Kite: Liberator Anime Review
US Release By
In space, a group of researchers fall victim to a terrible accident. On earth, a female vigilante known as the Angel of Death is making a name for herself. Her justice is brutal, yet only exacted on those who commit unforgivable crimes. When not living her secret life, Monaka attends high school and works as a waitress at a shady maid cafe. While balancing her two lives, her connection to the men in space becomes clear when the surviving members of the team come crashing to earth.
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Oh man, what happened? Of all the directions Yasuomi Umetsu's follow-up to his controversial adult OVA could have taken, an effective reboot awkwardly mashing stupid sci-fi horror with random sleazy action was not what I was expecting. The two plots have almost nothing to do with each other, neither makes sense anyway, and the characters are uninteresting. There isn't even any decent action after an opening chase sequence. It doesn't deliver visually at all, really; while the character designs are appealing, as you'd expect, the animation is sporadically choppy and awkward. The English dub isn't synched well with the animation, but is otherwise passable.
Liberator takes on too much plot for its 50-minute runtime to sustain. As a result, nothing in the feature gels; I'd hesitate to even call it mush. The original Kite can be a tricky title to review for several reasons but Liberator is an easy call: it's illogical, dumb and entirely devoid of any redeeming values. Avoid it like the radioactive, bone-growing space plague.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Oh man, what happened? Of all the directions Yasuomi Umetsu's follow-up to his controversial adult OVA could have taken, this is what he came up with?
Kite: Liberator is purported to take place several years after the original Kite but, outside of a few vague bits of dialog and a minor character's resemblance to Sawa, any ties to its predecessor are not readily apparent. Liberator feels like a reboot (which, in and of itself, would be fine) that forgoes the inclusion of explicit content (also fine) and tries to weave a science fiction storyline together with the tale of a young female assassin.
The feature opens with a shot of earth from space as the camera pans around a space station. It's immediately established that Liberator is a different beast from Kite, but over the course of the sub-hour runtime that beast turns out to be a hideous Frankenstein's monster. The OVA's story is basically ripped in half, with each half hobbling along its awkward path before finally being mashed back together in a half-hearted way.
Genre-blending can yield interesting results, as the discussions that continue to be had about the original hentai/action 1998 OVA can attest to. Incorporating science fiction instead of sexual content is all right by me, but the story-lines that take place on earth and in space for this sequel don't make any sense. There's no real frame of reference for the plot on earth involving the "Angel of Death." We know who she is and the double life she leads; what we don't know is why. The purpose of her vigilante justice is never explained. During her normal life as Monaka she works at the sleaziest maid café you can imagine, which is maybe a front for her work as the Angel of Death? I'm phrasing that as a question because it's just not clear how anything is connected in Monaka's life.
Kite's Sawa was a tragic character through and through, while Liberator's Monaka lacks any clear defining element of tragedy. There isn't even a sense of duality to her character; Monaka has no real trouble balancing her life as a high school student and part-time waitress with her violent escapades. She never struggles with the weight of taking human lives. It's almost as if one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. Of course that might imply she has multiple personalities, which could have made Monaka's characterization a little more interesting. Sadly, being interesting apparently wasn't anywhere on the list of priorities for Liberator.
I haven't even gotten into the sci-fi storyline, which is truly one of the stupidest plotlines I've witnessed recently. The method in which the accidental creation of invulnerable, calcium-enriched space monsters comes about is too dumb to even pass off as tongue-in-cheek. When the two plotlines finally converge it looks like Monaka will get that defining element of tragedy in her life, however contrived it might be. However, Umetsu felt the need to insert a final few seconds of footage that results in the kind of awkward non-ending that only serves to add insult to injury.
In addition to Monaka's uninteresting personality the other characters hit one of two notes: annoying or non-existent. Her family and friends are parachuted in for silly conversations or quiet introspective scenes that don't amount to anything, and a plotline involving a police officer's attraction to Monaka is utterly pointless.
The earth and space storylines each get an unlikable supporting character. In space it's Koichi Doi, a one-note scientist whose only growth consists of dialog that changes from "I'm awesome!" to "It's not my fault!" On earth it's the manager of the maid cafe, who is easily the worst of the two. He is an off-putting oaf who makes the audience as ill-at-ease as Monaka (the only time I managed to empathize with her) and whose purpose in the OVA is left as clear as mud. The only thing that is clear is how oh-so-cute everyone thinks Monaka is. I don't see the big deal.
Early in the runtime the OVA treats the viewer to a fairly exciting chase sequence. Unfortunately, it tuns out to be untapped potential, because as a whole Kite: Liberator fails to deliver visually. Umetsu's interesting character designs have always had an appealing look, but the animation is inconsistent. At its worst Liberator exhibits weird frame-rate problems; camera movement and character animation sporadically look choppy and awkward. While the character models are reasonably consistent, the silly facial expressions that crop up don't feel like they belong.
The first thing that comes to mind when watching the dub is how loosely the dialog is adapted to synchronize with the mouth movements. It actually resembles the way Japanese voiceovers are timed to animation, especially in older productions. It's a little weird at points, but if you can get past that the voice acting is passable. Relative unknown Xanthe Huynh is good at switching between Monaka's bubbly personality and the even-toned Angel of Death. Doi is suitably annoying but I didn't care for the Muppet-like vocals on Monaka's boss. The score really isn't anything to write home about, with the synthesized compositions sounding particularly weak.
I can appreciate that Kite: Liberator wanted to go in a different and less bleak direction. I certainly wasn't expecting another dark adult action title, but I was still hoping for a focused action story with an interesting female protagonist. What I got was an unbelievable mess. Liberator takes on too much plot for its 50-minute runtime to sustain. As a result, nothing in the feature gels; I'd hesitate to even call it mush. The original Kite can be a tricky title to review for several reasons but Liberator is an easy call: it's illogical, dumb and entirely devoid of any redeeming values. Avoid it like the radioactive, bone-growing space plague.
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Edited or uncut, the original Kite is an infinitely superior production. Canaan is a fairly recent and worthwhile girls-with-guns show that incorporates science fiction far more successfully. Gunslinger Girls features a group of female characters conditioned to kill who are actually interesting to watch, and that show at least has some sense of morality to the work that is done.
Notes and Trivia
Media Blasters had talked about co-producing a sequel to Kite for a number of years, and the project finally got off the ground in time to be completed on the original's 10-year anniversary. Due to being a co-production, Media Blasters was able to ship its DVD the same week as the Japanese release.
Yasuomi Umetsu was highly involved in this OVA's production, even more so than the original, which he created, scripted, directed, and did character designs for. In addition to serving as director, writer and character designer of Liberator, Umetsu did the storyboards and also served as co-animation director.
While its ties to Kite are tenuous, there's a tangible reference to Mezzo Forte during the scene where the teacher confiscates his students ridiculous contraband. Amongst the desks covered with items such as weapons, food and dirty magazines is a figure of Mikura Suzuki, the leading character of that show.
At last check, the whole OVA was also available in dubbed form streamed on Hulu.
US DVD Review
Media Blasters' DVD features a decent video transfer and arguably an overkill variety of audio options: 5.1 and 2.0 audio mixes for both Japanese and English dubs. The 5.1 mixing feels a little flat as well. The only extra is a featurette on a Japanese screening of Liberator at the Tokyo International Film Festival. The DVD comes housed in a slipcase that actually features different artwork from the cover art used for the DVD case.
You can also get it in a double-pack along with the Remastered version of the original Kite.
There's a bit of language and the violence can get disturbing at times. There is a bit of nudity as well so this is at least 16-up material as the back cover indicates.
Violence: 4 - Lots of gunplay in general and there are some graphic deaths, such as a civilian who is gunned down early on.
Nudity: 3 - A few dirty magazine covers and a scene of a female character changing her shirt.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - One subplot involves a pedophile on the run and the customers at Apollo are rather grabby.
Language: 2 - There is an f-bomb at one point and some other expletives, but it's not as frequent as the dub for the original Kite.
Available in North America from AnimeWorks on bilingual DVD, or in a combo pack along with the remastered version of Kite (which is the most recent release, and the edited, not-adults-only version).
The full dubbed version is also available streamed on Hulu.
At last check RightStuf stocked both DVD versions: Kite: Liberator, Kite Remastered + Kite: Liberator. Amazon also carries both, including plenty of cheap used copies: Kite Liberator, Kite Remastered/Kite Liberator.