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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kingdom of Chaos - Born to Kill: The Diamond in the Idea Factory Anime Rough

Finishing up my look at Idea Factory anime is the sole OVA they made that is a 100% original creation.  Technically, it is based on a game (the network game Kingdom of Chaos: Spectral Force the Universe for PC), but the story & characters are exclusive to this 2003-2004 OVA, and even among Idea Factory anime it is pretty obscure, with the OVA's webpage being inaccessible now.  On the fansub front the first two episodes (of four) were subbed, but those fansubs essentially became lost for years...  But now those two episodes can be seen over at Veoh, of all places.  Unfortunately, the latter two episodes can only be seen if you own the DVDs for them, or have access to the Bandai Channel, but I have bought all four DVDs (for cheap over at Rakuten).  This is another of those animes I've wanted to review but couldn't until now, and it is the very best Idea Factory anime that I have ever seen (i.e. it is legitimately good).  This is Kingdom of Chaos - Born to Kill.

On Neverland's Old Continent there is a country called Bjor, which under the command of its present ruler Fract is on a warpath across the land.  The country has already taken over roughly 75% of the continent, and next on Fract's list is Orthozes, a small country that was able to fend off Bjor when it was Fract's first attempt at conquest.  In Orthozes, though, is an amnesiac wanderer named Aide who joins the mercenary front in order to protect the country.  Alongside Mara, a member of the Crimson Knight guard, & Dino, a mazoku who is considered a "killing machine", Aide will find out who is...  And why he looks exactly like Fract.

Whereas all of the other Idea Factory anime I have reviewed have been nothing more than prologues to their respective games, Born to Kill is a complete story, and that alone is worthy of mention.  Knowing that there is a beginning, middle, & actual end to this OVA makes for a much more fulfilling journey than the Generation of Chaos, Vara Noir, & Mars of Destruction OVAs, and the fact that it's an interesting story only strengthens all of that.  The first thing to bring up is that this isn't an action-packed story; there are fights in each episode, but this story is all about the characters, their pasts & reasons for fighting, & how they fit into the story.  Luckily, these characters are worth watching.

One thing that is similar between the characters is that all of their lives essentially suck due to the war.  Mara saw her parents get senselessly slaughtered by Fract's soldiers as a child, but she is saved by the head of the Crimson Knights.  Mara in turn is trained into an excellent fighter, but in the end that's all she is to the leader: An excellent tool to be used for missions while she reaps all of the money & glory.  Dino looks like nothing but a tough, money-grubbing giant, but his reasons for coming off like that are personal: Dino's wife, like Mara's parents, was senselessly killed by Bjor during the initial seizure attempt, leaving him to take care of his child Pururu.  In turn, Dino takes on deadly jobs in order to get money so that he can continue to care for his daughter.  Finally, there's Aide & Fract, who are essentially linked together.  Aide knows nothing about himself except for his name, and he has problems remembering anything new (he starts keeping a journal to help himself out), but he knows that fighting is what he's good at.  Fract is a ruthless leader in charge of a Nazi-esque country (he orders a child to be killed in episode 1, and while it's not shown the death scream is pretty chilling), and his biggest reason for doing all of this slaughter, & his goal of capturing Orthozes, is simply because he wants to surpass his father, who was unable to do so.  At the same time, though, he has a human side to him, helped out by his female assistant Kanon, who harbors feelings for him.  Born to Kill showcases a land in war, and it pulls no punches in showcasing that people's lives essentially aren't any better for it.

That's not to say that there isn't any levity in this OVA, because there is enough of it to keep the story from being depressing.  When she isn't fighting enemies or dealing with her past Mara is usually the more playful member of the trio, Dino often acts like the simple-minded & silly giant, and Aide tends to keep a hopeful mind about what's going on even if he doesn't truly understand who he is.  Still, Born to Kill's focus is on serious-minded character development & a dark story, and while the first three episodes are all about showcasing the heroes & what they each fight for the final episode goes into a climax between Aide & Fract that not only explains how the two are related to each other, and how the mysterious & godlike Mugen is involved, but also delivers a twist that makes for an unpredictable final battle & even manages to redeem Fract slightly.  Honestly, to explain any bit of what goes on in this final battle would spoil everything that makes it interesting & surprisingly enthralling.  Finally, the OVA actually utilizes the concept of the after-credits scene perfectly in the last episode to deliver one last twist that makes you question your very understanding of what happens in the epilogue and even makes you question if there even was a hero at all.  Simply put, what starts off as a dark but easily-understood story of three people who fight in a war for their own reasons becomes a mind-twisting climax that stays true to the somber message of the entire OVA: War is hell, and chaos will always be around in some form.

Still, this is an Idea Factory anime, which means that the backgrounds are usually CG & the animation is limited, but even in these aspects the OVA manages to deliver a very good package.  The mix of animation & CG is very well done, and while a couple of shots still look odd the OVA usually manages to look really good, even today.  The animation, likewise, has some moments where it's obvious that Idea Factory was cheapening out but in general everything looks smooth & what animation is used tends to flow nicely.  The last episode in particular looks the best of them all, and it's obvious that Idea Factory saved their best work for it.  The character designs were done by Takashi Kumazen (of Transformers: Cybertron, Getsumen to Heiki Mina, & the aborted Mardock Scramble OVA fame), which utilize a sleek & slender style that fits in very well with the usual Neverland character style while also being its own look.  There actually isn't a lot of music in this OVA, which kind of helps the somber & dark mood of the story, but what is used really fits in well (dark & moody), though it does still sound slightly "game-y".  The opening theme is "Kakudo" by Sae, and whereas her songs in Generation of Chaos III were upbeat & hopeful, "Kakudo" is just like this OVA by being slow & somber, but is just as memorable as those previous songs; again, Sae (who now goes by her real name, Nanami Yumihara) is simply a beautiful singer.  Speaking of GOCIII, the insert song from episode 1, "Hechtashiho", is used here as the ending theme, it's slower-paced beat also fitting this OVA perfectly.

There voice cast also pulls through here, all delivering great performances.  Junichi Suwabe (Greed in FMA [2003], Grimmjow in Bleach) pulls double-duty here by voicing both Aide & Fract (though Fract is not credited until the last episode), delivering both a subdued hopefulness (Aide) as well as an merciless but wounded evil (Fract).  Dino is voiced by Kazuya Nakai, who actually gruffs his voice slightly so that it fits better with Dino's giant stature...  It's still Nakai's usual voice in the end, though, which works well.  Mara is voiced by Yuki Matsuoka (Orihime in Bleach, Evangeline in Negima!), who delivers both the playful side & the saddened serious side with no trouble.  The mysterious Mugen is voiced by Motoharu Shimomura, who, alongside some audio effects, delivers an unemotional & overpowering style with no trouble.  Finally, Kanon is voiced by Yukiko Mannaka (Wakaba in Green Green), who does a nice job with her mostly-secondary role by keeping her serious with a hint of emotional.

This isn't used for any of the DVDs...  But it's a better image

Kingdom of Chaos - Born to Kill is truly the hidden diamond in Idea Factory's catalog of anime.  While there are some little oddities in the story (for example, Mara does a pretty stupid thing to lead into the final battle) it still tells a nice character-driven piece about war & what it does to people, with little to no glorifying, before transforming into an mind-twisting look at whether good & evil are really two different things that manages to keep you guessing even after the end credits finish.  Idea Factory really hit the ball out the park with this OVA, and it's saddening to know that people can only really watch the first two episodes without having to hunt down the DVDs, and even then the last two episodes will have to be seen without subtitles.  Whereas ADV has licensed the Spectral Force OVA back when Idea Factory didn't have much to its name, I really believe that this title should have been licensed during the bubble days; it requires no previous knowledge of Neverland to watch and tells a completely self-contained story.  It is kind of funny, though, that the two best Idea Factory animes I have reviewed both take place in the Old Continent, yet it's never really used in the Neverland series.  Them's the breaks, I guess.

Even though I am done with Idea Factory anime right now, though, that doesn't mean that there isn't any more out there.  I can very well return to this well, as there is still plenty to cover.  Spectral Force?  Run=Dim? Skelter+Heaven?  The "Divergence" OVA series?  All of this could very well happen one day in the future, but right now I am getting closer & closer to Review #100, and to get ready for that special title I'm going to go into a new theme for all of the next reviews up through #100...  And I'll be starting with what I had originally planned to be #100!

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