Key the Metal Idol (Volume 2: Dreaming) Review
Dreaming (Volume 2) is the second in a set of three Key the Metal Idol DVDs released by Viz and Pioneer in the second half of 2000. This disc includes episodes 8 through 13, for an impressive total of 180 minutes of playtime. I'd love to assume that anyone reading this has already seen my review of the first title in this trilogy – Awakening (Volume 1) – but just to be safe, I may repeat a few key points (no pun intended).
For instance, I mentioned in the previous review that the author seemed to be going to great lengths to misdirect the viewer from solving any of the mysteries prior to his official denouement. Well, that trend certainly continues on this second disc. The only problem is, where it seemed OK early on in the story arc, it begins to feel a little forced the closer the series gets to its eventual conclusion. There are even a few scenes inserted which deliberately contradict events established previously in the show... with no acknowledgement that – much less an explanation why – the 'facts' have changed.
There are also points where the author seems to be smirking at the audience, as with Tomoyo's occasional meta-quips, like 'Leave the extras alone' and 'It's a little early for spoilers, don't you think?' Although I confess these out-of-character remarks did make me laugh, they only highlighted the rather stilted author/viewer relationship.
Setting such concerns aside for the moment, the show continues to be fairly interesting and the main plot does indeed develop... albeit slowly. (Again, in this respect it remains very similar to Serial Experiments: Lain.) However, a lot of what is going on in the background – particularly what Ajo and his conveniently ethics-free scientists are up to – feels like a retread of what has happened before. In fact, the most interesting character to watch on Ajo's team is 'D'... and the poor sod spends most of this DVD locked away in a cell.
Speaking of the show's characters, there are a couple of new ones introduced during these episodes, including the up-and-coming pop idol Beniko and (much more importantly) the pop prodigy, Tsurugi. The former gets hardly any air time until the final episode of this disc, so it's hard to form an impression of her. (I guess we're simply expected to accept her as 'just plain opportunistic'.) The development of Tsurugi is a lot better, and I found myself warming to the strange personality of this 'tortured genius'.
The characterisation of both Key and Sakura is expanded nicely over the course of these six episodes, as they naïvely set out to make the former a pop idol. Shuichi shows an unexpected penchant for detective work, and the cult priest Prince Snake-Eye just carries on with his own bizarre schemes. (Disappointingly, Tomoyo doesn't grow at all as a character... he's the exact same guy in episode 13 as he was in episode 1.) Speaking of episodes...
Sakura, apparently content to put her own dreams on the back burner for a while, creates 'Production Key'... an agency devoted solely to helping Key reach pop idol status. She tries pumping Shuichi for his connections in the music business, but he seems overly preoccupied with the connection between Ajo and Miho Utsuse. (Not that Ajo isn't already lining up a replacement for the day when Miho can no longer perform.) A bored Tsurugi notices Key at an open audition and his interest is piqued by her utter lack of emotion.
Everyone's fave arch-henchman 'D' is still convalescing from his battle at the end of the previous DVD, Awakening (Volume 1), but Ajo – not being what you'd call a kind-hearted employer – leaves him locked in a cell with only a computer terminal and the mission of 'finding out what went wrong with the PPORs'. No wonder 'D' is having nightmares... about Key? Meanwhile in Gotham City, things start to look up for Sakura and Key as Shuichi comes through with his connections and Tsurugi himself phones to set up a meeting. But nothing can be taken for granted when you have Prince Snake-Eye tapping your phone...
Ah, this is a really satisfying episode... so much so that you end up wishing the whole series ran at this pace. First, you've got Tsurugi being Tsurugi. Then there's Ajo trying to milk every drop he can out of Miho. (Recording singles in the ICU, anyone?) Prince Snake-Eye is doing his level best to put the fear of god into anyone who's even thinking about giving Key a try-out. And Shuichi decides now's a good time to go play private investigator in Mamio Valley (where Key and Sakura grew up). Amazingly, he actually manages to turn up a few clues about the life and death of Key's 'grandfather', Doctor Mima. And if that isn't enough action for you, Ajo craves screen time and keeps cropping up, first selecting new girl Beniko as Miho's soon-to-be replacement... and then crossing paths with Shuichi in Key's old village!
Apparently all the excitement of the previous episode overwhelmed both the show's author and Shuichi alike, because abruptly he's back in Tokyo and 'a month has passed'. (No, this temporal discontinuity is never addressed. It's just a convenient way of giving all the other characters time to do things, without actually saying what any of these things were or even illustrating their consequences.) So it's no wonder that Sakura's miffed when she finds out he's been back 'all this time'. The two of them have a little chat. She reveals that things haven't been going so well on the auditions front, but she can't figure out why. He reveals a bit about Key's mum, then hands over a ticket to Miho's next concert. (As you do.)
12: 'Virus I'
The story machinery starts grinding down towards the last of the TV-length Key episodes. Shuichi catches Prince Snake-Eye in the act of sabotaging Key's 'career', but this really isn't nearly as important as what 'D' has managed to do back at the ranch. (No, I'm not going to tell you.) Key – having heard about Miho's concert from Sakura of 'Shuichi only gave me the one ticket and you can't bloody well have it' fame – tries to convince Tsurugi to get her in.
13: 'Virus II'
Much like the first DVD in this set, everything is geared to reach a climax of sorts in this last episode of the disc. Again, it would be rubbish of me to ruin all the fun for you. Let's just say that everyone who's anyone makes it to Miho's concert. And yes, mayhem obligingly ensues. Oh, and you finally get to properly hear the 'lullaby' song that Key's author has been teasing the audience with for a while now.
All of my comments from my review of the first disc also hold true for this second one. That is, decent (but unexceptional) image quality, showing some faint grain and the occasional speck of dust or other flaw. A slightly dated animation style compared to other contemporary animé productions. More rarely, background macroblocking in the actual encode and a bit of edge jagginess on characters in motion scenes. Honestly, though, it's nothing that's going to detract from your enjoyment of the show itself, so don't sweat it.
I'll add Tsurugi to my list of fave character designs in Key the Metal Idol. Oh, and just to balance things, I'll add Beniko to the 'not very interesting stereotypes' camp that Ajo and Co. are already in. I guess while I'm at it I should mention that there's something very worrying going on with Key's hair in some of these scenes. From one frame to the next it has a disturbing tendency to flicker back and forth between that washed-out 'sandy/grey' colour and a much deeper 'auburn/chestnut' hue.
It's obviously an intentional effect, probably meant to highlight alternate aspects of Key. (I'm being deliberately vague here to avoid potential spoilers if my personal guess is right.) But whether intentional or not, it can be visually very distracting when overused and I almost wish the animators hadn't gone this route. As I look at the cover art for all three DVDs, I see that the first one has Key with the washed-out hair colour, the second has her with the dark hair colour, and the third goes all out and uses both. Come to think of it, these covers could be considered mild spoilers in their own right. Ah, well.
I really have little more to add to my comments from the Awakening (Volume 1) review. The audio's really quite nice all around. Considering that the whole pop idol business plays a major role in the storyline of Key the Metal Idol, I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that all of the songs sound so professional and come across so clear.
The 'lullaby' song (which appears in its full glory in episode 13) is great and holds its own against the intro theme for the series. Oh, and the show's music director obviously had a blast with that last episode in general, because there's a bit of singing that takes no prisoners with the stereo separation and left/right directionality. (Trust me... you'll know it when you hear it.)
Naturally, Dreaming (Volume 2) uses the exact same menu templates as its predecessor, so everything looks superb and works flawlessly. As before, top marks. Otherwise, nothing new for me to comment on.
Although the special features on this disc are similar to those found on the first Key the Metal Idol DVD, several subtle – but noteworthy – improvements have been made.
First off, there's more of that Animerica interview with Hiroaki Sato, but this time the DVD design team decided to dispense with the artificial separation of it into 'Interview with Director' and 'Frequently Asked Questions'. The segment on this disc is about six pages long, and – unlike the one on the first disc – I would advise against reading it before watching episodes 8-13. (That is to say, he's verging on spoilers this time.) I'm glad to report that they chose the background with the better textual contrast, so readability is improved.
Next is the 'Character Information' section, which is double the size of the one on the first DVD. Viz has provided no less than 11 characters' worth of handy profiles, and there's a welcome absence of spoilers here. In fact, I think this section covers everyone of any real interest in the Key the Metal Idol universe. (Fans of Ajo's scientists 'A' and 'C' notwithstanding.)
This disc's 'Conceptual Art' gallery is a bit more meagre this time around, featuring only 27 stills. (It's framed just like before, so don't expect to make out too much detail.)
The 'Voice Credits' and 'DVD Credits' pages are the same as before, but there's a new selection on this menu in the form of an advert for the 'Key CD'. Why this wasn't bunged in with all of the other merchandise under the 'Viz' menu, I'm not entirely sure. The music for this series is undeniably excellent, but since this page doesn't even let you play a sample of any of the tracks on the CD, it's hard to justify calling it an 'extra'.
Although Key the Metal Idol continues to be an enjoyable watch, the portion of the story contained on this disc is not quite as engaging as what came before. With the sole exception of episode 10, there's little to advance the viewer's understanding of the enigmas behind the show. I wouldn't go so far as to call the other episodes 'filler', but they deal mostly with mundane things (like trying to make Key a pop idol / prevent her from becoming one). This in turn diminishes the urgency of figuring out Key's mysteries (as the audience experienced during the first seven episodes).
That said, both 'Bug' and the final instalment on this disc, 'Virus II' are solid episodes which should keep you very engrossed. And there's nothing really wrong with the other four, except that I feel that the author may have overestimated the average viewer's patience. Holding back key story elements and revelations during the first 7 episodes of a 15 episode series is not unreasonable... but doing so for the first 13 episodes begins to wear a little thin.
I will reserve judgment until I have seen the final disc in this series, Singing (Volume 3). My hope is that all of this build-up will be justified by some exciting discoveries about Key, Doctor Mima, and the latter's relationship with Ajo. Until then, this DVD has to stand on its own merits... which can safely be said to include its length (180 minutes on an animé disc being almost unheard of), a couple of great episodes, nice menus, and wonderful music.