I quote from the description provided by Netflix.com:
"College student by day, vigilante by night, Sawa protects the innocent and coldly kills criminals in this intense anime. Sawa's parents were murdered when she was young, and she was adopted by policeman Akai, who assigns her to dangerous missions."
And I thought that Netflix said it didn't carry XXX films....
Yes, I will admit that I am exaggerating, but the synopsis really does read like that of a porno. And in truth, the edited version of Yasoumi Umetsu's infamous Kite, an undeserving "cult classic" remembered mainly for its copious amounts of graphic violence, wallows in the disturbing world of pornography as long as it can without being classified as such, dragging the unfortunate viewer along with it and sending her into a pit of despair that only the most exhaustive marathon of Ghibli movies could ever save her from.
Before I begin to lambast too many things at once, I must first tackle the plot. Kite is the story of an unlucky teenage orphan named Sawa who lives under the "guardianship" of Akai, a corrupt policeman (and if you have noticed the quotation marks and are thinking dirty thoughts, you are probably on the right track). Akai, however, isn't just a corrupt cop. He has a distorted sense of justice, and like virtually every other character with a distorted sense of justice, he decides to turn his energy towards vigilante action...or rather, to proxy vigilante action, for the lazy bum refuses to even fight his own battles. He uses Sawa to do his jobs, which consist of her hunting down and killing society's most rotten citizens (corrupt businessmen, pimps, pedophiles, and the like), and while he makes some vague statements about these killings somehow bringing her closer to the truth behind the death of her parents, it's plain that he just likes to watch people die.
Akai's various hypocrisies aside, this universe seems to favor his sort of scum, because we soon meet another "guardian", Kanie, and his respective ward, a boy named Oburi. Now why don't we all give a nice greeting to Mr. Kanie...
.....actually, how about not.
I don't think that any still picture can truly capture how scary Kanie looks, for his stiff, off-kilter movements are really what creep me out the most (and personally, I think that his eyelids must have been ironed off when he was a child, since I don't ever recall seeing them move). If he were a pleasant person, I wouldn't give him this sort of trouble, but he's not, so I ultimately don't feel guilty about it. Oburi turns out to be amiable enough, however, and Sawa even takes a liking to him after one of their joint operations. She starts to meet up with him when not engaged in her missions, but will Akai and Kanie have enough heart to let them alone?
The short answer is that those who cite works such as Princess Mononoke and Bokurano as the most depressing anime in existence will now have a new contender to think about. A dark movie is not necessarily a bad one, but Kite takes grimness to unbearable extremes, becoming so violent, depressing, and devoid of humor and human joy that it becomes almost unwatchable. The last part in particular is a disquieting experience, for although it is neither as sexual nor as bloody as the rest of the OAV, it is one of the most sociopathic moments I have ever seen in film, and it brought down my already low opinion significantly.
From the get-go, Kite suffers from weak dialogue and poor characterization, and the core to that failure is the fact that Sawa, our heroine, has not an inkling of personality. If one ignores the action scenes (which, although good, are surprisingly sparse for a "girls-with-guns" anime) she neither says nor does anything interesting for the entire time, rendering her a depressingly passive lead character and making much of the OAV boring to watch as well. A story about sexual abuse doesn't have to be as gloomy as this, but the character must have some sort of "fight" in them for that to happen, and until the very end, Sawa shows neither resistance to Akai's "machinations", any other interests or hobbies (and in my opinion, her half-baked relationship with Oburi does not count), nor any real drive at all. Watching her is like watching the behavior of a brainwashed person, and this in itself makes Kite as unbearable as the grim tone does.
There are two factors that lead me to compare even the edited version of Kite to pornography, and the first is that watching it feels like taking an unpleasant dive into the mind of a sick and twisted fetishist. The version I saw never gives us explicit sex, but it does give us pedophilia, blatantly non-consensual relationships, and a deeply unpleasant male "partner" (on top of standard panty-shots and other fan-servicey drivel). As many people know, hentai titles dish these things out in droves, because, somehow, many men seem to find the rape and sexual abuse of children to be the perfect turn-on, a fact which I will never be able to comprehend. In the words of Marshall Mathers, the famous hip-hop artist, Kite would be perfect as a tool to "make my [a pedophile's] pee-pee go...BA-DOING-DOING-DOING!" if it only had actual sex, and while I suppose the "director's cut" is a different story, Kite in its edited form is the equivalent of watching a softcore fetishist hentai title (if such a thing is even possible). Really, no degree of censorship or rebranding will ever remove its irreversibly-imbedded perverseness.
The scant positives mostly stem from Umetsu's impeccable artwork, which is really all that prevents me from giving Kite a failing grade. The man's paintings are lovingly detailed, and as ugly and scary as Kanie and Akai may appear, the designs, which are marked by geometric body forms, colorful but misshapen hair, a distinct color scheme, and a realistic "bulkiness" that one rarely sees in anime, never cease to be fascinating to look at. The animation and music, though serviceable, are mediocre, for while the nondescript jazz score fits the mood, I can say as a musician that the composer has a poor grasp of musical phrasing, and the animation has a few too many digital pans and static shots for me to praise it. Kite is, surprisingly, also one of the only anime I have seen that portrays Americans with normal, fully believable voices rather than the usual "Engrish" dialogue or gimmicky Southern accents. It really is sad that this is one of the highest complements I can give to it.
Although the artwork makes it a feast for the eyes, Kite is, in the end, disturbing, incompetent, and painful to watch. I was never quite so offended that I wanted to shut the television off, and it seems that after making this, Mr. Umetsu was able to take the good (the art and action scenes), largely exorcise the bad, and succeed in his next attempt, the infinitely superior Mezzo Forte, so I have to give it a little bit of credit. But it's really only worth watching for the shock value, to find out how much dismemberment and pedophilia you can stomach, or if you need a present for a creepy old uncle who likes to...
...actually, scratch that. Keep it away from him, too.
A very weak two stars. I won't blame you for taking another one off, and I would recommend you go ahead if you find pedophilia even more disturbing than I do, despise violence, or need a little happiness now and then. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: Carlos: You're kidding, right? (Maybe high school fanboys would love this stuff, with the pointless violence and fan-service...hey, that's the audience they must've been shooting for!) It doesn't help that we saw this right after Domain of Murder. This was not a good day for the T.H.E.M. Reviewers, especially considering we were actually hoping this was as good as people said it was. It obviously failed to live up to our expectations, though...
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (2/2)
Kite © 1998 Umetsu Yasuomi / Green Bunny
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