A few years ago, I happened to stumble across FUNimation’s trailer for the recently released Kiddy Grade. It was a trailer that immediately captivated me, promising a futuristic tale of secret agents with special abilities, not to mention a tragic past that haunted the main character. Upon seeing it, I knew I had to watch the series for myself, and therein began the trouble- because everything that these few minutes of advertisement promised, the series itself would be completely unable to deliver.
To quote the wisdom of Blackadder, Kiddy Grade “started badly, tailed off a little in the middle, and the less said about the end the better”. Nonetheless, as recent news has proven, a second season of this underwhelming series should eventually be on its way to us, and for that reason, it seemed only right to publish a rant that addresses the problems of the original.
It started badly…
Set in a distant future where humanity has colonised planets all across the galaxy, Kiddy Grade tells the tale of Éclair and Lumiere, special agents for the ES, a shadowy arm of the powerful Galactic Organisation of Trade and Tariffs. Together with the other agents that make up the ES force, Éclair and Lumiere are assigned to whatever mission requires their attention, from recovering stolen goods to pulling bodyguard duty.
As to be expected, the early portion of the series is primarily concerned with standalone missions, with only a few hints about the main plot strewn here and there. Unfortunately, not only is Kiddy Grade extremely slow in even getting to this main plot, but the standalone episodes prove to be a mess of poorly edited stories that leave an extremely unsatisfying aftertaste. An episode may be at the centre of the action one minute, only to suddenly jump to a “by the way, everything was resolved while you weren’t looking” scene; the result is that even potentially entertaining stories become transformed into pointless throwaway segments.
…Tailed off a little in the middle…
The mid-section of Kiddy Grade is actually the best part of the series, but that does not mean it is without fault. This is the point where the promised main plot finally comes to the fore, as the sealed memories from Éclair’s previous life start to emerge, and she and Lumiere are forced to go on the run from their own organisation.
In principle, this should be a worthy storyline, but yet again the series is plagued by poor editing and no small amount of indecision. As it turns out, the ES members are cyborgs who have lived many lives, their consciousness transferred from body to body through the abilities of their boss, Eclipse (as leads, Éclair and Lumiere get a new look each time this happens, but everyone else seems to stay the same) Éclair, however, became so overcome with the burden of the things she had done in those previous lives that she had her memories erased, only for them to return alongside her true destined powers (you can’t be the lead unless you have ridiculously high power levels compared to anyone else).
The main problem with these revelations is that they simply aren’t presented to us in a clear and coherent way- it’s almost as if we are expected to know many of these facts without a full explanation. And instead of ever clarifying the ideas that are presented, the series chooses to move on and throw in some other plot twist, suddenly mentioning that character A actually has special powers, or some secret agenda that will string the plot out for a few more episodes.
…The less said about the ending, the better
It is in its final stages, however, that Kiddy Grade finally loses all claims to worth. The concluding arc begins with Alv and Dvergr coming forth as main bosses, stealing Éclair and Lumiere’s physical appearances, and taking over the directorship of GOTT. Naturally, the real Éclair and Lumiere come forth to combat them, in a series of episodes that involves a lot of wandering around in a forest with the enemy trudging along a short way behind them.
Naturally, such shallow evil cannot last in the face of the slightly less shallow forces of good, and after a series of battles in which everyone’s unique powers are revealed to be an identical ability to fire energy blasts and control generic “nanomachine mists”, Alv and Dvergr are defeated. By all rights, the series should have ended there, but with 24 episodes to fill, the writers were forced to come up with a pointless final arc to round things off.
In true final boss tradition, this final arc has Alv and Dvergr show up again and steal a giant spaceship, so that Alv can combine with the spaceship and become an oversized opponent worthy of the final battle. For the next few episodes, everyone gets a chance to put in a generic attack before leaving it to the destined main characters to finish things off- and conveniently enough, Lumiere discovers that she has just the ability needed to save the day. And in case anyone were to accuse Alv of being a generic villain, it is revealed that she was given a hard time at the hands of the evil nobles, and that Dvergr is actually her mother (after all, anyone with a family can’t be all bad).
Thus concludes Kiddy Grade, a series filled with squandered story potential and undeveloped cast members- perhaps one of the more extreme examples of Gonzo’s ‘style over subtance’ tendencies. And with such poor beginnings, can there be much hope for a worthy second season?
Building a better cyborg: suggestions for a better Kiddy Grade
Despite its numerous flaws, Kiddy Grade did in fact have some measure of potential, hence I have created a first draft for an improved version of the story. This version will also see increased character development for all ES members, with character-based episodes spread throughout the series.
Part One- Training: New recruit Éclair begins her ES member training, with Lumiere as her partner and supervisor, Sinistra and Dextera as instructors, and Armbrust and Mercredi on the faculty. Éclair is not always happy to be ordered around by someone as young as Lumiere, but with her supervisor’s obvious skills, she cannot complain too much.
Although her academic abilities are not particularly outstanding, Éclair shows an especial talent for physical training, almost as if she has had some prior experience elsewhere. Éclair claims that everything here is new to her, but every night she has intense dreams of missions with Lumiere and the others- missions that she cannot possibly have been a part of. Putting it down to excitement about her new job, Éclair says nothing about this to anyone.
Whilst Éclair continues her training (befriending Viola and Cesario on the way), Armbrust and Mercredi keep a close eye on her. Eventually, Armbrust makes a report to some shadowy superiors, claiming that there is no sign that the memory seal has been breached. The superiors are pleased about this, even suggesting that the seal could be used more often to keep the cyborgs more pliable.
Part Two- In the Field: Having finished her training, Éclair is assigned to the field, with Lumiere as her partner. As the pair complete various missions for the GOTT, they come to meet more active ES members- Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Alv and Dverger, and A-ou and Un-ou. Unfortunately, as the excitement of her new work wears off, Éclair begins to notice some morally dubious motives behind some of the missions, and wonders just who benefits from their work. She tries to persuade Lumiere to apply her extensive computer skills to the question, but Lumiere is extremely reluctant, telling her that no good can come of snooping around.
Things come to a head, however, following a conflict on a planet containing critical GOTT facilities. Feeling that she knows a way to defuse the situation, Éclair requests that she be assigned to it, but is told that a different department will be handling it. Forcing Lumiere to look into this more closely, Éclair discovers that the proposed plan of action will involve the death of millions, and resolves not to stand back. Turning rogue against their own agency, Éclair and Lumiere head to the planet to see what they can do.
Naturally, other ES members are sent to apprehend them, but after a fraught battle, Éclair and Lumiere win Viola and Cesario over to their side. Promising to stall anyone else who comes after them, Viola and Cesario tell Éclair and Lumiere to continue onwards towards their destination.
Once on the planet, Éclair seems oddly drawn to a particular facility (officially labelled as a hospital for ES members and other high ranking GOTT officers), claiming that the answer to everything lies there. The pair go ahead and break into the facility, but what they find there reveals a disturbing truth. This place is the answer to the enhanced abilities and longer life spans of ES members- rather than being a mere hospital, it is a facility for the creation of enhanced clones. Given the toll their abilities take on their bodies, ES members actually have shorter life spans than the average human, and thus instead of receiving the regular check-ups they are officially reported to have, their memories and experiences are transferred into new bodies grown just for the task. In this way, a worthy ES member need never die.
As she sees all this, Éclair feels something inside her snap, and memories come flooding back. This isn’t the first time she has lived as an ES member- before coming for her recent training, she was an experienced officer. Unfortunately, Éclair had already come to find out about this facility once before, and was captured for knowing too much. Unwilling to lose one of their best officers, however, the authorities decided to transfer only selected memories to a new clone, hoping to retrain her and put her back in the field. As it turned out, they could not erase all the traces of her past life, which have haunted Éclair ever since she rejoined the ES.
Having realised all this, Éclair decides that the truth must be known, and with Lumiere’s help, she downloads evidence about the facility. Armbrust and Mercredi are sent to stop them, but despite Armbrust’s arguments that the truth is best kept hidden, Éclair insists that it be brought out into the open, hoping that it will the first step towards exposing the corrupt elements of the GOTT. With some last minute help from Viola and Cesario, Éclair and Lumiere are able to escape with the evidence, and they arrange for its broadcast across the galaxy.
Part Three- Galactic Conflict: Unfortunately, Éclair’s well-intentioned actions have an adverse effect- upon learning of this key to immortality, the galaxy is thrown into conflict, with some factions claiming that it should be made available to all, and others declaring that it is an abomination that defies the will of God. As wars begin to break out of control of this technology, the corrupt and shadowy elements of the GOTT are brought out into the open, but at a cost far higher than anyone anticipated.
In the hopes of bringing an end to the very conflicts she precipitated, Éclair decides that the only way forward is to destroy the facility once and for all. Unfortunately, the place is now highly guarded by skilled ES members- with Alv, Dvergr, Armbrust and Mercredi on the front lines. With this in mind, Éclair and Lumiere set out to reunite the now-unaligned ES members, persuading Tweedledee, Tweedledum, Viola, Cesario, Sinistra, Dextera and even former boss Eclipse to put aside their personal issues and take to the front lines once more.
In a final assault that sees the deaths of several key characters, the cloning facility is destroyed, and although there will be no changes overnight, Éclair hopes that the galaxy will turn away from conflict and begin rebuilding itself. Several ES members resolve to use their remaining time to build a better GOTT, but Éclair decides that she has had enough, and decides to live out the rest of her lifespan (which may be anything from a few days to a few years) on a quiet planet, away from conflict.
Everything seems to have ended well, but even as the rebuilding commences and Éclair enjoys her final days, at a distant location, Mercredi reports in to her surviving bosses. A backup of the cloning data is hidden on a barren planet, and once the research is uncovered, they can use it to further a new regime…