Kado, The Right Answer

Science fiction is about the politics and societies of the future. There’s no better example of that than one of it’s landmark works, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which focuses on those topics exclusively. But in its focus on these two subjects the genre very often gets distracted from the thing that makes questions of society and politics important: the individual. After all, it is the individual impact of these questions that drives people to consider them at all. While many people will set aside their own concerns of health and happiness if they think it’s for a greater good; without a clear statement of how deprivation might serve the greater good it’s unlikely any will make such sacrifices. Conversely, if you want to prevent people from giving of themselves the simplest way to do it is to convince them there is nothing greater than themselves worth looking for.

But beyond all that, there is another question science fiction is often interested in. Namely, what is the nature of individual?

Kado, The Right Answer is interested in all three of these questions. Sadly, it’s not always adept at answering them.

The basic premise of Kado is scifi gold, beginning with a bizarre extradimensional object intruding into our world over an airport in Japan, absorbing an airplane and making itself at home. Most of the first episode is devoted to the Japanese government trying to figure out what they’re dealing with and ends with a passenger from the plane appearing on top of the object as an ambassador for the entity within. The second episode gives us events from the passenger’s perspective. The rest of the show is about what the entity wants and how humanity will react to it.

Kado plays with many of the wonderful hypotheticals futurists like to dream about, like limitless energy and the impact such technology might have. But it doesn’t explore any of them with a great deal of depth, as the story plays out over a matter of a few months, not nearly enough time to examine the deep changes that might result from a power source that theoretically anyone can create. By the same token even more fantastic technology is introduced in the second half of the show and given freely to humanity by the entity from beyond but what that might mean for humanity in the long run is never really unpacked.

The political ramifications are explored to an extent, with the UN becoming involved and Japan facing everything from threats of sanctions to prying business executives. While the Japanese government plays around these things in gutsy and amusing ways the real depths of these political machinations aren’t deeply explored either.

Finally, two thirds of the way through the season, the question of human nature and what it might mean in the face of life altering technology and beings from other dimensions is introduced. Unfortunately, Kado has been more interested in it’s clever technologies and shallow machinations than in developing its characters. There were hints of who the people dealing directly with Kado and it’s enigmatic passenger were but not quite enough to move them beyond fairly one dimensional characters. While Kado never disrespects it’s characters or treats them as props to a poorly conceived plot it never quite manages to let us get to know them enough to be invested in the existential crisis that Kado’s appearance ultimately provokes.

With twelve full twenty minute episodes plus a prequel it might seem like Kado wasn’t pressed for time to unpack it’s ideas but the show felt overstuffed, like it might have been able to make more of its high concepts if only there had been time to play around with them. Many interesting side characters never developed beyond a single note and the main trio are sketched well but without nuance. And, as I already said, none of the futurist ideas that the story introduces are explored with any depth. I wanted to like Kado, the Right Answer more than I did, and if you’re a sucker for scifi in general or first contact stories specifically you’ll probably still like this show. But casual scifi fans or the general public should give it a pass.

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Cool Things: Noir

Noir is a genre pioneered in the nineteen twenties and thirties that focuses on the seedy underbelly of society and those that try to make their way through it. The name is derived from the French word for black. Since this is not Genrely Speaking, we’ll leave the background information at that. The subject of this post is an anime series by that name.

Anime, for those not in the know that don’t feel like wading through the Wikipedia page, is an animated story, either of TV length or movie length, produced in Japan. Following today’s theme, the word itself is borrowed from French.

Noir is a 26 episode TV series that aired in 2001. It is primarily set in Europe and focuses on the activities of a pair of assassins for higher that operate by the codename Noir. Our protagonists are Mireille Bouquet and Kirika Yuumura, two assassins who are connected by family, history and conspiracy. Most of the series focuses on the characters, slowly developing them from fairly generic killers for hire into characters that stick with their work for reasons we can almost sympathize with – if they didn’t require piles of bodies.

Like most noir stories, our protagonists are strongly principled; keeping to codes of conduct that are as strict as they are alien to most people. And, like most noir characters, they also hope to get out of the game once they reach their goal. In the case of Mireille, revenge, for Kirika, the truth. These motives become clear only slowly and our understanding of them only comes as Mireille and Kirika learn to trust each other, a process that takes most of the first half of the series.

The second half of the story revolves around the way our heroines pull themselves out of the twisted circumstances that made them what they are.

Noir relies heavily on themes of irredeemable sin and unlooked-for grace. It’s no accident that one of the series two leitmotifs is Salva Nos, a Roman Catholic funeral mass set to a pounding techno beat. As cold-blooded killers, Mireille and Kirika have little room to expect a fulfillment of their goals. But, perhaps out of a desire to find some measure of redemption, they’re far more forgiving than you might expect of assassins. In turn they both manage to find moments of grace even in their dark circumstances.

The pacing of Noir is a bit slow, probably because they had to fill an entire 26 episode season, but the story feels very fulfilling when it ends. Like most noir stories the ending isn’t exactly happy, but it is hopeful. You can find some measure of hope that the survivors can finally set the darkness they’ve lived in behind them – though where they might go from there is a bit of a troubling question.

As a show that focuses on girls with guns, action sequences are a pretty important part of the series and Noir delivers hand over fist. The fight choreography will definitely remind dedicated action movie watchers of movies like The Matrix or The Book of Eli. Cante per Me and Salva Nos embody Noir‘s conflicting senses of wistfulness and pounding adrenaline and serve as the backdrop of some  artfully executed gun battles, highlights of one of pro composer Yuki Kajiura’s early works.

Looking for a show that mixes thoughtfulness and action, a dark plot with a dash of hope? Willing to take “cartoons” with a more serious bent to them? Noir might be a thing for you.