Kaiba is a transhumanist science fiction fantasy in ultra-flat style. Someone invented a machine to store memories in a chip and to implant this chip in a body -- in essence, ever-lasting life. The people made him king, but instead of using his new technology for the betterment of all humankind, the king charges outrageous sums -- creating an upper class that can afford to switch bodies and an underclass that are hunted down for their bodies or who have to sell their memories.
The main character of the series is Kaiba, who wakes up in a wrecked room without any memories of who he is. He gets involved with the resistance, who shuttle him off to another planet on a luxury liner. Throughout his travels across various planets, he gets a female body (which definately helps getting on the good side of the spaceship's sherrif) and witnesses many societal ills that have been brought about by the invention of the memory-transplanting device.
For instance, there's the couple who get executed for smuggling memory chips. There's the girl whose body is sold to feed her family. There's the 'body factory' that churns out ever-changing body designs for a crowd that is always hungry for the next big thing in body fashion.
All these things are told and shown in a gripping way. The character designs look like they were drawn by a child, but the subject matter is pretty grave -- I'm sure it's not at all what transhumanists have in mind, but it's an equally plausible outcome as the utopia of ever-lasting sentient force that Doctorow paints.
In the end, it is revealed that Kaiba is the king (or at least, one of his bodies with a subset of his memories hidden away), and the resistance catches up with him. The last few episodes are really dramatic and deal with very human emotions of love, loss and bravery.
It does take a while to look past the child-like designs and ultra-flat animation style -- but the plot is real and deep. And all things told, the animation is pretty good for what it is. The voice acting is nice, and the opening theme sent shivers down my spine.
But the main draw is the plot. Sure, I'm interested in transhumanist issues, so maybe I'm biased -- but the plot shows the human condition under a certain set of conditions. There's not a fixed cast of characters, but most characters play a role in several episodes, which makes the series not quite episodic. And Kaiba is one of those rare series that has an definitive and satisfying ending.
- Very interesting plot;
- Deeply human stories, despite the science fiction setting.
- It takes quite a while to get used to the visual style.
All in all, a must-see. I'll give it an 8.5.