KIKI Broaches Complicated Truths With Its Twist On Your Typical Boy-Meets-Girl Story
Kiki is a Toggle Original show following Jay, a lonely illustrator with Asperger’s Syndrome as well as a less than exciting romantic life. Following a series of not-so-coincidental events, he gets ahold of a tablet and, to his surprise, draws to life the girl of his dreams.
Director: Joanna Ying Ng
Cast: Brian Ng, Kimberly Chia, Jannassa Neo, Munah Bagharib
Runtime: 10 episodes x 23 minutes
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: boy meets girl, shit happens, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back… kinda? It’s a tale as old as time, and overdone beyond comprehension—but Kiki offers a bait and switch that’s very much welcome in the age of binge viewing. With occasional dashes of comedy very much of the local flavour, the show also manages to broach its more complicated truths.
Jay is a lonely illustrator who spends his days reveling in a set routine—wake up, eat, draw, sleep, rise and repeat. He has high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome and faces stumbling blocks trying to make new friends, much less a romantic partner. He’s well meaning though, and is gifted a mysterious tablet by an elderly rag-and-bone woman.
As the possibility of a life-altering development looms over him and desolation starts to seep in, he desperately begins to draw his perfect woman—the kind of woman he sees in movies and on television, the kind of woman whose mere presence alone would solve all his problems. This young waif—Kiki—is somehow willed into existence, and Jay slowly integrates her into his life.
It’s not much of a straightforward romance, however, as we’ve seen explored in movies like Ruby Sparks. Jay finds he can mould his soulmate into his choosing, illustrating emotions and scenarios that all lead her back to him. It’s whenever things get real—nastily, depressingly real—that the show reveals itself to be an enjoyable venture into the searing excitement of a whirlwind romance, overwhelming emotions of dealing with Asperger’s and, interestingly enough, free will.
It would be easy to make Kiki out to be a typical, run-of-the-mill Manic Pixie Dream Girl stock character-—a tried and true trope which portrays the romantic interest to be a quirky, mystical girl who exists solely to provide happiness and character development for the male lead. Such characters, most importantly, are depicted to have no apparent real life of her own.
At this point of the show, it’s a fun and entertaining ride, but it’s only through the midway point that the story becomes more worthwhile. The honeymoon phase between the two slowly dissipates and Jay starts experimenting with the control he has over Kiki on his tablet.
As she starts revealing herself to be more than a fictional drawing, Kiki becomes less enigmatic and more aware of her life and curious of her past—this gradual regaining of autonomy, I think, is a testament to the strength of the show’s female writers. Kiki’s not just this Manic Pixie Dream Girl whose sole existence is to give meaning to Jay’s life, she’s a real person with very real emotions.
Despite delusions of a fairy tale romance and mundane realities to offset them, Jay is a surprisingly empathetic character. Struggling with the disorientating reality of living with Asperger’s, an incredibly misunderstood and misrepresented condition, Jay expresses emotions of love and distress in different and specific ways, and the show doesn’t portray them through rose-tinted glasses. As much as his quirks and socially unaware behaviour can be charming character traits, they are also, unfortunately, his greatest downfalls.
Aptly injecting scenes with animation, this back-and-forth between live action and illustrations proves to be pleasantly effective in portraying the gradual changes in emotions in both Jay and Kiki. Not just merely pictorial, the set pieces, especially Jay’s tidy and organised home, further convey unspoken details about the character’s individual habits, personality, and relationships.
The ever-changing dynamics between our two lovebirds, and a lively cast of supporting characters —the sassy and headstrong Catherine, and the sweet and nurturing Sammy—are, I think, more than enough to carry the series. At times, their distinct personalities even outshine the leads. The story also diverts from its main themes to flesh out a more dramatic subplot towards the end, which gives room for affecting emotional performances from the actors, but compromises the interpersonal moral conundrum that’s at the heart of this story.
At its centre, Kiki offers a sweet and rather touching depiction of a young man caught between things out of his control—his cognitive and behavioural distinctions—and the one thing, or rather person, he has complete control of. It’s this dichotomy that drives the series, hitting all the right narrative beats to keep the viewer emotionally invested.
Looking closer, this unconventional boy meets girl may fall into clichés, but it does so with ample self-awareness. It’s the perfect TV show to devour in one sitting, or even binge-watch with your sketchbook, if that’s more your speed.