© 1994 Hiroaki Sato / Pony Canyon / Fuji TV / FCC / Studio Pierrot
Key, The Metal Idol
Key, The Metal Idol is an anime I've had my eye on for some time, but never really got around to investigating. I'm always a little nervous about beginning lengthy series for the fear that I may not enjoy it and end up watching it in its entirety solely for the purpose of writing a review. That's probably the reason why I was so hesitant with Key, but now having watched this masterpiece I realize that my hesitation was in vain. Key, the Metal Idol is a gem of an anime.
Key is the robot daughter of Murao Mima, an incredibly brilliant scientist who passes away leaving behind a mysterious message. With his final words he tells Key that she can become human if she can gather together 30,000 friends. Key decides she must undertake this monumental task and complete this goal if she is to survive without Mima. Journeying to Tokyo, Key soon discovers the scope of her task and the adversity she will have to overcome to achieve her dream.
While the premise of Key having to acquire 30,000 friends in order to become human may sound a little strange, it is merely one of the unique aspects of this anime that makes it so compelling to watch. The story delves into a much deeper and intricate plot. In addition to the mystery surrounding Mima's final words and the nature of Key herself, there are many shady characters with hidden agendas. A rich historical background is generated with insight into the backgrounds of many of the characters and detailed explanations for their motives and actions. It's very enjoyable to follow every twist and turn in the plot and piece together the clues to Mima's final request.
Even with an intriguing story, Key wouldn't hold its own without endearing characters. Fortunately, the cast of Key is explored to the deepest of levels. The story centers on Key herself, the antithesis of everything human. She is, after all, a robot; emotionless, naive, fragile. Yet, there is something odd about her manner; something which generates sympathy and remorse. I'll admit quite honestly that I've never quite felt this attached to an animated character. Key's supporting cast is equally strong. Sakura, Key's childhood friend, reunites with Key in Tokyo and decides to help Key with her quest. Sakura acts almost like a big sister to Key, and she cares about Key very deeply. Over the course of the series a very strong relationship develops between the two. Tataki, a friend of Sakura also assists in Key's task and ends up getting embroiled in a mystery he hadn't bargained on. On the flip side, there are several nemesis with motives that aren't entirely clear at first glance. Ajo and his right-hand man "D" seem to a vested interest in Key and strange ties to the deceased Mima. Pieces of the puzzle are slowly revealed until their true nature becomes apparent; a truth that is somewhat startling. There are also a handful of odd characters with whom you're not quite sure which side their on. Prince Snake-Eye, leader of a religious cult, is the most obvious of these and it's tricky deciding whether he's trying to help Key or hurt her. Truly the entire cast is a collage of diversity and a very enjoyable one at that.
While most of the episodes are the standard half-hour, the final two are actually "full-length features" as Viz puts it. They are, in fact, much more theatrical in production than the previous episodes which were, well, episodic. This may be a mixed blessing to some, especially with regard to the fourteenth episode which is made up of almost nothing but conversation (and a really long one, at that). Some may find this episode quite tedious, especially since it's nothing more than a detailed revelation of the mystery surrounding Key. The final episode was very enjoyable despite being more action-oriented than everything prior to it. It's both heartwarming and bittersweet at the same time; touching, yet sad. The fact that it lasts an hour-and-a-half made it all the better.
The artwork isn't terribly flashy, nor does it try to be. If anything, the lack of rich color fits the mood of the series quite well. Animation-wise things are adequate, but again, not outstanding. The music, on the other hand, is simply beautiful. There are many wonderful themes in this series, from the opening song "In the Night" to Key's own "Lullaby". Any one of the songs is worth owning the soundtrack for. The only real technical flaw comes in Viz Video's subtitling of the series. In the first few episodes there are some missing subtitles, and some grammar mistakes cropped up later in the series. It's not a glaring flaw by any means, but seems to leave the impression that Key may have been rushed out the door.
I can only think of a few times when the words "anime" and "brilliant" come together. But there is no other way to put it: Key, the Metal Idol is a brilliant anime. It's somber, moving, compelling, and ultimately, quite enjoyable. And that's all that truly matters in the end.
The Verdict: * * * * * (excellent)
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