Title: Kiddy Grade
Length: 24 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Sci-fi, action
Year of release: 2002
Looking back on it, the turn of the millennium produced some weird anime, using the unique aspects of animation for trippy visuals played out as a final hurrah for the dying sci-fi trend. Big twists, a complete lack of reliance on exposition and a lot of madness ensued. Because of the sheer ambition of the period, many of these shows became classics, and because of the amount rising the top, there’s a lot of gems to be found beneath. Kiddy Grade is one such anime with more ambition than you can shake a stick at, but is it one history should look back on on more fondly?
The most striking aspect of Kiddy Grade is how unapologetic it is. Even the first scene plays to bait you out, and when it reveals its hand, is awfully coy with the post-facto explanation of what just happened. Kiddy Grade is about two superhumans called Eclair and Lumiere who do the footwork for the GOTT (the Galactic Organisation of Trade and Tariffs) who liaise between intergalactic politicians and companies to ensure fairness, and the various missions they go on. Now, I’m not entirely sure how these two girls (yes, girls, apparently Eclair is a boy’s name and it’s one of the most bizarre running jokes I’ve seen) got their respective powers of super strength or the ability to control machines, but a key aspect of the show is figuring out just how that occurred. But, and I’m going to break it to you now, Kiddy Grade doesn’t have a single concise answer, but rather drips information that gives enough hints for you to form a good, but not exact, answer.
At first, Kiddy Grade is merely episodic, giving vignettes of ‘a day in the life’ of Eclair (and Lumiere, but she’s mostly undeveloped in exchange for the more interesting, boisterous Eclair). They get caught up in interplanetary wars, preventing terrorist armament, cyborg fighting tournaments and worker revolutions, and the explanations are restricted to the briefings the girls get pre-mission, and thereafter, the complete lack of internal monologues or exposition mean that you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled to really follow the stories. At first, this may feel bizarre, because the silly climaxes – whereby Eclair makes a grand entrance, loudly declaring her trademark ‘ja-jah!’ (ta-da), and then kicks the bad guys while flashing a warrant… it is not the kind of cerebral television you usually see, even if it’s tremendously good fun. The coyness is really to entice the mystery of the later series, and it really does a great job at it.
After a mission relating to mind control, Eclair’s mind flays. She begins to lose faith in the GOTT’s principals and even herself, and this sets the series off into a grander story that takes occasional detours to dig deeply, but artistically, into her internal conflict. The once light-hearted show makes a turn for the bleak, and the restraint of the transformation is really impressive to see. Major character deaths, mind blowing betrayals, and some absolutely huge climaxes paint the way through the middle third of Kiddy Grade, and along with the show’s seriously impressive audiovisuals, made me think I was on track to give a really high rating to the show.
But then the final third happened. While the animation never stopped being really impressive (barring that one, single CGI lift), the story developed its biggest revolution. Not only did the twists not really make any sense from the antagonists, but the consistent lack-of-explanation from the show began to become a thorn in its side. The powers of the GOTT members suddenly became important, but the lack of fulfilling explanations for them really prevented a lot of the climax sequences from working. Ryoko Nagata, the voice actress of Eclair, really showed an impressive range as the show called for it in this part of the show, but even that was not enough to help the show out of its poorly setup turn-of-events. If it were more measured and less needlessly dramatic, Kiddy Grade could have gone out on a high note, but it’s precisely because of this 8 episode string of weak character decisions and ill-explained plot twists that, sadly, Kiddy Grade isn’t one of the turn-of-the-millennium anime hidden gems.