Phew. What a long episode. Viz Video calls this one a 'special Feature-length installment,' and they aren't kidding. Over 90 minutes of video, which opens more like a movie than anything else. Gone is the eerily haunting opening theme by Kijima Sario, and accompanying animation sequence. Even the animation seems more detailed in some scenes than in the previous episodes. Of particular note are the forced-perspective scenes of the 'Maestro' walking down long corridors. Very smooth. Yet there are others in which we have long sequences in which no real action takes place... but more on that later.
Shibahara Chiyako (Utsuse Miho/Komori Beniko) has a fairly major part in this episode, and while she can play the very detached Miho, and the energetic Beniko, she's not very convincing in the role of a physically and emotionally beaten woman. Indeed, there are several 'over the top' performances in this one; most notably by Shinchiro Miki in her role of the very mad genius, Tsurugi Hikaru. It appears that the fine line of separation between madness and genius is a favourite of Sato's. There was one very surprisingly compelling scene by Wagasawa Miki (Sakura) -- her protrayal of a very frightened young woman in the company of Sergei's mechanised toy was among the most convincing I've seen (or heard) in a long time.
This 'reveal-all' episode spends much of its time in a dialog between Tataki Shuichi and Wakagi Tomoyo, as the past history of Key and her family are revealed. While fascinating in many ways, the underlying emotional response I had was, "I'm being cheated by Sato & Co." Here was a wonderfully complex and intelligent scenario which was being reeled out like a play, with the director and writers giving us little tibits of information -- spoon-feeding us, if you will. I, in the observer's role, felt as if one by one, these tidbits of information were finally congealing into a comprehensible story, one that made sense. But this episode shatters all the previous work. It appears that Key might not be what we've been lead to believe -- but that's not really the issue at stake here. Instead of allowing the viewer to participate in a further path to discovery, the two secondary characters end up giving you the whole lock, stock and barrel in one regurgitated mass . (You know I'm displeased when I start using cliché without apologies.) I don't mind being lead down the wrong path; that's part of watching a program, and quite often really adds to the enjoyment experience. But to have the whole story apparently handed to you on a silver platter? This most certainly isn't My Dinner with André. It's almost as if Project Key got in way over their heads, and needed some quick means to extricate themselves for a concluding episode, though a 95 minute sitting is anything but 'quick' -- especially when it's an animated feature.
Still, there were some interesting side stories presented. The history of Key's family, the source of her incredible powers, and the true nature of the mysterious substance that they call 'gel.' The significance of the photograph that Shuichi discoverd during his trip to the Mamio Valley. Even the huge price exacted from everyone so that 'gel' might be produced. But it's all rather pat; every aspect fits very nicely -- too nicely, in fact. Much like a fixed game of Tetris. Why even throw in the side story of the possibility that Key might be Sakura's illegitimate sister? (Shades of the rather ill-conceived script element in Return of the Jedi.) No doubt to explain Sakura's departure from the valley itself. The addition of the 'Maestro' character seems somewhat incidental as well; almost as if the role was created simply to to advance the story via narrative, while dragging the audience around by the ear. And when all was said and done, even the prevalent theme -- the paradox of making robots seem like real people, contrasting against the human wishing to be a robot -- is lost amidst script manipulation.
There's no question why this episode was done: to set up for the final, concluding installment. After all, there's a lot of information that had to be presented in order to make everything fall into place. Besides, we know that the next episode is the last, since the trailer advertises that episode 15 is entitled, 'End'. But I can't help feeling that there's something very fundamentally wrong here. Is there yet another twist to the story that we're not privy to? I certainly hope so; otherwise, what's the point to watching any more?
- AN, 99.01.07