Anime seems to having a renaissance in the west at the moment, with hundreds of titles being translated and cranked out in form of bulky boxed sets. And since these boxed sets are on the pricey side, I’m a bit wary of taking a punt on new anime, as opposed to titles that I can be sure I’ll watch repeatedly, like Haibane Renmei, Irresponsible Captain Tylor etc. A shame, really, as it means that the guilty pleasures of the anime world (consisting mostly of mecha and copious fan service) are neglected.
One such guilty pleasure — worth watching or renting, but not paying retail for — is Kiddy Grade, a somewhat confusing sci-fi series in which cute girls and giant robots beat the crap out of various bad guys, good guys, and departmental colleagues.
Though relatively mild on the fan service, it does have a zany cosplay element, as the protagonist dons three skimpy uniforms, then branches out into receptionist, pizza girl, waitress, pro wrestler and even motorcycle sentai outfits.
Éclair (the variously costumed heroine of the piece) is an agent of the GU (basically the space UN), and is sort of a blend of superhero, commando, secret agent, and office worker. If you’ve seen any of the Burn Up OVAs you’ve got the general idea. Éclair’s partner / sidekick is Lumière, a wealthy heiress with a taste for fine wines and etiquette, who appears to be no older than age 14. Using a nanotech lipstick and bottle of aged burgundy respectively, they battle evil and make friends in a lighthearted manner reminiscent of series like Rurouni Kenshin and Dragonball.
There’s a bit more to it than that, however, and as the series progresses Éclair starts to have doubts about the ethics of her work, subtly encouraged by the enigmatic / bishi Mr Armbrust. Armbrust (variously titled an ambassador, inspector, and auditor, though the latter seems most likely) bears a strong resemblance to the protagonist of Michael Swanwick‘s Stations of the Tide. Like Swanwick’s bureaucrat, he has a nanotech briefcase and a sort of understated cynicism. The kind of guy who has a preferred brand of Dijon mustard, if you take my meaning.
Armbrust would make a good romantic interest for Éclair, but oddly the series doesn’t exploit this. And actually the plot in general is a bit wonky, with many a loose end and deus ex machina (though admittedly these are fairly standard plot problems with anime). There’s plenty of style, and lots of merchandising opportunities, but the substance is a bit patchy in places.
One good thing that really stood out about the series was the quality of both the design and the animation (by Studio Gonzo). The characters are detailed, the buildings are suitably gigantic, and the mecha are done in a streamlined Full Metal Panic style. The spaceships are a real standout: they’re colourful and birdlike, and scooting about on plumes of flickering blue flame in the manner of an side-scrolling arcade shooter.
The only faults I can find with the production lie with the US licencees (Funimation), who give us not only the usual crap English voice acting, but also a script that diverges from the Japanese a fair bit. And it’s
On the whole, then, Kiddy Grade is like its scantily clad protagonist: easy on the eye, but basically airheaded. That’s not a bad thing sometimes, so I give it 7/10, and suggest you rent it if you get the opportunity.