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read our review of Kiddy Grade
Case 1: The Peacekeepers
Case 2: Pieces Of The Past
Case 3: Lies Beneath
Case 4: The Present Future
director: Keiji Goto
210 minutes (12) 2003
MVM DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
A little known anime series in this country,
looks, at first glance,
to be little more than a collection of stereotypes. The main characters are teenage
girls, the theme song is pure unadulterated Japanese pop, and the costumes are almost
uniformly tiny. However, scratch the surface and you find a series that is intelligent,
often very funny and, at times, incredibly dark.
Kiddy Grade focuses on two members of the ES Force, an offshoot of the GOTT
(Galactic Organisation of Trade and Tariffs). The ES Force is GOTT's primary law enforcement
unit, operating in groups of two and travelling settled space, settling disputes and
keeping the peace. Our heroines are Éclair and Lumiere, two young girls who are
relatively inexperienced members of the force. Éclair is bright, kind, funny
and has had the memories of her past erased whilst Lumiere is quiet, intelligent and
refined. Effectively, Éclair is the brawn and Lumiere is the brains, a classic
cop pairing that grounds the series in law enforcement as much as science fiction.
What makes this show genuinely impressive, though, are its plots. They're a neat combination
of cop show staples and elements of Japanese culture, neatly embodied by the first episode
on volume two - High/Speed. A reactor capable of massively boosting a human's
speed and reactions is stolen and placed inside the body of a young woman who dreams
of becoming the galactic wrestling champion. Of course, the people who enhanced her
have ideas of their own on what she'll be doing and, when she realises this, and Éclair
comes to rescue her, all hell breaks loose. Roxy, the woman in question, is a fascinatingly
drawn character, her tragic past given her actions real context and as the episode continues
she becomes a real element of chaos. Roxy wants to be the champion and no one, including
Éclair will stand in her way. Climaxing in a fantastic running battle with underworld
cyborgs, the episode is as much a character study of Roxy as it is a neatly constructed
science fiction tale.
This unusual density and intelligence of plotting is present throughout the series, as
demonstrated by the stories of volume three. Trial/Child is particularly impressive,
following Éclair and Lumiere as they escort the rightful heir to a massively
powerful financial group to his coronation. Here, one of the series' recurrent themes
is introduced with the two agents having to help Timothy, the young man, fight against
the prejudice of the nobility who run the group. There's a wonderful moment here where,
at Timothy's reception, the two agents are forced to wear spacesuits because the group
leaders are afraid they're carrying infections.
This volume is particularly good, with the final episode, Mirage/Snare proving
a particular standout. Éclair is sent to the planet Dardanos to investigate the
disappearance of several businessmen, only to find that no one remembers them ever existing.
A nice twist on the Invasion Of The Body Snatchers subgenre, it also provides
the momentum for the stories on volume four.
Éclair's past memories return to haunt her, literally, in these three episodes
and take the series into some remarkably well-handled and genuinely dark territory. The
dreadful event of her past almost crush her and the entire first episode, Rebirth/Slave
deals with her trying to accept her past. It's a very dark piece of television and the
finale, which sees Éclair finding a modicum of peace with what she did is both
redemptive and subdued. She still has problems dealing with what happened, she simply
chooses to get on with her life.
This fourth volume really sees the series movie into high gear, with the final two episodes
sending it off in a genuinely unexpected direction. The social conscience of earlier
episodes returns in full force and the events that transpire, and Éclair's part
in them is genuinely surprising. As the volume finishes, the fate of the characters is
left open whilst still providing a modicum of closure. Éclair gets her peace of
mind, but the price she and Lumiere pay for it remains unclear.
Kiddy Grade is a real gem. It's a highly unusual, immensely entertaining series
that combines elements of Japanese popular culture with science fiction and social comment
to huge effect. I can't remember the last anime I enjoyed this much.