Kite Anime Review
US Release By
Assasin Psychological Thriller/Action
2 30-minute episodes (edited version 45 minutes)
1998-02-25 - 1998-10-25
Sawa is a college girl who is far more than she appears on the surface. Below her cute exterior beats the cold heart of an assassin, trained since the death of her parents by a disillusioned coroner to be the ultimate justice for men who elude the law. But her caretaker may be no better than those he hires her out to kill, and when she meets a young man in the same situation as her, she starts thinking about a normal life for the first time...
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Kite is probably the best-known production by Yasuomi Umetsu, known for his stunning artwork and dark hentai stories. Borrowing heavily from stylized modern assassin films like La Femme Nikita, Kite plays the hard-boiled, neo-noir game well. It almost succeeds as a grim assassin psychodrama, but in the end the characterization and short length end up dragging it down to the point of being little more than a plot-heavy action movie. Or, in the case of the uncut version, a plot-heavy action movie flirting with pornography thanks to gratuitous XXX-grade sex and rape-as-erotica scenes. On the bright side, the art is every bit as beautiful as you'd expect in an Umetsu work, and the over-the-top action is downright spectacular.
Kite might be worth watching for the remarkable visuals and extreme action, but unless you're very into psychological neo-noir or a disturbing-sex-and-violence shock cinema fan, it probably won't cut it otherwise.
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Kite is a slick looking little flick by Yasuomi Umetsu, better known as a talented animator and character designer. Borrowing heavily from stylized modern assassin films like La Femme Nikita and The Professional (the live-action one, not the Golgo 13 movie), Kite plays the hard-boiled, neo-noir game well, but in the end the characterization and short length end up dragging it down to the point of being little more than a plot-heavy action movie. Or, in the case of the uncut version, shock cinema disguised as a plot-heavy action movie flirting with pornography.
The concept of the story, while simple, has the potential to bring out a wealth of detail and depth in the characters, but its cramped 45 minute length simply isn't enough time to really explore them. The lead, for example, has all sorts of potential for inner turmoil between her own desires and her sense of duty to her "protector," or the conflicting parent/possessor role that he holds, but only the surface of this is scratched. Most of the other characters are even less developed. To Kite's credit, every scene in the edited version furthers the story, but there simply aren't enough of them--it's too focused for its own good.
Some of the major plot twists seem forced for the same reason--without enough insight into the characters, I'm left assuming their only motivation is to supply kinks for the plot. There's also a wicked little O. Henry ending that, while perhaps intended as a nihilistic statement, bugged me--it seemed to be a twist for the sake of itself. Admittedly, some may like it, but I get annoyed by that sort of thing.
That said, here's the question I'm left asking about Kite: Is it a psychological thriller that failed due to the abridged plot, or is it just a dandied-up, testosterone-driven shock flick trying to look like something more?
Properly explored, the dysfunctional relationships could have been believable and intriguing. As is, the characters are too shallow for me to see more than simple shock value. The violence similarly loses its impact without any meaning to back it; graphic violence can be used as a tool, but Kite is unnecessarily bloody to no apparent end. Worse, the action is well out of the realm of the realistic--I don't think there's a single punch that doesn't drive someone three inches into a wall. As a result, Kite degrades into little more than an (admittedly dazzling) action movie in several parts, making it all the more difficult to take the rest of the story seriously. The grim plot in turn robs the action of some of its fun.
Actually, my question above is answered by the uncut version: The addition of XXX-grade sex and rape scenes make it all too clear that Kite is a very well made hentai/action combo with a nasty misogynistic undercurrent. Again, explicit sexual content isn't reason enough to write a film off, but Kite's scenes are so unnecessarily graphic and intentionally lurid (rape filmed as erotica) that it destroys the illusion that the rest of the movie is intended as anything but shock cinema. This is one of those rare cases where the edited version is the better one. (Unless, of course, you're watching for the adult content.)
If, however, you leave all that aside, Kite is certainly one heck of an action movie. I'm a fan of over-the-top action, and it includes one of the most spectacular action sequences I've ever seen, with the uncommonly realistic visuals making it seem all the wilder. The art, characteristic of Umetsu's works, is slick and unique: angular, more-realistic-than-average character designs, interesting clothing and hardware, and detailed, refined linework. The frame rate in the animation may be a bit low for something so attractive, but it is more than sufficient to make the fluent character animation work. Top marks go to the action choreography, and the explosions are second to none.
The only flaw is that the characters' action doesn't seem quite as solid as it should--some of the interaction with the backgrounds and other characters is a little soft. This is a very minor gripe, but the rest looks so spectacular it's a pity it's not perfect. My other complaint about the visuals is a few out-of-place backgrounds; most are rich and cinematic (an apartment that has real-world crime scene photographs hung on a wall, for example), but a few are overly simple and colored with too many pastels to fit the otherwise moody noir look.
The music in Kite is a good match for most of the visuals, enhancing the neo-noir flavor. Generally understated (little of it is in the action sequences), the music alternates between lonely piano work and a loose, jazzy mix of sax and percussion. Out of the ordinary for anime, and quite effective.
The acting in the dub is mostly solid; Kite and her companion sound as good as you could ask for, and the two older men are also well acted, if a little overblown at times. Unfortunately, there are a few very weak minor characters that drag my overall impression of the acting down a notch.
Kite apparently wants to be either an over-the-top action movie or a grim assassin psychodrama, but by nature of its length and success at the former, it doesn't do well at the latter. The adults-only unedited version changes the options: Either very involved, very well-made, action-riffic hentai anime or slick, uncommonly graphic, Kawajiri-style shock-flick. Kite might be worth watching for the remarkable visuals and extreme action, but unless you're very into psychological neo-noir or a disturbing-sex-and-violence shock cinema fan, it probably won't cut it otherwise.
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Kite has the most in common with La Femme Nikita, actually. In anime terms, it bears some resemblance to AD Police Files (only the OAV), at least in feel. Kite: Liberator is theoretically a sequel, albeit one rather different in setting, and Mezzo Forte, though not exactly a sequel, has a very similar story and the same creator.
Notes and Trivia
Kite is an original concept by Yasuomi Umetsu, one of the few productions headed by the veteran key animator. Umetsu's credits as a key animator range from AKIRA to Urusei Yatsura, and he's also been the animation director on a number of relatively high-profile projects, as well as supplied his characteristically gorgeous character designs for a few others. He also created the "Presence" section of Robot Carnival. A sci-fi sort-of-sequel, Kite: Liberator, was produced several years later, as well as the very similar, if not technically sequel, spin-off series Mezzo and Mezzo Forte.
Kite was originally produced by hentai studio Green Bunny, and had something of a reputation right after its release of being an unusually shocking film. In reality, while graphic, there are other hentai films that are just as bad, although few could pass for a legitimate drama with the sex edited out. One of the reasons cited has to do with the age of Sawa during some of the graphic sequences, but whatever the quoted age in the story it is only theoretical--she is drawn with a physique fitting for an adult film star.
US DVD Review
The DVD is available in a confusing array of four different editions, all of which include English and Japanese dialogue and English subtitles. Originally there was the standard edition, which was the shorter edited version and includes a gallery of cel art and storyboards. This was released along with the Director's Cut version. which is the full uncut version and doesn't have much in the way of special features.
Shortly afterward the Special Edition Uncut version was added, which is the same as the Director's Cut with the addition of Interviews and other extras.
Finally, several years later, a Remastered edition was added to the pile to roughly coincide with the release of Kite: Liberator; this one is also of the edited version, but presumably has improved video. You can also get that version in a double-pack along with Kite: Liberator, or the earlier basic or uncut versions paired with an edited or uncut version of Mezzo Forte, respectively.
Even with the worst edited out it is most definitely not for kids, garnering an 18-up from Media Blasters (though 16-up wouldn't be unreasonable). The uncut version borders on pornographic, and is unquestionably adults only.
Violence: 5 - Lots of exploding bullets and the resulting gore, plus sanitized rape-as-erotica in the uncut version; even edited, it warrants a 4.
Nudity: 5 - Extremely detailed nudity in the uncut version. The edited version reduces that to a single scene, rating a 2.
Sex/Mature Themes: 5 - Extremely graphic sex/rape in the uncut version. In edited form the serious but unexplicit adult themes still qualify as a 4.
Language: 3 - Strong language in the dub, particularly in the first scene.
Available in North America from Media Blasters in four different bilingual DVD flavors, two edited and two uncut. The original edition and the 2009 "remastered" edition are both edited, list a runtime of 45 minutes, are rated 16-up, and and are on the AnimeWorks label. There are also two unedited versions: The Director's Cut and the Uncut Special Edition with added features--both of which list a runtime of 60 minutes, are adults-only, and are released under their adult division, Kitty.
There's also a double-feature version with Mezzo Forte in both edited and uncut versions (the cover of the uncut one has Sawa in the front; she's in the back in the edited version) and a double-feature version that pairs the Remastered version with the sort-of-sequel, Kite: Liberator. Kite was originally available on VHS in subtitled and dubbed versions, each coming in both edited and Director's Cut flavors.
At last check RightStuf carried all of the above: Original Edited Edition, Remastered Edited Edition, Director's Cut (Unedited), Special Edition (Unedited), Kite/Mezzo Forte (edited version), Kite/Mezzo Forte (uncut version), Kite (edited) + Kite: Liberator.