KADO: THE RIGHT ANSWER -
THE BEST ANIME OF SPRING 2017
Genre: drama, sci fi, thriller
Studio: Toei Animation
Director: Kazuya Murata
Writer: Nozaki Mado
Number of episodes planned: 12
Number of episodes aired: 6
"Communication is the backbone of human society"
That perhaps sounds like a pretentious statement but it is a solid fact. No idea, no matter how great, can lead to anything unless it is expressed to others. Or to put it differently: while the ability to form sentient thoughts is vital to the human existence, this ability is essentially meaningless without a medium through which to express them. And that medium can be spoken words, or text like I am doing right now, but it can also be visual entertainment, like anime.
Speaking from a personal perspective, I am someone who favors concept over execution. I believe an original concept that’s poorly executed can still lead to a work of fiction that has merit to it. This is a controversial opinion in the current anime climate as I have noticed that most anime-critics seem focused on execution rather than concept. The anime that are generally highly regarded are those that display a high level of craftsmanship. But not necessarily also a high level of artistry as well.
That’s not to say that I feel shows that display a great deal of artistry but not a lot of craftsmanship can be excused for their flaws. It can be very frustrating to see a series or a movie that has terrific ideas but can’t quite manage to communicate those to the audience in a way that makes it clear what the show is trying to tell them. I am someone who tries to analyze that which I am watching, process it and think about what truly makes it tick. But I can understand why most viewers will not want to exert their minds to this extent with every show they are watching.
Thus, it is always a moment of pure joy when I come across a series that not only has terrific ideas but also manages to communicate those ideas, in full, to the viewer. Such a series is Kado and I think that it is no co-incidence that a show about an interdimensional being trying to communicate its ideas through the medium of a human negotiator ended up being an example of a series excelling at communicating its underlying themes through the use of the animated medium.
"Animation is the movement of time and space"
So much of Kado’s ideas and ruminations can be directly found in the structure of the series itself. For instance, in the first encounter with humankind the being known as Yaha-Kui zaShuhina demands the government set up some form of communication between them. He gives a time-limit for this. Exactly one second. The human negotiator informs him that this is not enough and after some back and forth this is expanded to three hours. This communicates two very important ideas to the audience that the show explores in depth through its series composition alone. First of all: people need to be eased into something, given time to process what’s going on before being able to set up what needs to be done. And second: time does not work the same way for everyone at all times.
The first of these two notions is something a lot of anime seem to ignore. Trying to reel the viewer in with a big hook before properly setting up the universe and characters. This often leaves audiences overwhelmed or worse…disinterested. After all, why would they care about this big development if there are no stakes in it for them? No event, no matter how dramatic, is entertaining on its own unless the viewer is emotionally invested in what's ocuring onscreen.
Murata and Mado, the director and writer of Kado respectively, clearly realized this and started the story not with the inciting incident but rather a seemingly unrelated side-story that introduces us to the main protagonist Kojiro Shindo – the aforementioned negotiator. This story sets up Shindo as a brilliant negotiator who’s never really had the chance to take on a project worthy of his intellect. A man with an innate understanding of communication but also the forever outsider. A man different from the rest of us, a man who fees almost…alien. Yet also a man with great compassion who will go to any lengths to resolve a situation in a way that leaves all parties satisfied. A humanitarian, a genius but also a loner who can’t quite find his place in the world.
All of this can be derived from that single twenty minute side-story and none of it is communicated through exposition but rather through Shindo’s actions throughout the story. It isn’t until we have a firm grasp of who our protagonist is that the series launches into its main story when the alien object known as Kado lands on earth and absorbs the airplane that’s carrying Shindo and his aide Hanamori.
Even more impressive perhaps is the firm grasp Mado and Murata have on the concept of time and how it runs differently in a fictional setting than in our own world. In visual media, five million years can pass in five seconds and a single second can take up a whole minute of screentime. Time is an incredibly important aspect of any work of visual media. While a book can spend hundreds of pages on a single moment in time, visual storytelling demands the movement of time and space. This is doubly true for anime. To animate means to move. If there is no movement in time and space you are simply left with a still image thus negating the title “anime”.
Kado in essence is a single location story with everything happening in or around the alien object. Thus, there is barely any movement in space placing additional emphasis on the aspect of time. Something that Murata and Mado take advantage of to the fullest of its potential.
Having set up Shindo as the main protagonist and having developed his personality and backstory enough for us to care about what happens to him, the second episode proceeds by promptly taking him out of the picture for the duration of almost the entire episode. What follows in the universe of the show is twenty-eight hours of confusion and fear. An alien object has landed on earth and nobody knows why it’s there, how it got there or where it came from nor what happened to the passenger plane it absorbed and all 252 people on board. Similarly, we too as the audience are left completely in the dark as to what happened to Shindo and the other passengers. Leaving us on the edge of our seat waiting with bated breath for answers. We are placed in the exact same mindset as the characters on screen, albeit for a much shorter period of time.
It is during this period that the show introduces most of its supporting cast. It’s made very easy for us as the audience to latch onto these characters on an emotional level because they are feeling the exact same things that we are. It provides us with common ground between ourselves and the characters in the show and enables us to easily relate to them even if we don’t know them that well yet.
The second episode ends with the reveal of Yaha-Kui zaShuhina being joined by a very much alive and well Shindo. It is here that we hook up to the moment I mentioned earlier as episode three starts with the alien entity setting the time-limit of three hours for the Japanese government to set up a means of communication between it and them. It is during these three hours that the show finally reveals to us, through a flashback, what happened with Shindo and the other passengers during those twenty-eight hours of fear and uncertainty. This form of achronological storytelling works great because not only does it help us empathize with the supporting characters but it also leaves us thoroughly invested in the proceedings onscreen.
"No form can exist without substance and no substance, without form"Later on in the show, the story moves away from the concept of time and begins to tackle the concept of space as other nations start interfering with the events occurring in Japan. Yaha-Kui zaShuhina explains that while communities are a great way of unifying people’s desires and safeguarding those from outside influences, they are still an abstract concept that that has been gaining far too much power, to the extent that they are overtaking the individuals they are supposed to serve and safeguard. In a very real sense, the community begins to overtake the individual even though a community is entirely made up of individuals and could not exist without them.
I use the word community here specifically as in that term hides another word that’s the key to the this entire series: communication. In the same way that communities are overtaking individuals, communication is overtaking ideas. Many anime, and by extension many forms of visual media, nowadays seem to favor form over substance. Creating a beautiful vessel but forgetting to fill that vessel with anything worth containing. Ideas need to be properly communicated to get their meaning across but without ideas there would be nothing to communicate. The art of visual storytelling is a very careful balancing act trying to convey your ideas to the audience through the use of visual communication and too often the end-result falls short in one of those aspects.
In many cases however, this has to do with far more than the talent and aptitude of the person or persons communicating to us. Many factors filter in when you're trying to convey your ideas to an audience. For all its popularity in the west, anime is still a primarily Japanese medium and Japan has a very different culture and society from most western countries. In fact, for many people the main appeal of anime is exactly how different it is from western forms of media. But this brings with it the risk of ideas being lost on a western audience due to cultural differences.
I believe Murata and Mado have an intimate understanding of this fact as a lot of the show’s ideas are conveyed through subliminal means rather than direct communication. I already mentioned how the show explores the movement of time and the meaning of communication in relation to ideas. But a lot of it is also conveyed through subtle visual cues. I mentioned earlier how communication can be considered as form and the ideas it tries to convey as substance. The shape of Kado is a single transparent cube filled with a color shifting substance that’s always in motion and constantly changing shape. It’s something that’s always in flux, can’t be grasped and can’t be stopped but that when poured into a form can be observed and analyzed. And most important of all: the object is impenetrable.
The analogy here is obvious: the object is the show itself. The substance inside representing the myriad of ideas and concepts poured into something that’s always in flux, always changing shape: a story. The square form represents the form through which this story is conveyed to us: animation. Much like the characters in the show we observe and try to analyze that which we perceive but we can’t penetrate it. We can’t reach through our screens and explore the ins and outs of this abstract concept that is the anime series called Kado. All we can do is bear witness, think about what it is we have seen and draw our own conclusions from that.
"We can never know the right answer"
Kado – The Right Answer stands head and shoulders above everything else airing this season. Not just because it has already managed to do so much more in the six episodes that have aired than most anime could possibly achieve in their entire run. But also, because it actively explores the medium of anime. Not by deconstructing popular tropes or even poking fun at it. Rather by exploring the many possibilities the medium holds for great storytelling. After all, to animate means to move and while this primarily refers to the movement of time and space there is one other movement that I believe anime can achieve: movement of thought. Like a story, thoughts are always in motion and a great anime can form some of those thoughts into a single concept like a thesis or perhaps…a question. As Shindo states in the first episode: "We can never know the right answer to everything. But it is important that we keep looking." It's the journey that matters, rather than the destination. There may not be a right answer but there are questions...worth asking.
Kado – The Right Answer can be streamed legally on Crunchyroll with simulcasts every Friday. If you like this kind of story I would also highly encourage you to check out the film Arrival which has a similar premise and themes but executes those very differently.
Special thanks to @Kuze for editing and feedback.
Kado the Right Answer - The Best Anime of Spring 2017
Kerberos explains why he feels Kado - The Right Answer, is the best anime of spring 2017
Recent User Reviews
To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!