Kaiba (カイバ) is an anime series directed by Masaaki Yuasa that debuted on the WOWOW satellite network in Spring 2008. Animation is by Madhouse and it is described as a sci-fi love story. The series received an Excellence Prize for animation at the 2008 Japan Media Arts Festival.
In the setting of the series, it is now possible to store memory data, so that the death of one's body is not actually "death". As memories are stored in databanks, they can be "transferred" to new bodies. Because of these developments, so-called "memory trading" now occurs and it is now possible to steal memories and illegally alter them. Society in the world of Kaiba has fallen apart as authority has become lost and stagnant. In the skies are roiling clouds and electrical storms, impossible to pass without losing one's memories; above them lies the elusive realm of the rich and powerful, who barter others' bodies and memories for their own enjoyment and longevity. Below lies a troubled and dangerous world where good bodies are hard to come by and real money is scarce. The series begin as a boy awakens in a ruined room. His name is Kaiba. He has no memories, but he does have a pendant with a picture of an unknown woman inside. After suddenly being attacked, Kaiba escapes into space, and during his travels meets all sorts of people and regains his memories. Throughout it, he continues to be troubled by the world's problems, as well as his own existence. And what of the woman in the pendant, Neiro?
I must say, this show quickly shaped up to be one of my favorites. A dystopian setting, grim start, lots of parallels with Brave New World, and a really unique art style, all shaped it up to be great.
The animation is via studio MadHouse, popular for their animation of the Satoshi Kon films and series, The Tatami Galaxy, and the recent hit Redline. The art style itself is very simplistic, drawing your eyes to the emotions portrayed by the characters and making it simple to follow their small accompanying movements. There is not overly-ornate clothing or crazy hair to distract you from the main meat of the show, the story and how it is shown via the titular character and all of the accompanying cast. There is something to be said about the backgrounds and setting with which the characters interact. It all has a very whimsical look to it, almost like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. This really helps to drive home one of the main themes, facades.
While the characters are simplistic, the animation is always fluid, never falling into the same traps that most anime do. Mouthflaps are kept to a minimum, walking looks natural, stumbles are unique, and bodily expression while speaking is top-notch. All of the movements were quite fluid, especially during scenes that were high in tension and action.
Overall, the visuals were fantastic.
Here is where the show really shines, in it's story. It crafts the topics of memories, utopian ideals, greed, hierarchy, love and many other concepts. For an example, Kaiba finds himself visiting one of the largest Memory Banks. The entire area has become a par of sorts, giving guided tours of the facility, and allows people to view the memories of different people in a way that is oddly reminiscent of the internet. When it shuts down for the night, he hears screams of "Why do you keep me around if I'll never have a body again?" "Why can't you just let me die, it's a nuisance to be summoned like this" "Don't make me remember what it was like to live, I'm already dead". The entire scene is terribly chilling, and quickly shows the negative side to the amazing technology that had been invented.
The show brings up many questions of the finality of death, immortality, how one can define a life, and even manipulation of thoughts and information. It is great food for thought, and left me with plenty to think about while at work.
The music added to the minimalism, never intruding to much. The OP and ED themes are quite mellow, and you'll only ever notice the music while high-tension scenes are on. This is great as it gives you a chance to notice the amazing foley work that was done. At times when you do notice the music, it is always odd, and unearthy yet natural sound. Many of the sounds seem to be from the human voice and different objects, not necessarily true instruments. It all fits very well, in my opinion.
While there could have been a bit more focus on the music, I think it is quite fine as it is. However, the sound effects are impeccable.
If I had to give some sort of numerical score, I'd have to rate it a 9/10. It is sure to have gone underneath a lot of people's radar, and I will consider it to be a gem of animation.
The series was never localized, and was only released in Japan the the AU. You can import a region-4 PAL DVD, easily found on Amazon, Japanese with English Subtitles. There are also various fansubbed versions out there.