Key the Metal Idol (Volume 3: Singing) Review

The Show

Singing (Volume 3) is the last of the Key the Metal Idol trilogy released by Viz and Pioneer. This disc contains the concluding episodes 14 and 15, which doesn't sound like much until you realise that these two are 'full-feature length' OVAs with a running time of about 90 minutes each. I'll trust that anyone reading this is either already familiar with the Key the Metal Idol series from elsewhere or has read one of my reviews of the two other DVDs in this set, Awakening (Volume 1) and Dreaming (Volume 2)... so I won't retread ground I've covered before. For this reason and a deliberate avoidance of spoilers, this will probably be the shortest of the three Key reviews.

So, what can I say that won't ruin your enjoyment of the last disc? Well, it's a bit tricky. First off, I should confess that I didn't find these final two episodes nearly as engaging as what went before in the series. Nevertheless, I suppose they succeed in what they set out to do, which is to give the audience the big 'payoff' by way of an explanation of Just What Is It All About™ (episode 14) and a 'final confrontation' between Team Key and Ajo and Co (episode 15).

The problem is, after such a huge build-up (13 episodes, totalling six-and-a-half hours of story), these last two instalments seem just a bit anticlimactic. In short, they don't deliver the requisite punch that I would have expected for the conclusion of this particular show, and I expect this will leave the average viewer vaguely dissatisfied. I'll do my best to explain these comments without giving away any critical plot developments...



Episode Guide

14: 'System'
Lest I forget, this episode makes one last addition to Key's cast of lead characters... Maestro, who seems to be a specialised doll-maker who crafts the actual bodies for the PPOR units Ajo Heavy Industries has been working on. There's a bit of flashback action to remind the viewer of where the last instalment left off, and then within the first 10 minutes this episode becomes a long dialogue between Shuichi (Sakura's friend) and Tomoyo (Key's protector). Yeah, that's right... the boys go off to the park and spend practically the rest of the show revealing the answers to all of Key's mysteries to one another... in the form of a friendly chat, of course.

Fortunately this is broken here and there by short scenes where we get to see what's going on with the other lead characters, like Miho and Tsurugi, Key and Sakura, and Ajo and Co. That this generally feels like a welcome reprieve from the boys' endless discussion is a sure sign that the author shouldn't have hoarded this huge expository chunk until the very end of his series.

There's certainly something to be said for having almost all of your questions about a series answered in the penultimate episode. That is, Hiroaki Sato isn't the kind of director who strings you along for 13 episodes and then leaves you holding the bag at the end. So in that sense, it's satisfying; at last you can either confirm or disprove all of your guesses about Key, etc. But it's also a little vexing because it all comes at once... you get the feeling that a more competent author would have been able to reveal these things gradually over the course of the series, rather than pull a 'Hercule Poirot' denouement session at the end.

Anyway, during these breakaway scenes we get to learn more about the history between Miho and Tsurugi, but also – and far more importantly – between Maestro and Key's 'grandfather', Doctor Mima. I can't really say any much more without giving critical elements away, but yes, you do discover Key's true origin.

About 10 minutes before the end of the episode, Shuichi and Tomoyo finish their little talk and we're given a brief setting-in-motion of what the next episode is going to be about. Ajo and 'D' think they have figured out how to set the perfect trap for Key... and at the same time test their latest technological monstrosity.

15: 'Exit'
And here we are at the final episode of Key the Metal Idol. Like the previous one, it achieves its main goal but still feels somehow lacklustre. We learn more about Prince Snake-Eye and why he's so convinced Key has spiritual powers. Shuichi and Tomoyo hook up again and continue their discussion. (Don't worry... it's a lot shorter this time.) Tsurugi amazes everyone, but I won't tell you how. There's a lot of good stuff about Key, naturally. There's also a very poignant bit about Sakura. Finally, it's time for that 'showdown' I mentioned... but when all is said and done, it doesn’t feel as if things have actually been resolved. There's been major progress on one particular front, and major losses everywhere else. The show just sort of trails off there, letting the credits roll while you ask yourself, 'Is that it?'



Picture

I'm not certain how these were originally released in Japan, but I more or less assumed that the 13 half-hour episodes found on the first two Key the Metal Idol DVDs had been produced for TV, while these two 90-minute episodes were done on an OVA [original video animation] budget, which is usually quite a bit higher. But now that I've seen the lot, I'm not so sure. Neither the video quality nor the animation itself is noticeably improved from the shorter episodes, so you can just reapply the comments from my previous Key reviews to this section.

Sound

The same thing goes for the audio quality. There's a reprise of that dreamlike 'lullaby' song, but this time Key gets to sing it instead of Miho. Other than that, not much new to add. Still sounds great.

Menus

Again, Singing (Volume 3) uses the exact same menu templates as the two previous discs in this set, so expect very flash menus with nice background music and quick access times. If you want a recap of the specifics on any of these three sections, please see my Awakening (Volume 1) review.

Extras

It's always nice when you get a series on DVD and the production company has taken the time to make each set of special features just a little bit nicer than those on the disc before. That's what Viz has done with Key the Metal Idol.

The second disc took everything from the first one, formatted it better, doubled the number of lead character profiles, and tacked on a strange new menu option. This third disc keeps all the new stuff gained in the second, adds the character Maestro to the other 11 bios under 'Character Information', and hands us the ever-welcome extra of non-credit opening and ending segments so you can admire the theme music animations unobscured by scrolling text.

There's yet another six-page portion of that Animerica interview with Hiroaki Sato, and – unlike the one on the second disc – it's mercifully spoiler-free. He mostly talks about what led him into animation and what other works influenced his. On the other hand, you probably won't want to read the character profile for Maestro until after you've seen these last two episodes of Key, because it summarises all of the old guy's flashbacks to his time with Doctor Mima... and you just know that's a spoiler waiting to happen.

This disc's 'Conceptual Art' gallery returns to form with 37 stills this time around, and the 'Voice Credits', 'DVD Credits', and 'Key CD' selections are precisely the same as before.



Overall

So what's my final assessment? Let me put it this way... The episodes of Key the Metal Idol on the first DVD are really intriguing and well-executed, and make you look forward to the next disc. The episodes on the second DVD remain interesting but begin to show their flaws, and leave you wondering if the next disc is going to be able to deliver the goods... but optimistic that it will. The third DVD more or less gets the job done, but in many ways by brute force rather than finesse. I think that's my main complaint with it... it all feels a little forced, and as such just isn't a great way to finish off the series.

That said, if you watch the first two discs' worth of Key the Metal Idol, you really aren't going to want to stop there, because pretty much all of the show's enigmas will be left unanswered if you do. The third disc is worth it just to get the whole story behind Key, and although the ending isn't the greatest, it's satisfactory and is dotted with a few really nice scenes.

Film
6 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
6 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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