KIDDY GRADE (2003)

 

Format: 24 24-minute episodes on 8 DVDs

Rating: PG-13+ (BN, AC, GV)

Type: Sci-Fi Action/Drama

American Production: FUNimation Productions

English Dub Production: FUNimation Studios

Japanese Production: GONZO

 

Grading

 

Premise:

B+

Story:

B

Writing:

B

Character Design:

B+

Mecha Design:

B-

Animation:

B

Artistic Merits:

B+

English Dub:

B+

Musical Score:

A-

Songs:

B+

Opener (2nd/others):

B+/B-

Closer (all):

B

 

 

Humor Content:

B-

Action Content:

B+

Drama Content:

B

 

 

DVD Presentation:

B

DVD Extras:

B+

 

 

OVERALL:

B

 

Synopsis

      In a far-flung future where mankind has settled the stars and terraforming on a planetary scale is a reality, the G.O.T.T. (Galactic Organization of Trade and Tariffs) has been organized to regulate and police interstellar commerce. Its enforcement arm is the ES Force, which is headed by Chief Eclipse and consists of six pairs of super-powered ES Members with special ships and ‘mechs at their disposal. One such pair, named Éclair and Lumiere, acts on the front lines as they take on a series of dangerous assignments under the watchful eye of the Global Union auditor Armblast. All is not what it seems, though, as dark forces maneuver in the background. Complicating things further is the gradual return of Éclair’s lost memories, which suggest that the ES members may be far more than what they appear to be.

 

Quotes

      “Ta-Daa!” (Éclair)

      “A lady should be more elegant.” (Lumiere) 

 

The Long View

      At first glance Kiddy Grade seems to little more than a high-spirited, cheesecake action series more concerned with being flashy and offering up fan service than any semblance of depth or an overall plot. Indeed, the first several episodes seem concerned with nothing more than introducing key players and presenting exciting action sequences, although there are the barest hints of underlying secrets scattered throughout. This begins to change with the creepy episode 9, when Éclair’s experiences on planet Dardanos caused suppressed memories to start to resurface. The series assumes a darker and edgier tone from this point on, leading to a critical turning point in episode 11, after which the plot development kicks into high gear. Eventually several story elements that seemingly make little sense – such as why several of the ES members look so young, why Éclair and Lumiere have the lowest status in the ES Force, and why Eclipse seems to be manipulating them, and for what purpose – gradually become more clear. The reason for Éclair’s memories being suppressed, and who exactly is responsible for that, also becomes clear, and the answer may surprise the viewer. The later stages of the series even explain why Lumiere normally looks like an 11-year old girl even though she acts so much more mature and is pictured in one flashback as being much older. The real truths here bring up some weighty philosophical issues that the series only touches upon, but this is perhaps for the best since spending too much time on them would have distracted considerably from the series’ action-oriented focus.

      The overall plot of Kiddy Grade makes more sense if one understands up front that the Galactic Union, which the GOTT answers to, is controlled by the Nouvlesse, a small elitist group of “pure” (i.e. unaugmented) humans who are the nobility of the Galactic Union. They have a stranglehold on the galactic economy, thus enabling them to hold entire planets under their thumb. Understandably a lot of people, including various ES members, aren’t happy with this arrangement, and the friction caused when the Nouvlesse asserts its authority and smug attitudes becomes a key plot point on several occasions. The climax of the series, in fact, comes down to problems that arise when one of the Nouvlesse’s own attempt to thwart a dastardly scheme that the Nouvlesse have cooked up, only to see his efforts backfire badly. (And the reasons why this particular individual turned traitor may surprise you.) Although the climax itself is rather generic, the plot developments leading up to that point are plenty satisfying enough for me to recommend the story in the series.

      Plot is really a tertiary consideration to the look of the series and its characters, though. Each of the ES members has a fanciful name, stylish and distinctive character design, and a multifaceted super-power. Their powers are rated on a 3-step scale, with C-class being the lowest, then S-class, and G-class being the highest – but none of the ES members have the awesome G-class-level power (at least at first). They include:

 

Eclipse: The Chief of the ES Force, she is a former ES member herself with a potent power whose nature isn’t revealed until late in the series.

Éclair: Full-figured and brown-haired, she has an inverted cross cut into her short-skirted uniform and usually lets her hair flow wild and free, giving her a bit of a “white trash” look. She is a C-class member whose ability is “Power,” which gives her superhuman speed, agility, and strength. Use of lipstick on her lips seems to make her far stronger (almost uncontrollably so), and she can manipulate a line of lipstick for various whip-like effects.

Lumiere: A blue-haired girl who wears dress gloves and what looks like lingerie and sports an elegant hairdo, she has a penchant for fine wine and refined behavior and a C-class ability, named “Puppet,” is the ability to control electronics. Partly because of this she is a grade-A+ hacker. There are hints that she has substantially stronger powers than what she normally reveals.

Alv and Dvergr: These two, who dress like rejects from the ‘80s New Wave trend, are a taciturn second team whose S-class abilities, called Absorb, allow them to absorb and manipulate raw energy. (The fact that both of them have the same ability is very unusual and a plot point later on.) They are potentially the strongest of the ES Force teams, with Alv being the dominant personality.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee: These twins with the Chinese-themed uniforms are the third team. ‘Dum, the brother, has an S-Class ability called “Magnetfeld” which allows him to control magnetic fields. ‘Dee, the sister who looks far cuter than she acts, is the dominant personality of the two. Her S-Class ability is “Strom”, which allows her to control the flow of electricity. This ability overlaps somewhat with Lumiere’s and also helps make her an ace hacker, but while she is more powerful Lumiere is still the better hacker. When the twins combine their powers they can generate a powerful gravity phenomenon called “Confinement.”

Viola and Cesario: Cesario, the tallest of the ES members, is a quiet type who communicates only via body language to everyone except his partner (and then only in whispers), while his partner Viola, who looks and behaves like a cute, precocious 9-year-old, is the shortest and most outspoken of the ES members as well as the dominant personality of the pair. Their powers, called “Driver” and “Calamity” respectively, are C-class abilities which form a symbiotic relationship; she has the ability to interfere with molecular bonds but not the power to do it on her own, while he has a nearly limitless reserve of power but no effective way to use it on his own. When holding hands, though, Viola can draw on Cesario’s power to disintegrate almost anything.

Sinistra and Dextera: These pretty boys with the stylish faux military uniforms form a fifth team. They have the S-Class powers of “Whenever” and “Anywhere” respectively, which are somewhat similar abilities to cut through dimensions (though they are rarely used in the series). They are the most experienced and highest-ranked of the ES Force teams, though not necessarily the most powerful.

A-Ou and Un-Ou: Spellings on the names for this sixth team vary a bit, but the former is a tall, dark-skinned pacifist while the latter is a short, boyish, curly-haired fellow with a reckless streak and a tendency to cross-dress. A-Ou has the S-Class ability “Amplifier,” which allows him to perceive the flow of life energy, while Un-Ou has the complementary ability “Amazing,” which allows him to hear the flow of life energy. Together they are better than the best man-made sensors money can buy.

Mercredi: Eclipse’s loyal secretary. Although not technically an ES member, she regularly associates with all of them. She does not seem to have any special powers, but she does have unmatched information-gathering skills and an extraordinary talent for making good tea. There are strong hints that she has some kind of special relationship with Armblast, the dashing Galactic Union inspector. She seems to become two different people later in the series, although exactly how or why this happens is not explained.

 

      Each of the other teams is introduced one per episode beginning with the second episode, although the focus always remains on Éclair and Lumiere. The interactions between the teams, which aren’t always cordial, are interesting to watch because they provide additional character depth to a series lacking in it beyond its lead duo. (Viola is friendly with Lumiere on a childlike level, while Tweedledee seems to have more than just a “friendly rivalry” interest in Lumiere – much to the consternation of her brother. A-Ou and Un-Ou, though, are serious rivals of the lead duo due to past conflicts predating their GOTT days, while Alv and Dvergr don’t seem to get along with anyone, especially Éclair.) For nearly all the ES members, though, the bonds within each team are most important. Numerous are the scenes of ES members expressing more than just professional concern for their teammate, and self-sacrificing moves to protect one’s teammate are not unusual. The reasons for this go beyond just having to depend on each other in dangerous situation, but to tell more on this point would be to reveal critical secrets. That one ES team member doesn’t seem to share this sentiment is a significant plot point.

      The primary focus of Kiddy Grade, though, is its look. Bright, vibrant artistry is a hallmark of the series, as are clean lines, smooth animation (though I saw one action scene which looked awkward), and seamless use of CGI effects to enhance the cel art – but you’d expect nothing less from a GONZO production. Yes, the series takes many of the shortcuts typical for action series, and the character designs heavily emphasize cutesiness, but neither of those is unusual for a modern anime. The openers and closers change somewhat at three points throughout the series, with the second and longest-running set being the best-looking of the lot and the third set being a nice update for changes in the appearances of the central characters in recent episodes.

The orchestrated soundtrack does an excellent job of highlighting the action and drama in each scene. The English script is significantly different from the original Japanese in many places, although I did not feel that this created any gross inconsistencies in meaning. The English vocal cast is well-chosen and its actors consistently do a fine job of capturing the essence of their characters in any particular scene. The biggest difference between the English and Japanese voice work is Monica Rial’s use of a much higher and gentler pitch for Lumiere’s voice than the original Japanese voice actress, but the portrayal is, I think, better that way. English performances in key roles are solid on their own merits, although there is a bit of a quality drop-off in the lesser supporting roles, especially Scarlet MacAlister’s stiff and occasionally awkward performance as Eclipse. Overall, fans of dubs should be quite pleased. The opener’s song, which in standard FUNimation fashion is in English in the dub, also translates remarkably well. Pay careful attention to its wording, as it speaks directly to what’s going on in the series at certain points. 

The graphic content of Kiddy Grade is mostly limited to occasional bloody scenes and a lot of fan service. Although the actual frontal nudity is limited to one episode, there are numerous scenes of near-nudity, panty shots, revealing costumes, and conspicuous “jiggles.” Overall, though, the graphic content isn’t particularly strong. Older teenagers could certainly handle it, and parents should use discretion with younger teens.

Though I would hardly rank it among the best of series, Kiddy Grade is still an entertaining series with hidden depth which shows some true quality if one sticks with it long enough. It’s worth a look.

 

DVD Extras

      The opener and closer on each episode allow the viewer to use the Angle button to switch back and forth between original Japanese credits and their English translations. In a curious move, turning the subtitles on while watching the English dub just gives you a word-for-word rendition of the English script rather than the direct translation of the Japanese script that you get when you choose the Japanese language option. The menu music, which changes from volume to volume, is quite pleasant.

      All volume cases include interior cover art and a set of picture cards concerning the series. The DVDs themselves have the following extras:

·    Company Trailers

·    Image Gallery

·    Songs (opener and closer)

·    Character Profiles – Individuals profiled shuffle some as the volumes progress, but they aren’t significantly updated over time.

·    Promo Video/Slideshow (vol. 1 and 2 only)

·    Original Commercials (vol. 1 and 2 only)

·    ES Force Team Dossier (vol 3-8) – Provides extensive details on one of the teams and their equipment

·    Easter Egg – Each volume has an unmarked bonus feature, in the form of comical takes on Japanese legal warnings done by series characters, off the Extras menu screen. Find the hidden arrows leading to them by going to the return arrow at the bottom of the screen and moving left.

  

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Éclair and clones

Colleen Clinkenbeard*

Lumiere and clones

Monica Rial

Eclipse, minor roles

Scarlett McAlister

Armblast

Dameon Clark

Mercredi, Vendredi

Gwendolyn Lau

Alv

Laura Bailey

Dvergr

Rebecca Paige

Tweedledum

Antimere Robinson

Tweedledee

Clarine Harp

Viola, minor roles

Alison Rezloff

A-Oh**

Steve Sanders**

Un-Oh**

Pugs**

Sinistra, minor roles

Eric Vale

Dextera, minor roles

Vic Mignogna

Ricki

Elise Baughman

Bonita

Kimberly Grant

Chevalier D’Autriche (adult)

Christopher Sabat

Timothy Rosenfeld, minor roles

Daniel Katsuk

Mrs. Padushka

Lauren Goode

Director, minor roles

Jamie Marchi

Caprice

Melissa Ellis

 

* - also ADR Director

** - in at least one episode, these roles are listed with different spellings and different actors even though the voices are clearly the same. I cannot account for the inaccuracy, nor can any Website I have checked.

 

Links

FUNimation Kiddy Grade Home Page

 

 

 

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