Kai Doh Maru

Experiments in anime usually fail miserably. At the very least, they later become embarrassments. Ever seen the boxy computer animation sequence in Golgo 13? The incomplete sketchiness of Gundress? Add another to the "nice try" box - Kai Doh Maru. In an attempt to look like artwork from 9th century Japan, the animators created a program that is at times just short of unwatchable. Combined with an overly complicated plot that has flashes of action interspersed between long stretches of talking heads, Kai Doh Maru is enough to give you a headache. Literally.

The show starts in 866 A.D. (if memory serves) with an attack by a gang of thugs being thwarted by brave knights. A young woman, Kintoki, is rescued from the unsavory characters. It turns out she is fleeing from her vicious uncle Yoshinobu, who murdered her parents in an attempt to gain control of her family clan. Several years later, we meet up with Kintoki again. Still under the protection of the knights of Kyo, she has been renamed Kaidohmaru. It's a difficult life, as she has been raised and disguised as a boy. However, she's falling in love with Raiko. The leader of the knights of Kyo, he is quite taken with her but does not yet fully understand his feelings.

Of course, though, there are other problems. Besides a plague that is ravishing the countryside, there are rumors of a band of demonic superhumans carrying out nefarious plans and slaughtering villages. The leader of this group is Ohni Hime, the crazed daughter of Yoshinobu. She is obsessed with marrying Kintoki, who she believes to be a boy, and she will let nothing stop her plans. Tragedy lurks in the wings as the knights of Kyo try to stop Ohni's plans.

Although I can give the artistic crew props for the conceptual creativity needed to make a show that looks like an old Japanese wall scroll, there is something wrong with a movie that makes you think you forgot your glasses. The entire OVA appears drenched in a deep fog. The utter grayness caused my eyes to water at a couple of points. The only time this isn't the case is when someone gets chopped up in battle, at which point the red paint looks shockingly vivid. In fact, although I sharpened the screenshot for clarity's sake (perhaps even sharper than it appears in the program itself), I did not color-correct it. The tone you see in the picture is roughly what you get throughout the show.

Kai Doh Maru is also a mishmash blend of 2D and 3D techniques. Admittedly, there are a couple of times when the multi-dimensionality looks gorgeous. However, most of the time, the 3D sequences lack any amount of detail, and they look terrible. (Indeed, I have an old 1999 750MHz computer, and games on it still look better than the 3D animation in this film.) The 2D and 3D don't complement each other. Meanwhile, the battle sequences look to be missing in-betweening work. They are exciting, but they lack fluid motion. Don't be surprised if there's a slight throbbing in your temples when it's all over...there was in mine.

From a technical standpoint, though, I do have to praise the soundtrack. It was, in fact, the only part of the show that really worked well at all. It belongs to a better movie. What tension and excitement I found in Kai Dai Maru was located in the speakers. Although composer Yoshihiro Ike is not a name I know other than as the writer of the music for Blood: The Last Vampire, he did a fine job.

Kai Dai Maru's story is a mess. I was able to piece together the whole thing on my first viewing with a few gaps here and there, but primarily because I'd read the character profiles found on Manga Entertainment's DVD before watching the show. The profiles tell us significant information about the leads and their situations, much of which never appears in the show proper. I can only imagine that teens will be shaking their heads trying to figure out the plot while bemoaning the lack of action. It's not exactly boring, maybe because the narrative was just coherent enough to keep me interested. But there's too little time to tell too much story, and the ending left me groaning. It's disappointing considering that parts of the yarn are actually interesting, and given room to breathe they might have come to life.

Some shows I've disliked have not the faintest glimmer of sense or substance to them. Kai Doh Maru is not one of them. Kai Doh Maru is not a truly terrible program but is a display of wasted talent. Many of its problems were dictated by the artistic direction, which fails it not only in its dull color scheme but in its insistence on using technology inappropriately. I did like bits of it, but I won't recommend anything that requires two Advil afterwards.

Kai Doh Maru -- graphic violence, adult themes -- C-