One day a giant cube appears off the coast of Japan, swallowing a passenger plane. Turns out a visitor from the anisotropic (or outside of the known universe) has come to Earth to give us some gifts. One of the passengers on the plane is a negotiator and he begins the process of communicating with and negotiating with zaShunina as the world is inevitably changed.
I reviewed KADO week to week so if you are interested in my individual episode thoughts, click here.
Heavy spoiler warning on the following review.
Two thirds of this show is absolutely brilliant science-fiction. There’s no excess, no silliness, no teenagers in giant robots, no random power ups for the sake of it, no actual fighting, but just new ideas and humanity reacting to those ideas. Here’s an unlimited power source. Okay, who is going to control it? What are the economic implications particularly for countries that rely on the export of fossil fuels? Are there any risks? It’s smart and incredibly thought provoking and while it may not be the most exciting thing to ever grace your screen, it is compelling and it was distinguishable from so many other first encounter stories. Yes, we’ve had peaceful first encounters before, but they are few and far between. Even with the nagging feeling that the benevolent zaShunina was up to something, and even if he had turned out to be evil, this show could still have maintained the tone that had really set it apart from the other anime in the Spring season.
Alas, it was not to be. The final third of the story plunges us headlong into conflict, introducing a second anisotropic being, before going into a finale that really just needs to be scrapped and rewritten (more on that later, be warned about heavy spoilers coming). Previously, I wrote a feature about anime that end badly and some of the ways that anime manage to stuff up their endings. It is a frequent problem with anime in that resolutions seem to be really hard for them to get right. I’m not expecting a happily ever after for all involved but I would like my endings to make sense and that is where KADO failed completely. Somehow I left that option off the list of ways endings annoy me but KADO has definitely made it clear that this is worse than pulling a power of friendship card.
However, I shouldn’t start by reviewing the end of the anime. Despite the appalling conclusion we arrive at, there is plenty to admire about this show and I would still argue that for avid anime fans it is worth the watch. At the very least, the first two thirds are quite compelling and even when it falls apart, it is more the disappointment of it that hurts rather than the story itself. There are plenty of worse endings out there. While the disappointment you feel as the show veers away from being that must watch, must talk about show of the year to something far more average is palpable, overall the show remains above average as a viewing experience because even at its lowest point it is still perfectly watchable (just no longer brilliant).This one just feels much worse because of how much better it could have been and that’s really an unfair scale to judge it on (though it doesn’t take away that bitter taste in your mouth after you watch it).
Visually KADO is impressive. I know some people hated the look of it and that’s fine. And yes, there are some scenes where the CG doesn’t sit quite right particularly in some character movements, though fortunately they don’t move a lot because there’s a lot of standing or sitting and talking (it was a show about negotiation for the most part). There are some really beautiful sequences and moments and at the very least it is visually striking. The characters are easily distinguished and the settings are appealing to look at. Overall, it is a visual feast for the eyes and while it won’t be to everyones’ tastes, it certainly worked for me.
The music is equally grandiose and memorable. The opening theme is one of my favourite for the year (not sure if it is my favourite yet but it is certainly a contender) and throughout episodes the background music is suitably subtle or dramatic depending on the requirement. I really enjoyed the music in this series and felt it really added to the overall tone.
For the first two thirds, I really liked the characters. I liked how the different representatives in the government and on the UN council were portrayed. I liked how average citizens, reporters, the military, scientists, and a whole range of people and their reactions came across as the world essentially changed after the arrival of the cube. Other than a small group, very few of these characters progress beyond being a stand in for a larger section of society but that is the role they’ve been given and they do it well. Shindo and zaShunina and their interactions were thought provoking and occasionally even amusing. As the central characters they really had a lot of work pulling us along through what was an otherwise fairly dry first encounter portrayal and they did it really well.
I also liked the themes and questions this show raised. The discussion about the wam being a gift to humanity and not countries was clever and thought provoking as were many of the observations by characters in the early stages of this anime.
And then it all went wrong.
Keep in mind, that up until episode 12, they hadn’t done anything that could not be salvaged but a lot of eyebrows were raised when they revealed that one of the human negotiators was actually also an anisotropic being and wanted to send zaShunina away because she didn’t like him messing with the world. Then they had a fight between the two anisotropic beings that ended with Shindo getting severely injured and a really cliché anime encounter as the female anisotropic being first healed him and then got really embarrassed because she wasn’t wearing clothes. This was not good. First we’d moved away from negotiations to combat, we’d introduced another super being so they could have a fight sequence (no human could have) and then we went smack into teen drama territory. Where did the clever and intriguing writing go during this phase?
Episode 11 tried to raise our hopes. Shindo had a plan. He reconnected with various characters who had assisted him throughout the series and humans worked on a solution to the problem. Okay, so we’re not just going to leave it to the super beings? Awesome. We might get back on track.
Turns out, no (Final Warning – MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW).
The final episode delivers a mind-numbingly stupid twist.
In addition to the plan that the audience were let in on, a plan Shindo clearly knew was absolutely going to fail given the actual reveal, Shindo and anisotropic being number 2 hatch a second plan. Manipulate time, have a daughter, and have her deal with the problem.
Are you kidding me?
Now I could break into a rant here about feeling betrayed and all the rest but here’s the thing, just because this didn’t end the way I wanted it to or thought it might doesn’t actually make it bad. Certainly we’re left with questions and there’s a lot of logical gaps in how this concluded, and most certainly this isn’t exactly a satisfying ending when those of us who followed the show from the beginning followed it because of the different approach it was taking and not because we wanted to see super power beings babble at each other and then just end the fight. But, it does resolve the overall plot and given events in the final four episodes and zaShunina’s increasingly erratic behaviour in the final episode it kind of forced itself into this kind of conclusion.
I still think though if you are going to bring in time manipulation have the future daughter show up about twenty minutes earlier so that Shindo doesn’t die a completely pointless death. That wouldn’t make this ending any easier to swallow but at least wouldn’t make it a complete waste of space.
The show is actually a victim of its own earlier episodes. It set a tone and standard for its plot that the second half utterly failed to live up to. Most of us went in expecting nothing because we hadn’t even heard of the show until it started, and then it was amazing. It was well written and interesting and seemed to be heading somewhere a bit different. It just couldn’t hold onto that for a full 12 episodes. Pretty much everything after the introduction of the Sansa is questionable as to where this started going wrong. But, if I take away the expectations I gained from those first episodes and just look at the second half, this is still one of the better shows I watched this season. So for all that I want to rant and cry foul at such a travesty of an ending, stepping back I realised that while I am hoping for a fan-fiction ending that actually does the show justice, this is still not the absolute piece of dribble it could have been. It isn’t as though it all becomes a pointless dream sequence.
But that then makes me wonder what the point of the ending was. Was that supposed to be a touching ending?
We had an incredibly pointless and avoidable death, followed by a dull and pointless chase and fight sequence, followed by dialogue that did nothing to answer any of the actual questions that people are sitting there thinking about. Where did the clever and thought provoking writing go? Where did an emphasis on dialogue and negotiation go? Hey, here’s a plan. It still sucks but might have worked a bit better. Why doesn’t future daughter actually try talking to zaShunina rather than turning him into pretty coloured lights? I might have believed her as Shindo’s daughter or legacy then. Some sort of compromise could have been reached once she showed up given zaShunina finally had someone who could stop him. Of course, future daughter is really an incredibly stupid plot device in the first place so it would have been better if Shindo had just figured out how to actually get zaShunina talking again given that would have actually fit the tone of the show.
Basically, I’m annoyed because this show got my hopes up. It was so good. It was great. And then, it wasn’t. It doesn’t invalidate the good things earlier in the series. It doesn’t mean that this is a show that should be avoided at all costs. What it does mean is that you have to go in knowing that the ending won’t be as satisfying as you would like and just accept it for what it is. It is a science fiction that almost got it right but, despite its name, ultimately missed being the right answer.
Sorry that this review kind of flip flops around. I kept having to delete sections as I just went in to full rant territory because I was so disappointed by that ending.
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