Anime Examination: An Agent Without Agency: Kite (1998)

Kite (1998) is an infamous OVA series that has garnered both controversy and acclaim. It's hailed as a cult classic in some circles and as exploitative trash in others. In reality, it is both of these things--an ultra-violent and sexually charged morality play in which chaos reigns and everyone has blood on their hands.

The story revolves around a young girl named Sawa who was orphaned as a young teenager after both of her parents are brutally murdered. She is taken in by Akai, the detective who investigated the crime. Akai ends up becoming her mentor and teaches her to be an assassin along with another young man named Oburi. Akai rules over Sawa by sexually abusing her, which has turned her into an unfeeling shell of her former self and the rest of the story is concerned with Sawa trying to escape him and that lifestyle.

This film had an interesting release here in the states as there are about fifteen minutes of graphic sexual content (with full penetration shown) and almost all of it involves Sawa. Up until recently, it has only been available with the sexual scenes removed here in the west. Having seen both the edited version and the unrated version, I feel that the story works much better with the sexual abuse implied than actually shown. The sex scenes are animated to be arousing and it puts the viewer in the strange position of being a voyeur to her suffering. Akai is raping Sawa and in the narrative he is painted to be a horrible man, but this idea is somewhat negated when the rape scenes are made to be sensual. That all being said, I am never in favor of censorship, and I am glad it's finally available in its uncensored form.

Overall, I'm not a huge fan of Yasuomi Umetsu's character designs though he does a great job with making people look ugly and menacing which adds to the seedy atmopshere. However, the action scenes are some of the best I have ever seen. Sawa has a special gun that fires exploding bullets and once she starts shooting up the place body parts start flying. As an aside, I find it intriguing that sexual content is such an issue here but copious amounts of blood and guts isn't as taboo. Kite is about excess and it delivers in spades. Although the designs aren't to my taste, the backgrounds, color palette and composition are outstanding. The soundtrack by An Fu is excellent as well, and it is comprised of acid jazz which gives it a bit of a noir feel.
Kite is a depressing tale and it has a nihilistic outlook on life. Its mean-spirited atmosphere will definitely be unappealing to a lot of people, but I think it does have some merit. If anything, it's a relic to times gone by, when anime was more brutal and edgy, which for the most part has softened over time.

--Michelle Kisner