My first thought after watching this was “Why am I even bothering watching any of the other new anime?”.
There’s two reasons for this. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s better animated than anything else right now. There are two wonderful set pieces in this first episode. The opening where Kaiba/Warp is chased by “Skronks” through the alien looking architecture, and a more slapstick section where Cloak is running trying to board a spaceship. One thing that Yuasa doesn’t get complimented enough on is his ability to direct physical comedy in animation. The scene with Cloak and Vanilla is a fantastic combination of the sort of desperation, pain and sadism that great slapstick comedy is born from. Also there’s moments of subtle beauty, such as when a child flies her toy bird through the hole in Kaiba/Warp’s chest.
Secondly, and to an extent it can be seen as an explanation of the first reason, it’s not an adaptation.
Now, part of me likes adaptations, it can be fun to see your favourite thing from one medium in another medium and I’m like an eager little puppy with anticipation for the Iron Man film. Some things do transfer to film wonderfully with little effort, some require panel beating until they are unrecognisable.
But there’s things that bother me about adaptations. One is that they are done often for the wrong reasons, film wants the respectability of literature so it adapts novels to film. Comics wants the respectability of film, so you get comic companies setting up movie studios. Manga wants to sell more copies, so it makes anime to advertise it.
However the main one is that even if you willfully ignore the source material, you are still a slave to it. The very act of denying the source is influenced by that source’s existence. And I think that, in general, gives you less worthwhile results than if you build something from scratch just for the medium it’s made in.
As good as the animation and design is on something like Soul Eater, it still has things that would work far better on the printed page than in animation dragging it down (I’m actually hoping that Square-Enix and Bones pull what they did on FMA and create new stories halfway through).
Whereas, what Kaiba has, and Kemonozune before it, is a sense that every creative decision made was to the benefit of making a cartoon. For instance, I’ve seen people complain that there’s too little talking, which is slightly bewildering to me. You’re watching a cartoon, surely you’d prefer storytelling to be told via animated drawings rather than static talking heads. But when so much anime comes from manga, and increasingly novels, people are more accustomed to anime ruled by writers, rather than animators. Plus talking heads are often cheaper to animate…
It’d be nice to see more original shows from animators with a particular voice, but I’m not sure how many have the cachet to be allowed to do so or how many outlets there are for this sort of work. So let’s be thankful we get things like Kaiba, Mononoke, Denno Coil and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
That all being said, this didn’t grip me quite the way Kemonozume did. I’m not overly keen on science fiction and this story, with it’s own strange world and rules of physics, wasn’t as immediately relatable as Kemonozume’s setting and characters were. So I’ve only watched it twice so far, rather than the three times in a row I did with Kemonozume’s first episode.