Adult Swim was a lot of people's first introduction to anime in America in the early '00s. This block has been home to legendary shows such as Cowboy Bebop, Trigun and Fullmetal Alchemist. But among these famous names sits a few more obscure shows that didn't get the praise or attention they deserved -- shows that were shown and then forgotten. One of these shows was Android Kikaider: The Animation.
Android Kikaider: The Animation is one part of the long-running Kikaider franchise, created by tokusatsu legend Shotaro Ishinomori, the man behind Super Sentai and Kamen Rider among many other superhero shows. Kikaider started out as a live-action tokusatsu series in 1971 and got a sequel the year after. However, as other tokusatsu shows became more popular, Kikaider fell by the wayside. After 1972's Kikaider 01, the Kikaider franchise was dormant until 1995's Mechanical Violator Hakaider movie. After that, it went quiet again.
When Android Kikaider: The Animation came out in 2000 it was presented as a reboot, designed to draw in new fans who would be unfamiliar with the original series. It was written by Akemi Omode, who has also written for Arc the Lad, Gundam and Pokémon. The series follows Jiro, a robotic human created by Dr. Kohmyoji. However, when a lab explosion kills Dr. Kohmyoji, Jiro is found by the doctor's children, Mitsuko and Masaru. Mitsuko develops feelings for Jiro and teaches him how to transform into his robot form. However, a strange flute song causes Jiro to go haywire and attack Mitsuko.
Unable to deal with what he did and fearing for his life, Jiro flees and starts to wander the world. As Jiro wanders he encounters other robots, the organization known as DARK and the evil Professor Gill. He also meets an android called Hakaider. This android can whistle a strange song, allowing it to take control of Jiro and force him to do things. Mitsuko eventually reunites with Jiro and the pair set off on a new adventure to find Mitsuko's mother. The more they search the more they learn about Jiro's history and the true aims of Professor Gill.
Following this came four OVAs called Kikaider 01: The Animation. These OVAs followed on from the end of the original series and focused on Jiro's attempts to protect Akira, Professor Gill's son, from his angry father. This series also introduces two new Kikaiders to the mix. The existence of these brothers forces Jiro to ponder his humanity and place in the world.
The English dub of this series was broadcast on Adult Swim in the summer of 2003. It had a very short run, with a new episode being broadcast daily from the start of June to early July meaning that it was very easy to miss the show when it was airing. For this release, the show was renamed simply Kikaider. Adult Swim also omitted the show's eighth episode from its airings, due to this episode simply being a recap of the story up to that point.
While it isn't the most remembered anime from Adult Swim's history, Kikaider and its OVAs are worth a second look. The show has all the hallmarks of a classic Ishinomori tale featuring intense action, inter-personal drama and meditations on the nature of humanity and artificial life. The animation is also great, with some stunning and atmospheric environments that fuse retro-technology with dark, almost gothic-horror interiors. However, the plot is rather convoluted and has muddled pacing -- something that is made worse by the voice acting in the English dub. While it is never off-putting it can be stilted and dull at times. And, while the concepts put forward were quite new in the 1970s, it's hard to deny that later media has built on and told them in a much more interesting way.
If you're a tokusatsu fan, then Kikaider: The Animation is essential viewing as it lets you see another writer's take on one of Ishinomori's characters. Even if you're not into tokusatsu Kikaider is an interesting series that really captures the essence of action anime in the early 2000s. Its short runtime makes it perfect for a weekend binge.
It is easy to see why Kikaider is forgotten, though. In a period where Adult Swim was showing fantastic, genre-defining anime like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun and Inuyasha, Kikairder was simply good. And thus, it quickly got overshadowed.