Ajo’s impatience may be the deciding factor, the main plot driver through most of Key: The Metal Idol. It’s his impatience for a power supply that leads him to kill Mima, impatience for a new hit song that makes him force Miho to push herself, even when she is dying. But why? Ajo’s obsession may be a joke on Japanese idol culture – the heavy weapons manufacturer/pop idol manager, demanding the same perfection and dedication from his robot destroyers and his automota singer alike. The grueling schedule of the war machine and the pop star circuit are one and the same, where #1 is never enough. Unless someone’s getting killed, they aren’t doing their all.
Miho the pop-idol is a creation of a huge corporation, calculated to be popular. She’s in a position to command songs from the best talent in Japan – in this episode, we see the manager of her talent agency auditioning these tapes to Ajo, who decides none of them are good enough, until the manager pulls out the weird recording – a dat tape of the weird voice Tataki and his friend heard (the thing that was obviously Key singing, through some sort of psychic electronic aether.) The work of human beings doesn’t interest Ajo, but this, music generated procedurally by some comatose robot girl with a magical power supply, this is Miho’s next step.
Key, assuming she’s a robot and not a girl, was created by Mima for the purpose of living. What that life means, whether it is well-used or wasted (and from the unfortunate and ugly view of the pop-idol world Key: The Metal Idol subscribes to, it’s hard to believe Key’s quest for 30,000 friends is wise) it is its own purpose. Ajo’s PPORs are weapons – they use life (the gel that gets extracted from Ajo’s workers) to destroy life, without any purpose beyond that. A waste of life, a waste of creation, and so they don’t work.
This episode properly inaugurates the second third of Key, where her search to become an idol begins in earnest. The talent company Sakura has started is a little slipshod, and they run into the recurrent problem of Key looking like a 6-year-old while Sakura is a complete babe, so every person they run into on the street is trying to get Sakura’s top off. So why doesn’t she do it? Sakura left a small town for Tokyo, has no family to speak of and no one to condemn her, or even notice if she did become some kind of AV actress, even for just a few nude shots. An undercurrent of self-sacrifice runs through all the ‘good’ characters of Key: The Metal Idol – Sakura turns down the numerous offers to demonstrate her assets to help hapless Key, Tataki spends all his free time working as president of a fan club for a remote and loveless Idol, while Wakagi’s entire life is chasing after Key to make sure she’s okay. Key is the only one who isn’t spending her time helping others – but then, she has no self to sacrifice. That’s the point.
My favorite elements of this episode are the smaller moments of unease. The two scientists that remain at Ajo Heavy Industries oversee the de-gelling of the third, and have nervous conversations about their new responsibilities. It takes a common sf situation, the corporation run by the mad man, and presents it with an authentic feeling detail that supports the fantasy. How would you like to be a chief associate, doing your job for a man who has proven himself murderous and insane?
A more precious moment takes place with Sakura and Key on a footbridge. Their accosted by some goofy looking guy. Sakura doesn’t tell him to buzz off or pretend to be interested. She just sighs and hands him a card that reads, “Circle your reason for stopping us: a) talent scout. b) picking up girls c) asking directions.” It’s the pretty girl’s dilemma, and the heart of the show – how can you keep your self-respect, and sell yourself at the same time?