Key: The Metal Idol

TV - 13 episodes & 2 OAV Episodes

The Pinocchio story gets an updated and deservedly more mature retelling in this cybernetic tale of friendship, abuse and corporate entertainment.

Key is a robot girl, emotionally stunted and teased by her classmates, and brought up by her grandfather, the one who made her. When her grandfather dies he leaves her an important message; that he was going to make her human. Now she has to try and do that on her own, and in order to succeed she has to make 30,00 friends. So she moves Tokyo to try and meet people, and meets up with an old friend of hers, Sakura, who ends up getting key interested in Miho Utsuse, a music idol. So Key decides that becoming an idol singer is the best way to make 30,000 friends. Ajo Heavy Industries however have a great deal vested in Miho, and their military division seems to have troubles that keep bringing them one name, Tokiko Mima, or Key as she is better known. And the story only gets more involved from there for Key and everyone around her.

Despite my earlier Pinocchio reference donít be deluded into thinking that this is a fun little animation with a few scary bits for the kids. This is a dark, haunting tale with complex and convoluted interweaving storylines that are always bringing up new questions and shedding light on old ones. The main characters are all interesting, but sometimes it can be difficult to see whether someone is supposed to be a main character or a supporting role because they keep cropping up at important points but never do much or get explored enough. In fact most of the men on Keyís side seem superfluous half the time, the true stars are Key, Sakura and the conflicting masterminds at Ajo Heavy Industries. What some of the characters might lack however is made up in slow, steady plotting that often drips with atmosphere. It is very involving and youíre not sure exactly where itís going some times, but the drive to find out is compulsive.

If there is one fatal flaw to this show it is the last two OAVs that finish of the story. They should have been at least half their length, because a lot of them are taken up by amazingly dull explanations of every facet of the back story, which for the most part arenít needed. Some small explanation of some key points, like Keyís intriguing origin for example, I can understand, but theyíve filled it with so much talk between two men on a bench that it slows the entire show down to a standstill. With everything that is actually happening while theyíre having their stupidly long chat this should be a very tense climax, interspersed with snippets of exposition from them, but itís the other way around. This is a real flaw, because the ending is actually very good, and very moving when we are finally allowed to see it. These episodes should have been left at normal length and not strung out into feature OAVs, cutting out a lot of the rambling and pointing the viewers in the right direction for the non-essential parts rather than spelling everything out point by point.

The message is repeated, this isnít kidís stuff. The violence is brutal in a way I like, never making light of what is happening even though one of the characters uses a slingshot as a weapon. There is plenty of blood and people can die in some very gruesome though never overly explicit ways. There is nudity here, but whatís most likely to disturb people are the sexual undercurrents. The nature of the powerful Gel that goes into making the robots (and is incidentally used as a drug by one man) and itís harvesting is unnerving at the least, and the head of Ajo Heavy Industries has a fetish for his dolls and machines, though again we never see anything explicit.

The art for this is attractive in itís combination of angular shapes and curved lines and it fits the dark theme of the show well. The fluidity isnít bad, and the use of colour particularly struck me here, especially when the florescent pink Gel came onto such a moody pallet. This isnít a typical looking show, but it does itís work well.

The dub here isnít really anything special. Key has a metallic effect applied to her voice most of the time which wasnít in the original Japanese, and really isnít needed since she is one of the better voices here. Most of the other good guys vary from mediocre to poor, but the bad guys actually have some great nasty presence to them, and deliver their lines well for the most part. Unfortunately itís not enough for me to give this a recommendation.

This show is likely to appeal to those who liked things such as Serial Experiments Lain or the character material from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Itís moody, mature and harsh some times, but the balanced by the emotional connections between the characters who do in fact like each other. If it werenít for the poor and needlessly dull explanations at the end before the story finishes this would get a very high recommendation to anyone wanting anime to think about and enjoy for its haunting nature instead of action. As it stands this enjoyable despite itís various flaws, and one to look up for fans of this kind of thing.

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