Key: The Metal Idol 1: Awakening

KeythemetalidolcoverIt’s difficult to walk fine lines in art and entertainment; it’s much easier to throw oneself into any one specific camp and just slug it out there. David Cronenberg walks a line between high-toned art and pure gross-out in a way that, say, Lucio Fulci or Hershell Gordon Lewis don’t have to worry about. Anyone can wallow in gore, few can say something with it. In the same way, it’s easy to make something that’s just flat-out weird, with no rhyme or reason to it. You get some of that with Akira (the movie), you also get some of it with Wicked City (Good God, what the hell was up with that ending?). It’s a rare show or series that walks that tightrope, exhibiting purely bizarre subject matter and investing it with meaning. I think the first disc of Key: The Metal Idol does this with surprisingly interesting results.

Key is a robot. Or at least, she thinks she is. She talks like a person, though monotonely. She looks like a person, but that’s because “her design is well constructed.” But whatever the hell she is, she’s thoroughly convinced herself that not only is she a robot, she has to make 30,000 friends to become human or she will wear down. Yep, this is a freaky modern Pinocchio. Key’s Gepetto is her ‘grandfather,’ the robotics engineer Mima. When he dies, he gives her a strange formula for attaining mortality. And things get stranger from there.

Technically, the disc is fine. Slight artifacting may be occasionally present, but there were never any serious visual problems that in any way inhibited my enjoyment of the show. Some folks have reported seeing jittering of the picture in the first couple of episodes. This is most likely the result of the editing process and not any inherent DVD problem. I’ve seen little of it, but it’s not distracting to me. There are also a number of interesting extras, surprising with the amount of content on the disc, including a text interview with the director. Unfortunately, they’re printed on an overly busy and hard-to-read background. Bad content designers, bad.

The show itself has been compared to Serial Experiments: Lain. While this comparison is apt in a few ways, I think it can be a touch misleading. The show is bizarre, and it does center on a school girl who’s “not what she seems,” but from what I can see so far there is a much stronger grounding in reality than in the other show. Also, while no slouch in the looks department, Key doesn’t have the arresting character designs and bizarre background that make Lain such a visual tour de force. Characters in Key are definitely more defined as well, and the relationships between them seem to be bearing more fruit than the non-relationships that poor Lain suffers through.

Character is, indeed, Key‘s strongest point. There are plenty of contrasts between similar characters that generate real interest. I particularly find fascinating the difference between corporate C.E.O. Ajo’s almost fetishistic love of his robots and Mima’s paternal love for his Key, and how those two loves have manifested
themselves. Ajo uses the robots as objects of his own satisfaction, while Mima tries to design one that will try to satisfy itself. If indeed Key is a robot. Key is also surrounded by protecting figures who see their own ways to gain from her, and their own ways to help her, too.

The uncertain, mercurial nature of Key is the mystery at the center of the show, and it is most interestingly dealt with by showing the manner in which those people who surround Key react to her. Sakura, her old school friend, paradoxically seems to like taking care of Key, while at the same time wishing that she’d give up the whole damned robot nonsense and just be a sort of little sister. She plays along with Key’s idiosyncracies as long as they stay superficial. It’s when Key demonstrates a true lack of knowledge about humanity that Sakura gets upset.

I know that I’ve been delving into more details than this review probably needs, but that’s the nature of this show. It’s complex, but not necessarily perplexing. Strange things happen, but they are fathomably strange, not aggravating. You probably will watch it, wondering just what is going on, but never does it seem to turn to head-scratching weirdness for its own sake (of course, I’m still not sure what the whole rose thing is about. C’est la vie, I guess). I almost feel like holding out for the rest of the series before I grade this one, since it is so interdependent that I’m afraid, if there isn’t a great payoff for what’s now come, that the whole series will diminish. Ah well, even if that happens, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve seen so far, and am very much looking forward to the rest of the series to hit DVD.
Rating: A-

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