Many of the shows I review are violent in a way that lacks class and sophistication, but are entirely awesome and gleeful. Take for example the disgusting and gruesome Genocyber. It is unrefined, crass, dirty, and enjoys killing people. This is the type of anime that aims to make you enjoy watching the deaths of others. It’s creepy, it’s hateful, and it’s entirely entertaining. But there is another kind of violence prevalent in anime, one that is not “fun” to watch. One that does not enjoyably kill off its cast, but when someone dies or is hurt you feel their pain. This type of violence is what I call empathy violence, as opposed to ultraviolence (where you enjoy the killings). For example, no one ever roots for the young boy to be shot in Babel (at least I hope no one does). That movie has empathy violence in it. But in The Last Stand we love to see Arnie run some bastards over (spoilers) with a freakin police SUV! We love to watch him spray a minigun at a bunch of killers (spoilers) and then say a witty line ! We get some sort of enjoyment from these crazy, ultraviolent action scenes! Kite has extreme violence and incredible action scenes, but we are never “having fun”. Instead we have a knot in our stomach the entire time, we worry if Sawa is going to be alright. We have compassion when Sawa gets hurt. We pity her for having such a horrible childhood. When people die in this anime we don’t get excited, we get upset. This is an anime with a 60 minute running time that makes us care. There is an elegance to Kite that few anime and live action movies have. This is not some bottom of the barrel over the top violence, there is real thought behind every single scene.
Four years ago Sawa’s parents were brutally murdered. The two detectives who were first on the scene took her in and raised her. These two police officers, Akai and Kanie, raised her to become an assassin in order to do their dirty work. Akai and Kanie are corrupt police detectives who take the law into their own hands in order to kill child molesters and immoral corporate fat cats. They are trying to kill people who the law isn’t “getting to” for one reason or another. The people they are killing are supposedly guilty of heinous crimes. But the two detectives have another motive, they run a contract killing syndicate. There is a lot of money in removing from this earth scum that others want dead. Although these corrupt police detectives may be killing child molesters (and seem to have a disdain for them), they have no problem raping Sawa multiple times throughout the OVA. Akai and Kanie turn out to be true scum, some of the worst human beings imaginable, but they have some strange notion of morality and justice. They have a weird life view, a terrible one, but one you start to understand. You never sympathize with these people, but they are not unrealistic monsters. You begin to at least understand them. They may be killing horrible human beings, but these two police officers are still incredibly vial. Akai and Kanie order Sawa to kill many molesters, corrupt government officials, and fat cats throughout the anime. There are no truly innocent or untainted people in this OVA, just bad and worse people. It is a black and grey world. Sawa’s weapon of choice is a pistol that shoots exploding bullets. Sawa is eventually teamed up with another young assassin, a boy named Oburi, who seems to be in the same situation as Sawa. Both of these young assassins owe everything they are to the corrupt detectives, but understand their lives will be incredibly short if they continue to work for Akai and Kanie. But it’s not like Akai and Kanie are going to just let these two run off into the world. It will take a lot of courage for these two kids to leave this lifestyle. That is pretty much the setup here. It seems standard enough, perhaps a little darker then your usual anime, but the way this OVA is handled makes for all the difference.
Kite plays out like a Luc Besson film (an acknowledged inspiration for the director). The anime is very poetic, and not afraid to use pillow shots. What is important in Kite is the feeling of dread and nervousness. There is a melancholic atmosphere that just overwhelms each and every scene. The anime is a drama, not an action flick despite what others have said about it. The OVA does have action scenes though, which are very intense. Kite is marketed as a Yasuomi Umetsu “film” (actually it’s an OVA), and it really is his work, from top to bottom. Yasuomi Umetsu is like the Orson Welles of anime. He owns his work entirely, and is responsible for the character designs, script, direction, and the fact it was created in the first place. The only way Umetsu could get proper funding for this project was if he would include sex scenes, which he begrudgingly did. Umetsu excels at storytelling, and Kite is no exception to that rule. For example, we don’t always hear everything the characters have to say; sometimes a car will beep its horn, or maybe the camera will go outside the room. Instead of pretending we are an omnipresent, all hearing being, this anime makes us an almost physical observer (if that makes any sense). The world Umetsu creates prevents us from seeing and hearing everything that is going on. This mirrors real life, as we only get to see sections of the characters lives, we only get to hear parts of their conversations, not all of it. It is also a very smart show. Umetsu doesn’t feel the need to force feed the audience important information through boring and lazy exposition. Instead, this anime shows rather then tells the important facts. Some story elements are not made painfully obvious, and you may miss them if you’re not paying attention. But you should be able pick up on the small but important plot points on a second or third watch. In this way the OVA is very mature.
The animation is superb, never missing a beat. The action scenes are laid out in a brilliant way. There is genius behind every camera angel, character’s movement, punch, or gunshot. It always plays out wonderfully. There is an outlandish sequence in which Sawa is falling from a skyscraper where she uses a person falling with her as a human cushion in such a way that doesn’t even make sense. I am not sure, but I think Umetsu is trying to say something about action flicks by showing us how preposterous this all is. Despite, or perhaps because of all this, that scene and the one before it are some of the most exuberating scenes in all of anime. The bathroom fight scene is one of my all time favorite fight scenes in an anime. The artwork is beautiful and colorful, yet still somehow helps to build a crapsack world. The character designs are works of art, really they’re damn near perfect. The only complaint one could ever make, is that Umetsu is not afraid of re-using his designs from one work to another. But I am fine with this as they are so wonderfully created. The characters are stylized, gritty, yet look authentic. It is probably the best looking thing to come up in 1998 (maybe a tie with Bebop? *shrug*). During the sex scenes the character designs are off model. This is definitely the B team’s work. But this is a minor problem.
The music here seems to also pay respect to the brilliant Luc Besson film, Leon: The Professional. In fact two of the themes seems almost lifted from Leon. The anime has an excellent jazzy quality to it as well. The music portrays a feeling of sadness, which just an ounce of hope. It also reminds me of this one theme from the Sim City 3000 video game (Lord knows I’ve spent hours with that music playing in my hears, I hear that theme even when nothing is on so maybe I’m just imaging this. Or maybe late 90s jazzy background music all sound alike. Personally I like to think Jerry Martin is a fan of An Fu, but I digress). The dub for Kite was recorded at Coastal Carolina Sound Studios in North Carolina, and it is a classic. The script is wonderfully adapted and flows eloquently. Charlie Watson (a pseudonym perhaps) plays Sawa and she adds a cuteness and youthfulness to some of Sawa’s lines that is entirely fitting. Watson also can convey a sense of hopelessness in the sad scenes that I totally love. Her performance really stands out. Akai is played by David Underwood who’s had a few roles in anime over the years. He does an outstanding job, really making Akai become more then a caricature. He gives Akai a gruff, scratchy, and hoarseness quality that I find perfect for the character. His acting too is great. Shane Callahan does a good job as Oburi, although I do think he has one line that doesn’t sound too great. Charles Denson Jr. is cast as Kanie, and he has a few awkward lines here and there, but is otherwise passable. The dub script is excellent, specifically when it comes to lines for Akai. Lines like “Why the hell do you guys have to drag me out here and see this shit before breakfast. He’s not goin’ anywhere.” or “…what a f*cking tear-jerker” are some top notch stuff. Even one of Sawa’s lines is brilliant (when asked if she’s OK she replies “Does it look like I’m OK? Feels like I fell out of a building. I even have a bold spot and everything.”) The script has some cursing in it, but it seems very natural. The dub has its detractors, but I find it high quality stuff for the 90′s.
Early in the anime there is an iconic shot of Showa just looking at the camera. It’s a quick shot, but just by looking into this poor girl’s eyes you understand everything there is to know about her. She is a playful kind girl, who just so happens to be a murderer living a hopeless existence. It is the little stuff like this that shows you how good of a filmmaker Umetsu really is. Kite is a disturbing, unsettling, sexual, and violent anime, but well written and brilliantly directed. The concept is not exactly original (basically a darker girls with guns anime), but the specifics of the plot is brilliant and the way it is told unforgettable. Although I’ve seen the anime dozens of times by now (first saw it years and years ago), and I know how it all ends, I still get nervous when watching it.
Media Blasters released this title so many times, in so many different ways you could write an entire article about exactly what each release contains. I’m not going to explain them all, so make sure you do the research before buying. Certain releases are missing one scene, others are missing a few scenes, some are just edited, and others still are missing an entirely different scene. I don’t have all these releases to compare the differences. I own the supposedly uncut 2008 re-release that also contains the Mezzo Forte OVA series. Some claim that this isn’t entirely uncut, but I am more then happy with it. The 2004 Special Edition Uncut release is confirmed for being entirely 100% uncut. Here’s a fun bit of trivia, the American rock band No Doubt paid tribute to this anime in their music video of their song “Ex-Girlfriend” . They pretty much recreated one of the best action sequences of the film, and they did a really cool job!
Positives: Everything. (Brilliant storytelling, poetic, great atmposhere, top notch animation, gorgeous artwork, perfect music, great dub, makes you feel something)
Negatives: Might be too graphic for some, sex scenes not really needed, and Umetsu re-uses some minor character designs in other works.