Episode 1 of Key the Metal Idol starts the computer themed names with the appropriate START UP.  In some respects the names chosen reflect the age of the series, as does much of the technology [1] on display.

Despite being so clearly a product of the 90s, Key has aged surprisingly well [2].

The prologue starts with Jinsaku Ajo [3] trying to sell a robot weapon [4] to a third world country by showing a film that demonstrates how lethally effective it is a weapon. One of Ajo’s minions questions the morality of this, especially as it ran out of control killing many of the observers shortly afterwards, when a call from Japan is received.  Just before the opening credits roll there is a brief glimpse of Key in a school uniform lying on a roof.

The opening credits themselves are quite eerie, and the song matches the footage well [5]. The creepy dolls and robots set the theme of Key the Metal Idol very effectively in the opening.

After the credits is the first of many apparent [6] coincidences as Ajo drives past Dr Murao Mima’s assistant Tomoyo Wakagi. A teacher is looking for Tokiko Mima (Key) and the resulting speculation about what Key is doing is fairly cruel.

The teacher finds Key on the roof and sends her home as her grandfather, Dr Mima, has passed away.  The flashback to a younger, or perhaps an earlier model of Key, shows how nasty kids can be. It also establishes Key as the other, as the alien among us. The flashback also shows the Doctor giving Key a new body on her 13th birthday.

It is this last which deeply worries Key, to the extent that a robot speaking in the third person can be worried: who will repair her, or replace her body now?

On arriving home Key attempts to wake her grandfather until his assistant Tomoyo hands her a walkman with the Doctor’s final words recorded on a cassette.  This is where the core story is set up: Key can become human if she achieves 30,000 friends.

Key is Pinocchio in other words but there is a sense of something more here. As a bell begins to toll, the scene in her home switches between the many dolls in various poses, sizes, accuracy, and completeness. One wind up doll reacts to the tolling bell and makes this a very eerie scene, with a sense of hidden secrets here.

The 2nd half of the episode sees Key moving to Tokyo almost immediately.  This plays on some well worn tropes – comparing the country sunlight to the smog of Tokyo, and the country girl out of her depth in the big city. This includes the classic scene of being caught in the middle of a busy intersection. The sunlight trope is justified somewhat as Key appears to be at least partially solar powered, the busy intersection somewhat less so.

As night falls Key falls into some dangerous, and sleazy company. As Key panics, a robot in a big coat arrives and reacts in a strange way.  Key flees, and her harassers chase the robot (without knowing what it is).

Meanwhile Key falls into the somewhat more subtle, but no less sleazy, company of Seiichi Tamari. 

The harassers from earlier come to a bad and messy end, and it seems that the supposedly remote controlled robot has gone out of control. The controller “D” (or Sergei depending on who is talking to him) is in some difficulty, but heads to Mamio Valley where Key is from.  Tomoyo is briefly seen gathering data from the collapsed robot.

Meanwhile Key is dealing with Tamari as Sakura Kuriyagaya has a passing encounter with Tomoyo. Yes, that would be coincidence number two.

As Key begins to realise what she has gotten herself into and tries to leave, the muscle intervenes. In coincidence number three Sakura delivers the pizza to the porn studio, recognises, and then runs off with Key.  Tamari sends his muscle to bring back Sakura instead of Key. One look at the two character designs will explain why.

Ajo is watching footage of an idol concert as “D” heads west.

Sakura and Key reunite which highlights the difference between the characters. As the muscle arrives the end credits begin to roll.

START UP is a strong opening episode.  There is a sense of mystery that draws the viewer in, accentuated by Key’s tendency to speak in flat tones in the third person (“Key is…”).  Even the relatively brief glimpses of the main supporting characters Sakura and Tomoyo are distinctive enough to be interesting.

Key’s motivations are both simple (not wanting to die when her current body deteriorates) and sympathetic (wanting to become human). Combined with the obvious support from both Tomoyo and Sakura this generates enough interest to carry the viewer into the next episodes.

Day 1 – START UP
Day 2 – CURSOR I
Day 4 – ???
Day 5 – ACCESS
Day 6 – SCROLL I
Day 8 – ???
Day 9 – RUN
Day 10 – GOTO
Day 11 – RETURN
Day 12 – ???
Day 13 – BUG
Day 14 – SAVE
Day 15 – VIRUS I
Day 16 – ???
Day 17 – VIRUS II
Day 18 – SYSTEM
Day 19 – EXIT
Day 20 – Looking Back at Key The Metal Idol


[1] Or lack thereof…

[2] Although snarky comments about the technology, or lack thereof, may be expected on occasion.

[3] Relatively few character names are spoken immediately but unlike Haibane Renmei there is no value in hiding them.

[4] The robot weapon in question is effectively a Terminator.

[5] The dub has made the mistake of dubbing the songs.  This rarely ends well, and it hasn’t so far.

[6] These apparent coincidences are justified much later in the series, for now just let them stand.