Key The Metal Idol

Geppetto made a wooden boy and loved him enough to make him real...or so the story of Pinocchio goes. Although there have been many variations on that tale over the years, Key The Metal Idol is a very unique entry into the genre of "creation trying to become human". The concept has many modern forms--one only has to look at Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation to see a popular character based around it--but Key manages to be different from all the rest. Perhaps it's because Key may not be a robot or created being at all...but that's for us to find out.

The first DVD of Key The Metal Idol gives us the first seven episodes of the fifteen that comprise the series. The story follows Key, a naive young girl who believes that she is a robot, and has been told so all her life by her kindly grandfather, who the audience is led to believe created her. Unfortunately, he survives only a precious few minutes into the series, but he leaves a final message for Key. That message is simply this...that if she can convince 30,000 people to be her friend, she can become human. How this could possibly change her from a machine to a real girl is not Key's problem--she trusts this to be true and heads to Tokyo to find her destiny. As soon as she arrives, she nearly gets sucked into the underworld of the big city by a lascivious photographer but winds up rescued by Sakura, an old acquaintance from school. Key lives with Sakura as she tries to figure out how she can possibly make so many friends...but if that were the end of it, it'd be a pretty dull show. Instead, there's not only Sakura's love interest to deal with, but an evil empire determined to capture and exploit Key, an idol singer who's not all she appear to be, a mysterious bodyguard, and a charlatan priest all wrapped into the mix for good measure. Let's just say that things get complicated from there. Although never as bizarre as something like Lain, it has its moments.

If Key The Metal Idol has a sticking point, it is the visuals. The show is animated competently, though it's neither strikingly handsome nor unique in any particular manner. As the show progresses, there are a few character shots that don't look quite right, which may have been due either to a lack of money or a lack of time to go back and fix them. They aren't terrible, and the animation is certainly stronger than a lot of TV shows, but it's not that impressive for an OVA series. The other thing to note is that the show has some technical problems, particularly in the first two episodes and a little bit into the third. Quite simply, when the scene changes, there is a small jitter in the frame itself. From what I've been told, this was a problem in the original masters, so every version of Key available has this same problem. Many people will not notice it, but I have the annoying tendency to notice missing frames and jitters that are unnatural...anyone with severe motion sickness problems or problems playing 3D computer games might be warned, because to those of us who are sensitive to this sort of thing, it's really irritating. However, the first episode is worst, the second is slightly better, and from the first five minutes of the third episode on, it's gone.

It's too bad that these problems exist, because Key is off to a fine start. There is a little something in this show for everyone...drama, romance, action, you name it. It works together quite well as a package. At first, Key herself seems somewhat uninteresting as a character, perhaps because she is robotic in nature (even if we can't prove she really is one or not). However, as the show goes on, her interactions with others become important, and hints of emotional power come through. Key is a complex character hidden under an innocent veil. Several of the other characters have already shown significant depth as well. Sakura, Key's friend, is not your typical "good buddy sidekick." Indeed, she has a world of her own problems, and Key is not a particular help for any of them. We don't know what Sakura's background is completely, but she's a very vulnerable young girl under the guise of a strong, independent woman. Meanwhile, the evil character of D is also intriguing. He's cold and calculating, but there seems more to him as well that we might learn in the coming episodes. Certainly, it's hard to predict anyone's moves in this show, as even Key does not truly understand herself. With the moral implications the show brings up--as it talks a good deal about the relationship between man and his robotic creations, and whether or not humanity should be playing God in such a way--there's plenty of meat here.

There are other good points about the show itself, particularly the music, which is quite good overall. The J-Pop in the show is nicely done, and though I can't particularly recommend the English dub, the opening and closing songs sound quite good in English. I do have a problem with the subtitles, though, in that there are never any translations of the opening and closing songs. There was one song that had subtitles since it was during an episode itself, but unfortunately the subs during that section were a mirror of the English language version of the song. The show is not a dubtitle otherwise, but even with my limited grasp of Japanese, I knew that the Japanese lyrics were not being translated properly. Otherwise, though, the subs were fine.

Key The Metal Idol has a strong beginning, and I tend to say that anyone who watches the first set of episodes will definitely want to see the rest--it's not complete by any means with just the first DVD. Although I can't say it was quite as emotionally involving as some other titles I've seen recently, I liked the show a good deal and want to see how it winds up. My rating is based solely on how I feel so far, and it might improve depending on the rest of the episodes. If the show picks up the strands it started in the first several episodes and follows through, Key could be a top contender. If it doesn't give that emotional wallop the show really needs, though, it's still better than a lot of what's out there. (One final note: the DVD has nothing more than "parental guidance suggested" on its cover. That's a bold statement, as this show has a couple of shower scenes, a few scenes of pretty graphic violence, and some adult situations. Granted, it's spread pretty thin over the course of 3 1/2 hours, but this isn't a show for those under 15 or so.)

Key The Metal Idol Vol. 1 -- language, brief nudity, adult situations, violence (some graphic) -- B+