A little controversy goes a long way. Many years ago now, Kite made the rounds as the cool anime of the month. Director Yasuomi Umetsu had made a name for himself with his beautiful work from the "Presence" section of Robot Carnival, but the sexuality and ultraviolence on display in his Megazone 23 Part 2 were a foretaste of what lie ahead. Kite was fueled by graphic violence and underage sexual abuse that created a stir (and took years to be released unedited in the West). Dark and disturbing, Kite had a strong and loyal following despite its compressed plot stolen from better films like The Professional. As you might guess, I didn't think much of it (though you can read all my thoughts on it here.)
However, having held out hope for Umetsu since being awestruck at "Presence" years ago, I thought perhaps he'd still have some good material left, especially since the TV series Mezzo had some decent bits. I'd also heard that Kite Liberator was virtually unrelated to its predecessor, making me think it might be better. Truth be told, I wish that Kite Liberator was a real sequel to the original, because it certainly would have been more interesting than this awful mess they baked up instead.
In Kite Liberator, Monaka is an intentional Jeckel and Hyde. By day, she works at a maid cafe, a cute little thing harassed by her clientele and protected by an older waitress known for putting hot sauce in the beer of uncooperative customers. But at night, she's an avenging angel who takes on the scum of the city with a gun that fires exploding shells. While she's busy playing deadly vigilante, her dad is up on the space station where's he's been for the last four years. Affected by experimental space food, he and another astronaut become armored mutants on a rampage of destruction. So who best to take down Pops than Monaka?
On a technical level, there's a certain amount of dexterity here. The CGI used for the space station looks great, for example. If you've not seen any of Umetsu's other work, you might be impressed. Yet on the whole, Kite Liberator is less accomplished than the original or even the Mezzo entries. Simply put, while there are firefights and other action bits, none of them stand out in any way. The character designs have been seen before. There's just no originality.
That complaint extends to the plot, which is ludicrous to an extreme. There's a woeful attempt to blend a sci-fi story into a dark action thriller, and it fails on every level. The father's story belongs in a low-budget OVA from 1987, but the awfulness doesn't end there. Monaka's cover makes little sense, and we have no motivations for her actions -- except perhaps her abandonment by her father after her mother's death. But why would he do that? We never get the sense that Daddy dearest is some exceptional scientist who must be up in space; in reality, the instability caused by his spouse's death should have disqualified him. But Kite Liberator is not really interested in those things, and it's so disjointed that things like motivations are thrown out the window.
But Kite Liberator's problems keep on coming. It's boring. It has quite a bit of fan service, all of it quite scuzzy. The characters aren't interesting in any way; even the villain is a run-of-the-mill perv. One could call the original Kite on swiping its storyline and being uncomfortably dark and violent, but it moved quickly and had memorable characters. The only way one could consider this a sequel is that Sawa's gun has gotten into Monaka's hands. Otherwise, it's unrelated...and I'm as surprised as anyone to say that I'd watch Kite a dozen times before this junk. While I certainly appreciate Liberator's relative restraint in comparison to the gore and need-to-take-a-bath-afterwards sexuality of the original, you can't really like something based solely on it being vaguely less offensive than something else.
One key explanation for the failure of Kite Liberator appeared to me when the credits started rolling. John Sirabella, the president of anime distributor Media Blasters, is listed as an executive producer. Now that's not all that uncommon for Sirabella, since he takes this credit for many of the English-language adaptations of Japanese works. But news reports claim that Media Blasters co-produced Kite Liberator, which makes the situation much more clear. Long and short of it is this: the name Kite moves DVDs. My guess is that this was created to capitalize on the popularity of a controversial title. Can't blame them for trying, I guess.
That said, the blame falls on Umetsu's shoulders. The man has sold out. Did he really think that there was any point in telling this story? It's garbage! Perhaps as the proverb says, he's laughing all the way to the bank. And perhaps I'm angry because the man had a lot of potential. There's nothing more frustrating than seeing someone with promise squander their talents. But I can tell you this...it's going to take a lot of raves from other reviewers before I touch anything else the man does.
Kite Liberator -- fan service, profanity, graphic violence -- D