by Michelle Villanueva
A brilliant scientist creates an advanced robot capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, but before he can finish the robot, a mysterious explosion destroys his laboratory. The scientist disappears without a trace, leaving behind his half-finished creation. Android Kikaider follows the story of the robot as he embarks on a quest to discover if his destiny lies with humanity.
Kikaider was first created as a manga by Shotaro Ishinomori. He was a protege of manga god Osamu Tezuka and was mind behind popular heroes such as Kamen Rider and Cyborg 009. He was also the creator of the five member hero team known in the States as the Power Rangers. Kikaider was first adapted to television as a live-action series in the early 1970s. This version of the robotic hero hit a cultural nerve in Hawaii, where the character is known as Kikaida. Kikaider fandom in Hawaii has gone through a rebirth over the past few years, as the old television show has aired on local television for a new generation of fans. DVDs of this old series are now available as well. It might be interesting to track down some of these shows if you find that you do like the anime.
Why have fans in Hawaii remembered Kikaider burning for so long? They often point out that they love the storyline. The Android Kikaider anime follows the basic plot of the manga and live action show closely, while still revealing the plot with a fresh perspective. Basically, this is an homage to the Pinocchio story. The fairy tale is even recounted in the first episode of the series, Lonely Puppet. Kikaider is given a "conscience" by his creator, Dr. Komyoji. This conscience is in the form of a computer chip, the Gemini Circuit. Notice that Gemini almost sounds like Pinocchio's own "conscience" *Jiminy* Cricket. However, this circuit is is not perfect, and like any human, Kikaider struggles with the good and evil sides of his personality.
Kikaider can change his appearance to look human, and in this form, he is called Jiro. Jiro isn't alone in his quest to discover his destiny. Dr. Komyoji left behind a daughter (Mitsuko) and a young son (Masaru). At first, Mitsuko is quite wary of Jiro. This, after all, was the thing that her father spent all his time working on. She finds it difficult to accept that Jiro can be anything more than a "mad machine." But she knows she must help Jiro on his quest as a way of becoming closer to her father.
The style of the show may turn a few viewers off the series. It borrows from Ishinomori's original character designs from his '60s manga and is reminiscent of Tezuka's Astro Boy or even Speed Racer. Also, the way in which the camera pans across different scenes can be somewhat distracting. This movement is so smooth and computer-like that it sometimes draws attention away from the characters on-screen. However, the "old-school" style belies a very mature storyline which explores not only if a robot can become human, but also if a robot would *want* to become human.
This DVD includes the first 4 episodes of the 13 episode series: Lonely Puppet, Mad Machine, Stray Sheep, and Mirror. The plot plods along very slowly at the beginning, but if viewers stick with the series (and follow up with the 3 episode OVA), they will be rewarded with a complex story. What does it truly mean to be human, and would anyone want to subject themselves to that burden?