Episode 10: Bug

Every episode of Key: The Metal Idol ends with a shot of Key’s face – usually while either she or the camera are moving. This grounds each episode – we’re kept aware that this is Key’s story, and that while she doesn’t change from episode to episode, the world around her is preparing for her transformation. The world moves around Key. That makes this her story.

But, unlike just about all stories about girls coming to the big city to become rock stars, this isn’t about hard knocks, or learning to persevere. Key’s science-fiction angle means the breaking of the chrysalid is more literal. She’s Pinocchio, becoming a real girl. So instead of setbacks and steps forward, Key’s story is one of constant revelation.

In “Bug”, the mysterious judge who called last episode is revealed to be a Tsurugi, a famous prodigy, a “child of the media age” as Tataki puts it so clunkily, who has taken a shine to Key for her complete lack of quality. When Snake Eye comes to warn him away from hiring Tokiko with threats of disaster, Tsurugi is ecstatic. He’s succeded his entire life, and needs some failure for interest. Snake Eye and his followers are doing their damndest to ruin her chances in the entertainment business. Snake Eye understands there’s some power in her, and just like Ajo (and, perhaps, Tsurugi) he thinks it should be his to control. However, Tsurugi’s ecstatic reaction to hearing that Key was bad news even creeped out creepy-guy Snake Eye.

We next see the prince photocopying pamphlets warning people against hiring Key. He wants her for himself, his own little idol to prop up his own little fanatic group – or because he genuinely believes her to be divinely inspired, and just in need of his own heavy-handed guidance. Ajo requires her for the battery that supposedly powers her robotic body. For Tsurugi, she is his ticket to humanity as much as he is hers – Tsurugi’s led a life of challengeless perfection. To try something and be unable to do it is the only satisfaction left for him.

But what of Sakura and Tataki? Sakura is directionless, and the better things get for Key, the worse they are for her. With Tsurugi’s sudden and baffling offer, Sakura is left out of her position, and has to come to terms with the very temporary nature of her relationship to Key – Key is either going to become a normal girl, stay a warped little robot thing, or be a pop star with 30,000 adoring fans. In none of these conceptions can there be a long-term place for Sakura. Tataki’s own interest is still a mystery – he has gone above and beyond for Key, and has helped her get farther than he ever guessed she would, but now when he should be bowing out with self-congratulations, he hoofs it to her home town to get a better idea of what makes the little thing tick.

This is one of the most elegiac, and visually arresting sequences in Key for quite a while – with almost no dialogue, Tataki goes from haunt to haunt, pointedly missing details that might give some insight. There’s a marionette tied to a road-side shrine, the dug-up grave of the Mima family, all of which he passes by, the wispy ghost of Key and her memories following behind.

“Bug” doesn’t advance the story much more than the previous few episodes, but it does the creeping mystery story-telling right – when you can’t tell the audience what you’re about, you have to distract them. There are easy and effective ways to this, in particular sex and violence, both of which Key has employed to mostly good effect. “Bug” does something more difficult – it illustrates the elusive nature of truth, letting Tataki step by it, past it, dogged by something he doesn’t quite grasp. And when he has an insight, looking at a burnt out old shrine, he doesn’t understand it, and doesn’t know how to follow-up. No one is more of an audience surrogate than he – overly interested in the main character, trying to understand her and missing all the parts required to do so.
Rating :B

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com