DVD Review: Kiddy Grade / Cert: TBC / Director: Keiji Gotoh / Writers: Sonny Strait, Christopher Neel / Starring: Colleen Clinkenbeard, Aya Hirano, Ryoko Nagata, Monica Rial / Release Date: May 7th
Sometime in the future, mankind has colonized the galaxy. Keeping the peace between the various planets is the Global Union, the strong arm of which is the Galactic Organisation of Trade and Tariffs (GOTT). This, in turn, has a secret shadow (ES) unit, staffed by superpowered operatives.
Eclair and Lumiere are lowly 'C' class agents who, between assignments, work as receptionists at GOTT HQ. One is strong and fast, while the other has the ability to telepathically manipulate all kinds of gizmos. Attired in cheeky barely-there outfits of stockings, frills and bows (and watched over by a silkily saturnine “auditor” named Armblast) they flit about the galaxy in a high-speed cruiser, bringing perps to book with inimitable panache. Lumiere causes confusion by popping bottles of champagne filled with nano-mist, while Eclair can turn her favourite scarlet lipstick into a terrifying whip. Occasionally, they run into fellow ES agents, including a gravelly-voiced transvestite and a chatterbox dressed as Red Riding Hood. And every now and then everyone stops for tea (Earl Grey from a teapot, with bone china cups and saucers).
This is space opera meets high camp, but counterbalancing the flights of fancy is the sense of a galaxy where money is the final arbiter. Despite the girls' high spirits, the cases they become embroiled in are often knotty and unglamorous – the transport of prisoners and official documents, feuds within powerful financial groups, illegal trade in anti-gravity matter, intergalactic trade disputes, illegal distribution of terraforming tech, experiments in mass mind control.
As the episodes unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that GOTT itself is compromised, in the pocket of a ruling elite of pureblood Earthlings called the Nouvelesse. At the same time, through mysterious hints and flashbacks, we learn that Eclair and Lumiere are also not what they seem. They may look like hot teen girls at a cosplay convention, but their appearance belies their age and they are in fact centuries old. Should one body become damaged, they can be “encoded” into another and thus continue to live indefinitely. For Eclair, in particular, her long existence is taking its toll, as suppressed memories come back to haunt her and she finds herself in danger of repeating her past.
In Kiddy Grade's latter stages, quirky individual cases give way to an ongoing saga as Eclair and Lumiere buck the system and find themselves on a purge list. There are armies of clones, deaths, resurrections, disguises and more revelations that you can shake a china teapot at. Finally, it all ends, most satisfyingly, in a Star Wars-style battle with a planet-destroying space-station.
Technically, there is nothing that startlingly original about Kiddy Grade. The mecha consist of the conventional space craft, pimped up motorbikes and robots. The graphics, too, are serviceable rather than outstanding, although much love and attention has gone into catching the way Eclair's short skirt flips up from her panties as she leaps into action. The fight sequences are brisk and efficient rather than inspired.
The real charm of the series lies in its balancing of whimsy and melancholy, and in the interplay of its main characters. Lumiere is winsome and fastidious, a lover of opera and fine wines. Eclair (wonderfully voiced by Colleen Clinkenbeard in the English version) is gauche, noisy and irrepressible. It's fun to see the pair of them encountering the oddities of the various societies that make up the GU – the dandified, drawling yuppies of the Rosenfeld financial group, or the blush-makingly intrusive customs rigmarole that greets them upon arrival at the lush holiday world of Aure.
One or two of the individual episodes are wrapped up in a manner that's a little too pat, and occasionally director Keiji Goto's storytelling becomes so oblique and abbreviated as to be impenetrable. There are also, no doubt, layers of subtext which it's hard for a Western viewer to appreciate. But overall Kiddy Grade is a superbly colourful tapestry of future worlds, full of fun, hip jokes and lovable characters. Once you start watching, you won't even stop for tea.
Special Features: None