Based on a series of novels written by Tow Ukubata which was later adapted into a manga series, “Mardock Scramble: Second Combustion” is the second part of an intended OVA trilogy directed by Susumu Kudo. I was hooked with its first installment “MardockScramble: First Compression” and in my review I described it as a “Blade Runner-like” world whose lead character, Rune Balot resembles a Lisbeth Salander mixed in with a “Nikita” attitude with abilities akin to Mokoto Kusanagi of "Ghost in the Shell". Balot’s world is a place where technology run rampant and with this second installment, that world becomes a little more defined as we get to know much more about it and our main characters.
“Second Combustion” picks up where the first film left off with its cliffhanger. Balot is rescued by Dr. Easter (Hiroki Touchi) from a deadly assault mounted by Dimsdale Boiled (Tsutomu Isobe) on their headquarters. Rune (Megumi Hayashibara) soon finds herself in a place called “Paradise”, a huge high-tech sanctuary where the scramble 09 protocol came from. Here, while Oeufcoque (Norito Penteano) heals from his injuries, Rune struggles to find the answers within herself so that she can find a measure of inner peace with the aid of a young man called Tweedledee (Daisuke Namikawa). But the search for clues to the location of Shell’s hidden memories leads to Boiled tracking them once again, and Rune and Easter must now take the battle to their enemy’s doorstep. Rune enters the world of high-tech gambling and glamour so that she can bring the man who murdered her to justice. But is it revenge Balot truly desires?
With the cliffhanger that closed “First Compression”, it would be easy to assume that the next chapter would be more grittier and action-packed to take its killer first chapter to the next level. Well, “Second Combustion” does have some bloody action, violence and nudity (still has a TV-MA rating, NC-17 for its DC), but since this is the middle chapter of a trilogy, the action instead settles in and slows down. Instead, it opts to develop this world, and allows the viewer to take in its grand visuals. This is the film that takes its viewer further into this futuristic dystopian world. Rather than expecting a showdown, the script by Tow Ukubata slows things down to develop its characters and define the rules that work around this reality.
I have to admit, I had that slight feeling that I was entering another “Matrix-like” world, but then it becomes much more interesting and feels more like a dream world. “Paradise” is rich with metaphors (about the sharks) and symbolism (cage with the talking head), that it is easy to see its references to the Garden of Eden, and Balot may indeed be its “Eve”. The narrative has its many references to Genesis, as well as the links between animals and humans. The intellectual dolphin called Tweedledim sends out several philosophical themes, as Balot also gets to learn more about her delicate psyche from a Prof. Faceman (Yoshitaka Arimoto). The attention to detail was also quite impressive. The world of “paradise” was bright, colorful and odd, it had that technological feel to it, as well as something truly magical. The designs were impressive and definitely noteworthy, it exuded something dream like.
Once we enter the casino, then we get to see the corruption apparent of this world ran by Shell and the colors take on a much more darker palette, but none the less seductive. It is all about stakes, risks and how we turn the hands of life (or fate). More philosophical mumbo-jumbo is thrown around courtesy of a roulette spinner called Bell Wing (Toshiko Fujita). Amid all the themes that add depth to its premise, “Second Combustion” also gives development to the relationship between Rune and Oeufcoque. It was nice to see it go deeper as Rune allows herself to feel much more vulnerable to her own emotions. This second installment is all about developing the groundwork set in “First Compression”. The second half of the OVA deals with all the ‘caper’ and schemes that Shell may be working out. The writing opens up a lot of questions, as well as answering some areas when it came to the relationship of Boiled and the glowing mouse Oeufcoque courtesy of a needed back story.
I do have to admit that this film may disappoint those who were expecting the same tempo and pace established in the first chapter. But please do keep in mind that this is a trilogy and in some ways, it is a good move to slow down and allow the definition of its narrative. “Second Combustion” may feel more like a transitional chapter and it would be easy to say that it felt more of a slump, where things become heavy in dialogue. I myself believe that it is necessary to build up momentum for its expected next chapter “Mardock Scramble: The Third Exhaust”, and a change in pace may be just what is needed. Yes, it wasn’t as aggressive and violent as the first chapter, but there is a lot of good things that happen here if you consider overall plot development. That, combined with the same gorgeous animation and superb voice work, “Second Combustion” proves to be a calm before the storm, the thunder before the lightning, that it would prove premature to judge two movies by themselves since they are part of a whole. Of course we will have to wait and see how everything plays out, but I remain optimistic.
The director’s cut is slightly longer with almost 4 minutes of added footage (the theatrical cut is also included), and it does help the short film’s flow. Please see this in the original Japanese language.
After the killer first chapter "Mardock Scramble: First Compression", the second chapter of this anime trilogy slows down a little to develop this dystopian world. Still good, but different from the raw violence of the first movie. I cannot wait for the third and final chapter! See Full review here.