Episode 1: Start Up

Key: The Metal Idol is among the pantheon of anime oddities – those shows whose underlying interest is the oddity of their meaning or construction. Perhaps not so abstruse as the equally winning Serial Experiments, and certainly not a talk-heavy snooze fest like .hack//sign, Key develops its effects from observation, and reveals them at a deliberate pace.

From the start, we are presented with enigmas: the robot-weapons, the connection between these and the old man, his little girl who thinks she’s a robot (or is one), the quest for 30,000 friends. All are presented at face value, without explanation. But they don’t confuse because each of them is presented in a dramatic fashion – the mysteries are given as mysteries, so we know that there are things we just haven’t been keyed to yet. The style is miles ahead of the average anime idiocy of introducing oddities with absolutely no explanation. Key does not make the error of mistaking confusion for intrigue.1

What sets Key: The Metal Idol even further apart is the great sense of place. Hiroaki Sato is a confident director, remarkable since this is his first and only anime. He doesn’t require characters to be in every shot, and this grounds the more enigmatic elements within the story. Take the scene where Key listens to her grandfather’s last words. Grandfather is Key’s Gepetto – his room is strewn with dolls and half-completed marionettes, and we see them while Key is learning how to become human. This creates a counterpoint to the grandfather’s advice, and keeps the question alive in our minds: is Key no more alive than any of these simulacra?

The scene with the pornographers is equally vivid: the constant shots of previous “clients” and the repetition of straps on the bed help even credulous Key decide that these aren’t the sort of friends she needs, though she doesn’t seem entirely clear why.

Whether Key is a robot is the core mystery of the show. Personally, I find the answers to such questions less intriguing than the mystery itself – I’d rather there be evidence without answers in a show like this, since nothing is as boring as a mystery revealed. So I like the coy way the show plays with Key’s nature. Her friends think that she’s just human and strange, or perhaps mentally abused. Then there is the odd shot where she displays emotion, and shouts – and there she has brown hair instead of the standard metal gray. And, at that precise moment, the military robot coming up the street (costumed in a large brown trenchcoat, one of my favorite touches in the show) goes haywire. So what is Key?

1Noir is a very recent example of this kind of silliness, but I find it prevalent in a lot of shows – the most ridiculous one being Shamanic Princess. Princess starts with episode 3 as episode 1, so it isn’t until the 5th episode (after the conclusion), which is chronologically the first episode, that any context is given. Stupid, stupid idea.
Rating :B+

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com