In the future, humans have taken to the stars and, by Star Century Zero-One-Sixty-Five, have populated many systems. But human nature doesn’t change and power in commerce and politics remain the privilege of an elite oligarchy. In a society where corporate espionage, sabotage and corruption are more common than war, the Galactic Organization of Trade and Tariffs, known as the GOTT, acts to balance interstellar business and law. For the most dangerous missions, GOTT has created a special task force of extraordinarily talented individuals – the ES squad. The members of the ES class function in pairs, taking on dangerous missions against corrupt governments and monopolistic business entities, to ensure fair trade and labor practices in the galaxy.
Two of these ES members are Éclair and Lumiere, young women with extreme fighting and computer cracking abilities. Whether they are taking on the elite Nouvlesse, those born of original Earth stock, or a legal cartel that pursue illegal activities, Éclair and Lumiere bring quick wits and even quicker reflexes to the mix. Nothing – not even betrayal by their own organization, will stop them from doing their jobs…elegantly. This is the story of Kiddy Grade.
The Viridian Collection contains all 24 episodes of this series and it is my sincere pleasure to thank Okazu superhero Eric P. for sponsoring today’s review!
Kiddy Grade begins at the GOTT headquarters where a school tour is visiting the building. To the students’shock and horror, the premises are invaded by a troop of soldiers. But, the two young women who appear to be nothing more than receptionists leap into action and defeat the invaders. The entire invasion is revealed (or, more likely, explained away) as a “show,” designed to let visitors know how well protected they are. Thus, we also are introduced GOTT ES members Éclair and Lumiere.
Episodes follow the two ES agents on a variety of missions, from uncovering government-run piracy to protecting members of the elite Nouvlesse. We meet the other members of the ES grade and learn about their abilities, as well. But, this kind of episodic action tale is not enough to make a series so, inevitably, a larger crisis begins to unfold. Éclair notices that she and Lumiere are being set up for failure and ultimately, they are betrayed by their own organization. In the usual “storm before the calm’ their own organization repudiates – and seeks to purge – them, leaving them fugitives from GOTT. How they retain their dignity and regain their status makes up the second half of the series.
It’s not until the story turns away from stock action to a more introspective look at intrigue and betrayal, that we feel any connection with the characters. The more inhuman the situation, the more we reach into Éclair and Lumiere’s innate humanity.
Their mysteriously shadowed backstory is far more interesting than the flippant tone of the beginning adventures. It’s no wonder, really – we all prefer our heroes to be flawed and in pain, so we don’t begin to envy them. Angst takes the place of great drama. When the partners are confronted with the truth of their pasts, the series begins to pick up some real energy.
All of the ES members function closely with their partners, but there’s a particularly intense emotional connection between Éclair and Lumiere, with the clear indication that, despite their age gap, Lumiere knows more about Éclair’s history than she does. In fact, it appears that *everyone* at GOTT knows more about Éclair’s past than she does and all that remains is for her – and us – to learn the whole truth…which will of course lead us to the larger truth of what is actually going on inside GOTT.
Our protagonists are repeatedly stated to be children, so any emotion between them, while valid and intense, can be written off as “immature” love – that “Story A” space that Japanese love so much. And these two were very popular as slash material when the series came out. (As were Tweedledee and Lumiere.) Yuri is mostly apparent in suggestive screencaps and Newtype art, but the emotional connection that bonds them together as a pair, rather than just as partners is pretty front and center. However, the obsession with their youth jars harshly with the inevitable panty shots all through the series. If they are so very young, can’t we refrain from looking up their absurdly short skirts? Surely we, as an adult audience, can exhibit some delicacy – elegance, if you will.
Kiddy Grade has all the elements of a great space opera/action series, but there’s lack of vitality in the action scenes, especially in early episodes. Corrupt elite, government conspiracies, mysterious backstories, superhuman powers, powerful space weapons, interstellar travel and skimpy outfits can’t make up for thin plots.
This series is “old” now, originally airing in 2002, and the video reflects both age of the series – and it’s ability to stand up to time and tide. There’s a certain lack of three-dimensionality to the characters and their interaction with the background, but nothing that stands out as particularly intolerable. On an older TV like mine, without a separate sound system, the sound quality on the English audio track is thin as compared with the Japanese track. There’s a shadowy feel to the music, and the sound effects seems to be coming from behind a screen. (One of the ongoing arguments I constantly make against always encoding for the newest equipment means that those of us who aren’t upgrading every year are left in the dust.)
The Japanese translation is rough in some places – an inevitable consequence of made-up sci-fi and a lack of an adaptation process.
The Extras provide a nice selection of things that are not just advertisements for other Funimation products (I can’t be alone in thinking that ads for other series really aren’t an extra, can I?) The Art Gallery slide show is neat, but not likely to hold my attention for long, Textless OP/Eds are nice to haves. Character profiles are bizarrely repeated, not only across several disks, but occasionally on a single disc across several Extra options. Trailers and other advertising are de rigueur these days.
Art – 7
Story – 8
Characters – 8
Series – 3
Overall – 8
When this series originally aired, I made it about halfway through before I gave up. So my initial expectation was low. But as the series progressed away from the pat superhero Éclair saves the day plots, I found myself thinking that Kiddy Grade was much better than I remembered.