: Koichi Kimura
Miho Utsuse/Beniko Komori: Chiyako Shibahara
Staff A: Mitsuru Ogata
Staff C: Junichi Sugawara
Konoda: Daiki Nakamura
Prince Snake-Eye: Eken Mine
Tsukiyama: Hitoshi Horimoto

English Dub Cast

Tokiko Mima (Key): Nicole Oliver
Sakura Kuriyagawa: Megan Leitch
Shuichi Tataki: Jerry J. Todd (eps. 1-9), Peter Kelamis (eps. 10-15)
Tomoyo Wakagi: David Kaye
Hikaru Tsurugi: Brian Drummond
Maestro: Alec Willows
Jinsaku Ajo: John Novak
"D": David Sobolov (eps. 1-11), Mark Gibbon (eps. 12-15)
Tokoyo Mima: Willow Johnson
Murao Mima: Harvery L. Gold
Miho Utsuse/Beniko Komori: Saffron Henderson
Staff A: Ward Perry
Staff C: Michael Dobson
Konoda: Daiki Nakamura
Prince Snake-Eye: Don Brown
Tsukiyama: Jason Gray-Standford


Story: Hiroaki Sato
Director: Hiroaki Sato
Animation Director: Keiichi Ishikura
Character Concepts: Kunihiko Tanaka


Available in North America from VIZ (in a joint Pioneer production) as a hybrid DVD box set of the entire series. Was originally available on three hybrid DVD volumes, and earlier on eight dubbed or subtitled VHS volumes.

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