Inspired by a series of novels by Tow Ubukata which was later on adapted into a series of manga, director Susumu Kudo is primed to jumpstart a new anime franchise with the first part of an OVA movie trilogy with “Mardock Scramble: First Compression”. I have to say, I have been hooked. This first movie deals with a lot of mature themes not for the squeamish while applying a very gritty and angst-ridden mood along with certain science fiction/horror elements that would make a film fan really drool.
I am amazed how Asia and Europe sees animation as another art form that animated films usually are geared for mature viewers while here in America, animation has been seen as something linked to only kids. Note: This review is about the director’s cut which has been rated TV-MA or NC-17.
The film begins in an indeterminate alternate future as we meet Rune Balot (Megumi Hayashibara), a very young “working girl” with a very fragile psyche. Sexually abused and killed by Septinos Shell (Kazuya Nakai), she has been resurrected by Dr. Easter (Hiroki Touchi) into a half-human and half-cyborg who has been genetically engineered to be better than what she was before according to a top secret protocol called “Mardock Scramble 09”. Now, Balot with the help of a shape-changing mouse named Oeufcoque (Norito Penteano) is primed to testify against her killer, but things are not going to be simple, as a man named Dimsdale Boiled (Tsutomu Isobe) seems adamant in preventing Balot from pursuing the case….but what is the link between Boiled and Oeufcoque?
The best way to describe this anime film would be to imagine a world that closely resembles “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report”. Then, try to imagine Lisbeth Salander from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” with the shattering personality of “La Femme Nikita” with the skills and abilities of Major Kusanagi from “Ghost in the Shell” then you would have a vivid idea how the premise of this film would be. I mean, it sounds very cool doesn’t it? How wouldn’t like an anime film with all the ingredients wrapped around a cyberpunk noir to make for a very original creation? I have to tell you, I was excited and at the same time caught by surprise with what I’ve seen with “Mardock Scramble”. This is definitely not your kid’s anime, and not for the casual anime fan.
The film’s premise is very dark. This director’s cut is about 5 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, and it doesn’t hold back on the violence. There is a lot of nudity and sex in this film, but unlike most anime these days that uses those things to titillate, the screenplay by Tow Ubukata makes those scenes an integral part of the story. Balot is a woman with a very fragile psyche, and so the images in the film does not hold back in getting the points as to why. There is a heart-wrenching scene in a courthouse as Balot is interviewed so filled with horrific emotion with a fascinating eerie atmosphere as her answers become side by side with images from her memory. As with any other Japanese anime (save for “Perfect Blue”) the full frontal nude scenes omit the details of the lower human body part.
What is really impressive with the film is the way it adds to dimensions to the major players and even most of the supporting characters were twisted and original. Shell is a despicable character but even he has his own reasons for being what he is; I mean, it isn’t justified, but his character has an interesting dimension. I mean, he is the kind whose memories needs to be loaded onto a disc and his brain needs rebooting. His right-hand man, Boiled is a man with connections to the Mardock Scramble project and to the incredibly intelligent glowing, shape-changing Oeufcoque (eggshell in English) who can assume any form as long as it is within his limits that includes weapons and clothes. I have to say, the film sets a lot of groundwork and develops their dimensions well without revealing a little too much, as it draws in the viewer into wanting to see more in the sequels.
The supporting characters are outrageous. Not ‘bad’ outrageous--but rather outrageous as with how bold and gutsy the designs are. I mean, Boiled’s hired assassins are figures that--well, I do not want to give too much away, but they are almost like folks who have tattoos, only the art are in the form body parts from corpses. They are like the “Frankenstein” monsters, and the body parts reflect their own personal fetishes. I was also taken with the gadgets in the film; I mean, that gravity-defying field was just so cool to see in the film. I liked the way Oeufcoque changed his shape into something more useful to our young Balot as if it was a reflection of both his personality and hers.
The animation work, the layout designs and character style were all pretty much rendered with a certain tempo and mood in mind. Most of the shots are done in shadows, while certain scenes were rendered to be radiant to reflect the importance of the scene. Memories and flashbacks were done in a sepia-like tone that was really clever. Another thing, that also impressed me were the way this world was rendered. It looked rather similar to this world and yet it felt very different. The movements were very fluid and cool. The scene where Balot tested her mettle with a gun was very “Matrix”-like and was no doubt one of the film‘s best sequences. As I’ve mentioned, the director’s cut was very revealing in the sex and nudity area, and I can imagine that it was even amped up with a lot more bloody action and some gore (that includes the arterial spray).
Now as much as I’ve enjoyed this first film, and I enjoyed the expository elements in the screenplay, I thought that the film’s runtime was a little too short. It was just too much to be compacted into a 65 minute film. There was a lot to take in, and some viewers may undoubtedly be bothered by it. There is action in the film, but it wasn’t really able to drive its pacing. It is dialogue heavy, and so I think it would be wise to see this one in the original Japanese language with the English subtitles. The tone and pacing of the film reminded me of Oshii’s cyberpunk noir thriller “Ghost in the Shell” with a little less focus. It takes its time developing the main players as well as this alternate world. However, the way it ended felt like it was right in the middle of the action, and “Mardock Scramble” struggled to reach some sort of middle ground with the “First Compression”. I would have easily given this film a higher score if it had achieved more harmony in the final act.
Despite some issues, I really enjoyed “Mardock Scramble: First Compression” in its director’s cut form. It does manage to establish itself and build on its premise aggressively, and there were just so many scenes that made it stand out. It was a very methodical execution as we get to know Balot, her emotions and state of mind, before we get to see what she was capable of. “First Compression” picks up a lot of forward momentum, that I was a little sorry it ended rather as a cliffhanger. It is a film filled with chases, gritty attitude and confrontation, that made it an engaging cyberpunk noir-action-thriller. I am so ready for the next two chapters.
Mardock Scramble (マルドゥック・スクランブル, Marudukku Sukuranburu?) is the name for a series of novels by Tow Ubukata, which were later adapted into a manga series and a trilogy anime film series. The story is about a girl named Rune Ballot who was taken in by a man named Shell who later killed her and left her for dead. She is saved and turned into a cyborg. It is up to her to stop Shell and his evil gang. The first novel was published in Japan in May 2003, with the final novel published on September 8, 2010. The novels were later made into a manga series, a now cancelled OVA anime series and an anime film trilogy. Viz Media licensed the novels and published all three into one novel. Kodansha Comics USA publishes the manga series in English, and Sentai Filmworks will release anime films on DVD and Blu-ray.- wikipedia.org