Once again, I threw my hat into the ring, and participated in the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa Project. It’s a great opportunity to try out something that you just never thought of. My secret santa chose for me Cat Soup, Now and Then, Here and There, and the series I ended up watching and reviewing, Kaiba. This series has been recommend to me before, however, I never took the time to sit down and watch it. Now, I regret not picking it up sooner.
Kaiba is an anime series directed by Masaaki Yuasa with animation by Madhouse. It ran for 12 episodes in the summer of 2008. In this story, memories can be stored as a form of digital information on a chip. If someone were die, their memories, and arguably their essence or soul, can live on in another body. Memories can also be extracted from a person, whether they are willing or not. While this technology allows a person to essentially live for ever, it has destroy the society in this narrative. A class structure has formed between the “haves’’ and “have not’s”. In the sky live the rich and powerful, who buy and sell others’ bodies and memories for their own pleasure and longevity. On the surface is a dangerous world where quality bodies and real money is scarce. The only currency the poor have are their happy memories, and if their fortunate, a beautiful body that a rich person might want.
The first thing you notice about Kaiba is the animation style. It’s eccentric, colorful, and reminiscent of simpler days in animation. But don’t take that to mean that the show is poorly done. It simply reflects the imagination of it’s creators. What is more amazing is the consistency with which they maintain some of the key imagery, despite the crazy, dreamlike, and at times somewhat bizarre, style. In doing some research on this show, I found that the series understandably received an Excellence Prize for animation at the 2008 Japan Media Arts Festival.
Our protagonist is Kaiba, wakes up in a broken room. He has no memories, just a body with a hole in its’ chest, and a pendant with a picture of an unknown woman. As he awakens, Kaiba is suddenly kidnapped, taken to an underground society, and eventually escapes into space. The first seven episodes of the anime follow his journey through space as he travels from place to place, planet to planet, meeting a variety of people. Each of these encounters helps build a rich understanding of the world that Kaiba exists in, and each encounter explores the new definition of “memory” in a different way. As the viewer, you’re given of number of scenarios from which to challenge your thought processes. Your mind begins to wander as you take the themes presented and explore the possibilities.
In the final five episodes, the series moves to tie the loose end of who Kaiba is and his role in the world. Without spoiling it for those that haven’t seen it, it is an interesting ride through real and false memories. As the viewer we also find out who the mystery girl is, and her role in Kaiba’s life. While the second half continues the exploration of its themes, it focuses more on tying together the stories of the primary characters.
The sheer number of ethical questions this show raises is, for me, what makes this show great:
- Is it be ethical to modify and manipulate, and transfer your memories ?
- In the case of memory modification, does this fundamentally alter who a person is?
- How can memories have value in a world where they can be modified?
- Do memories that are made artificially have any less value than memories which were created naturally?
- When who you are is defined more by the information on a physical chip than the form you take, What value should be placed on a physical body?
- Which leads to a theme on gender and gender roles: if you put a male mind in a female body then is that person male or female? Does it matter?
While at its’ heart, it’s a love story, its success is in the ability it has to challenge the viewer’s perceptions. This show is thought-provoking, and while some may find the ending a bit anti-climatic, it does manage to finish well. While a re-watch may help with understanding some of the dangling plot threads, I don’t believe I would ever re-watch the series. However, I would highly recommend this series to anyone that hasn’t seen it yet. At only 12 episodes, a short weekend binge can see you right through it. Thank you to my secret santa, and Merry Christmas to all!