thin slicing kaiba

Categories: anime


Making amends.


Usually, unless the anime features an “Anime Production Sunrise” tagline, I won’t suspect the creators to be on LSD or be licking poisonous toads. For Kaiba, I strongly feel that the Madhouse production team is on LSD and are licking toads. The animation style is trippy enough. Ever try playing Wind Waker after playing eight straight hours of Halo 3? Well, that’s what trying to watch Kaiba is like after watching Daughter of Twenty Faces. The animation is a cross between cartoonish, sci-fi-ish, retro-ish, and poison toad inspired-ish.

That’s only the first reaction. There’s more. The main gut of Kaiba is the Ghost in the Shell nature of how technology now allows people to download and upload their memories onto chips like Kogarashi and a Xerox multifunction copier. It takes a step further than GitS in the sense that there’s no technological barriers– people can play around with memories like they do anime fansub downloads. The easy accessibility of memories leads to a civilization where privacy and self worth just do not exist. It also leads to wondrous possibilities like body theft, Sweeny Todd-ish scenarios, and selfcest.


Of course, we’re not told any of this information on the outset. It is inferred from the actions and the unfolding drama, with the viewer parked at the 50 yard line. In that sense, Kaiba does a remarkable job at presenting a sci-fi world with the trappings we all know– i.e. cars, guns, sex)– but not the way we know them. It’s almost like someone who can read Chinese trying to read a Japanese newspaper. The words look familiar, but the assembly and kana are unfamiliar, but not to the point that the reader can’t get a basic grasp of the situation.

The story is wrapped around a protagonist who just doesn’t speak much and doesn’t know much. Instead, he’s carried along by a river of events as he struggles to figure out who he is. But that’s not the point of Kaiba. Everything– from the memory manipulation to the protagonist’s plight– is just a table setter for the main course: the morality play.

I wrote in a post about Shigofumi about the three basic types of morality plays in anime: the artistic, the scholarly, and the emotional. Kaiba squarely falls into the scholarly. Much like Kino’s Travels, the main protagonist and his random “animal” helper planet hops and finds moral dilemmas, all stemming from the abuse of being able to access memory like USB thumb drives. Also like Kino’s Travels, the main protagonist approaches each situation methodically, but unlike Kino, the protagonist of Kaiba tries to do the right thing morally and is frustrated when he cannot.


As I wrote in the earlier post, artistic, scholarly, and emotional has nothing to do with the series or series presentation itself by how the morality is explained and hammered home. So don’t get fooled that just because the art is inspired by poison toads that it’s artistic. For Kaiba, it’s simple. A leads to B which leads to consequences. It leads the viewer to digest that on the same level that we digest directions on a box of microwavable pizza. It is very different from something like Shigofumi which presents its morality through emotional pleas– it doesn’t grasp at one’s intellect but instead one’s tears– and really ingrains itself with sobbing. And, despite the trippy art, Kaiba‘s not in Mushishi‘s class in terms of appealing the morality through art. Kaiba‘s main strength is that the sci-fi element allows a different class of morality stories to be told, one that impacts who we really are in a GitS-type of way, but even more philosophical.

I think Kaiba tries to do a bit too much in presenting an expansive background story and then adds in the random morality stories as filler. I think Kaiba‘s main story is strong enough to stand alone and be a grand sweeping morality play bigger than what Shigofumi or Kino has done, but it ops instead for moral fillers. One thing that baffled me was there was a random story about “be happy with what you’ve got” that didn’t really need the sci-fi trappings of the setup nor did it really add value to rest of the story. To me, it’s a waste to see Kaiba go planet of the week route.

I also felt that Kaiba was a victim of its own good ideas. It has some great moments but also some really pedantic moments. When the good ideas of Kaiba worked, they really worked. However, when they didn’t work, I was checking e-mail hoping for the next indecent Tomoyo image to find its way to my inbox. It’s feast or famine, and I’m sure people will either focus on the feast or the famine but forget that this series has both.


Footnote 1: I was almost in despair over the lack of Engrish this season. Thank you Kaiba! Best Engrish since Ringo Hiyori (but not better… very difficult to top apple eyes).

Footnote 2: The selfcest sex scene was so over the top, I felt like I was watching the final battle of Gundam 00 rather than Kouta being dry humped by Chizuru. Similar eye twitching to when I was watching Graham fight Setsuna at the very least.

Footnote 3: In the first few episodes, the protagonist spends most of his time in either the body of a little DFC girl who is lusted after by all the creepy old guys or an oversized stuffed hippo. I feel you should know these things.

Footnote 4: Wait, all we got was bawling? What happened to my Fumi x Mika selfcest? Anyway, Shigofumi does a much, much better job at filler than Kaiba. Though depending on how you feel about Kirameki’s story and selfcest, Kaiba might have an edge on the overall arc. I personally enjoyed the ridiculous bawling and hope that Suzaku and Lulu will recreate the scene after Nunnally dies, but your mileage may vary.

Footnote 5: The animation style kinda looks like if Cartoon Network originals like Samurai Jack and Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends made mad love to Steamboat Mickey and had kids.

11 Responses to “thin slicing kaiba”

  1. Nice post Jason (Woohoo! You finally blog Kaiba! :D). Great job at sums up what Kaiba is all about.

    True be told, Kaiba is my favorite show this season. I just _love_ its strangeness (art style, story, etc.). Can’t wait till the main story kick in (I hope there’s one.).

  2. I swear, first Speed Racer, and now this.

    Why is everyone doing trippy art all of a sudden? Not that its a bad thing, its just that well…it’s trippy. Eyes cannot compute and that sort of thing.

    Which kind of reminds me of the wide range of genres animation covers. On one hand, we have this, and then there’s Kanokon.

  3. Trippy seems to be as good a word as any.

  4. That “selfcest” was all kinds of weird. I wondered if it was supposed to be an analogy for something else given what she was blathering about and the inflation + explosion from massage …thing.

  5. This post made me download Kaiba. I’m ready for something different.

  6. Nice post Jason, if you had thin-sliced this show with the rest – where would it have ranked?

  7. “However, when they didn’t work, I was checking e-mail hoping for the next indecent Tomoyo image to find its way to my inbox.”

    And you’re going to do a post of these, when?

  8. It’s a show worth watching just because it is so different. If Kamen no Maid Guy was instant ramen Kaiba would be lobster (not the greatest analogy maybe someone could come up with something better).

  9. More like if KnMG is a quick dinner at your favourite diner (hot waitresses optional), Kaiba is a 4-course meal at an experimental/fusion restaurant.
    Run by a madman (though probably not Gordon Ramsay)

  10. Damn spam protection at my post. I am allergic to lobster. But I like eating it. So I guess this is a pretty good analogy for myself anyway. I think I am going to pass up this particular allergen though. I will just keep watching CGR2 and KnMD and hunker down for summer.

  11. >> if you had thin-sliced this show with the rest – where would it have ranked?

    Probably under Kyouran. The problem with Kaiba is that there’s some great stories and some highly mediocre ones. And when it goes into mediocre mode, it doesn’t have that extra something (i.e. fanservice, train wreck, etc) to carry it. It’s like watching the 76ers against the Pistons. If Philly’s fast break offense isn’t clicking, there’s no one on that team who can just say, “Fuck this, I’m taking over.”

    (Meanwhile, Kamen no Maid Guy has always been clicking thus far. Now that’s a great anime series: Kogarashi’s like MJ circa 1992.)

    >> More like if KnMG is a quick dinner at your favourite diner (hot waitresses optional), Kaiba is a 4-course meal at an experimental/fusion restaurant.

    No way, you’re giving Kaiba waaaaay too much credit. I don’t think it’s as consistently good as Shigofumi or Kino’s. Kaiba’s appeal has been it’s sci-fi trippiness, and they don’t exploit it enough, much like the Magic and Dwight Howard’s size. Needless to say, Dwight Howard is sitting at home right now. But using your food analogy, Kaiba’s more like someone who has never left Nebraska visiting a night market in Tainan for the first time.

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