January 3, 2009
Is Kaiba a Cyberpunk? We’ll get to that in a minute. As some of you may already know, I have a soft spot for Cyberpunk anime. They tend to exhibit unconventional storytelling, fascinating dystopias and visuals of highly artistic merits. A popular criticism against the genre is that viewers find it difficult establishing any emotional connection because characters are so lifeless. Titles like Serial Experiments: Lain and Ghost in the Shell movies for example, feature characters who rarely present themselves empathetically, which is somewhat expected as they inhabit a world dehumanised by our constantly advancing technology. Personally I find such sterile quality strangely alluring, but I can see why it can isolate some viewers. In any case, Kaiba is many things. Experimental anime, fairy tale for adults, intricate mystery…but what intrigued me the most was how warm it felt compared to the previously mentioned series that treats similar existential themes in an emotionally cold manner.
I’d like to think of Kaiba as a “Warm Cyberpunk”, uncovering affects of love and warmth through de-territorialising the confines and oppressions of that cold Cyberpunk framework; a minor anime. Like in Lain and Ghost in the Shell, we are at first thrust into a world stripped off its humanity. Memories are reduced to tiny transportable chips, while people change bodies as if they were worn-out clothes. What is the value of something that can be so easily probed, duplicated, fabricated, and disposed of? How really significant are our feelings and experiences if they are nothing more than those discarded sea of tiny yellow blobs? It’s a truly frightening prospect.
And yet, affects of warmth can always be found. Can a woman really suppress memories of a girl she loved for her whole life? Has this monstrous technology really robbed people of their humanity, even when people are willing to be reduced to dogs and birds that can’t speak a single word for love? Why is it that two lovers from the past can still sense mutual attraction without knowing each other’s identities? Through the character of Popo (and episode 3), we come to realise that these valuable feelings aren’t infallible, that this horrifying machinations of fabricated existence can blind and isolate us from our loved ones. And that sometimes it’s too late to amend our mistakes. But contained inside that dystopia still exists something human and primal struggling to free itself. It exceeds, it endures and it affects. People strive to connect with others, possess feelings that overwhelms, going as far as to be reduced to mute objects if only to stay near your loved ones. And Kaiba expresses them beautifully. Kaiba is where you can find warmth and light at the edge of coldest and darkest places.
Also, please take a look at bateszi’s romantic interpretation of Kaiba. Indeed, Kaiba is above all else, a love story.