Rather than a text review, I did a video review of this show:
The original of the follows for the hard of hearing (there are some slight changes in the actual video review):
In January, YouTube changed their criteria for what channels could be monetized, requiring them to hit a threshold of 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of content viewed over the previous 365 days. As I was nowhere near that time threshold, I realized that trying to hustle to get subscribers through sub-for-sub, or asking relatives and friends to put my channel on autoplay to keep their pets entertained was a losing proposition.
However, this, and seeing my fellow YouTubers with more subscribers and views hustling to reach that threshold made a connection to my brain to an anime series that I was first introduced to in my High School anime club, and which I didn’t get around to watching in its entirety until last year - Key the Metal Idol.
Key The Metal Idol is probably one of the earliest mind-screw anime that I’ve seen, pre-dating Neon Genesis Evangelion by about a year. However, the concept comes closer to that of Serial Experiments Lain, but only slightly.
Our main character is Tokiko Mima, or “Key” for short. She’s a 17 year old girl who either is a robot or believes she is a robot, having been told so by her scientist father and his lab assistant, Wakagi. She apparently has no emotions and is incredibly reserved - similar to Rei Ayanami.
When her father dies in an apparent lab accident - of the kind that anyone with a degree of genre savvy knows is a cover for murder - her father’s video will tells her that if she can make 30,000 friends, she will become human. Realizing that the small town where she lives simply doesn’t have enough people for that, she sets out to Tokyo to become human.
After a false start where she’s nearly pressured into doing porn, she is rescued by her friend from her hometown - Sakura, who also came to Tokyo and is working a slew of part-time jobs. Sakura decides that she’ll be Key’s agent and help her complete her goal - but, like some of Key’s peers back home, Sakura thinks that Key is pretending, decides to humor her.
(Key rescuing Tamari)
However, there are a few catches. First - in times of extreme emotion or stress, another personality seems to emerge from Key, one which looks and acts more human, and which also possesses special, almost magical abilities, which catch the attention of those who want to take advantage of those abilities.
(Robot Test from episode 1)
The second is Ajo Heavy Industries and Production Minos, both lead by by a corporate mastermind and mad scientist named Jinsaku Ajo. He is working on a series of robots for the military through Ajo Heavy Industries that are powered by “Gel”, which is extracted human life force.
(Miho Utuse Performance)
On the other side of things, through Production Minos, also has an Idol, Miho Utuse, who is secretly a robot controlled by the real singer, controlled remotely and powered by her own life force.
This is where the mind screw comes in, and where the show also gets into some social commentary - particularly on Japanese pop music, idols and idol groups and how the industry treats the women who perform as Idols, either alone or in groups, as disposable commodities. Over the course of the series, Ajo literally uses up the real Miho Utuse, leaving her bedridden and barely conscious, and tries to replace her with another girl who would control the Utuse Robot.
It’s taking the idea of Science Fiction as Allegory, and applying that not to conventional social issues like race relations or sexuality or geopolitics, but to the pop-cultural entertainment we enjoy, how it’s made, how the people who make it are treated.
Key was... very much out of print for the past few years. Viz put the show out on VHS in the 90s and on DVD in 2004, and then it was out of print on physical media until Discotek Media license rescued it and released it in February of 2017.