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Last Updated: 9/19/03

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    Her classmates at school named her Key, as in the key to a strange mystery. Key is an android, created by a kindly old scientist wanting to use his skill in robotics to create peace and love in the world. For some years now, his creation Key has been going to school, just like a regular girl, albeit one who only ages when the kindly doctor exchanges her artificial body for an older one. So what if she doesn't really understand how to act human yet, or even how to smile... She's still just like a regular girl, even if she was built, not born.

    A message left behind by Key's father-scientist suggests a fantastic possibility. Could it really be possible for Key to become a real, live human, if she can only win the love of 30,000 people? Or is that just too fantastic to believe? With nothing to lose either way, Key is off to the big city to try her luck. That's where all the people are, anyway.

    But is Key really a robot? Her friends humor her, but secretly suggest her delusions are an escape from some childhood trauma. Key's own memories argue otherwise, but they seem to conflict with her habit of experiencing extreme emotion in extreme situations--and not remembering the emotions afterwards. Or is this just part of a unique robot's struggle to become human?

    Like watching flowers unfold There are a variety of mysteries at work in the unfolding of this eight-volume OVA series, and writer/director Hiroaki Sato takes his time in developing them. Key's true nature, her strange powers, and her thoughts at any given moment are hidden behind an expressionless face and luminescent, empty purple eyes. Those around her--the dual-natured Miho, mercurial Sakura, psychotic Jinsaku and his icy underling "D"--all have secrets to hide as well, and their reluctant revelations fall into place amid a sea of heart-rending, lyrical images and shattered staccato gasps in time.

    Key's pacing is exquisite, but the poetic imagery is even more compelling, as Key stares at a palmful of water in a forest, or Sakura pulls her to safety in a welter of still-framed heartbeats, or Jinsaku fondles dismembered pieces of his robotic "children." Sato ends each episode on a pause, a moment of sudden recognition and welling emotion between moments. His motif of slicing linear time into discrete and often nonlinear fragments lends this entire series a sense of breathless discovery.

    The animation style, too, hides surprises in the interstices between visible moments. In one fight sequence, a series of transparent, blurred overlays lends an illusion of real video quality to a tumbling body, while sharp-edged micro-detail gives other scenes the richness of high-quality film. The plot may be Pinocchio, but the execution is more reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa. Clearly this is a series to follow closely.

    1994 Hiroaki Sato/Pony Canyon/Fuji TV/FCC/Studio Pierrot. Exclusively licensed throughout the United States and Canada by Viz Communications Inc.

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