Well I suppose it’s only right to open this review with a disclaimer. Given my recent tear through the genre of (domestic) computer animated feature films, I suppose it’s pretty much natural that curiosity and the desire to draw comparisons would lead me back to my anime roots. After all, I reasoned, it’s downright amazing how different the approach between American and Asian methodology is when concerning the art of computer-generated film: Here in the States kid friendliness takes the foreground with just enough layered humor/ cleverness to offer entertainment to viewers of all ages.
Anime features like Vexille take a very different development path right from the onset in that this is essentially an animated version of an adult oriented motion picture. No need to take my word for it, the synopsis verifies this reality:
In the near future, Japan has achieved a global monopoly on robotics development. In response to an international ban on android development in 2067, Japan goes as far as to withdraw from the U.N. then adapts its advanced technology to isolate itself from the rest of the world. A decade later, a secret meeting with politicians organized by Japan's leading Daiwa Heavy Industries gets raided by S.W.O.R.D., an elite U.S. Navy task force of which female lead Vexille (and her lover Leon) are members. The circumstances encountered during that raid convince S.W.O.R.D. to undertake a daring infiltration of Japan itself, and what Vexille discovers happening there could pose a threat to the future of all of humanity.
If all of this sounds slightly familiar, that’s because Vexille plays upon almost all of the popular anime touchstones in near point for point accuracy. However, what is interesting is that this piece clearly positions the nation that spawned it as the international villain with an American force called upon to come in and clean up the Japanese jumble.
On the surface this may all sound like the perfect formula for an action-packed, science fiction based thrill ride (and it is); it’s also the catalyst for some pretty powerful political statements. The danger of nationalistic tendencies, the definition of sentience, and the line separating man and machine are just some of the underlying themes presented here. Some of it is a bit heavier handed in its delivery than others but overall the message comes through loud and clear.
And even if the underlying message translation isn’t your bag, Vexille is nothing short of a feast for the optics. The production team behind the hugely successful Appleseed CG film reunites here and delivers on a blend of cell shading coupled with rotoscoping to create a visual stunner. Truly some of the scenes more powerful segments require a second look just ensure that it isn’t in fact actual footage.
Pacing is perfect with a film that progresses smoothly across it’s under two-hour runtime without ever coming across as rushed or bogged down within its prose.
Critics are quick to point out a lack of plausibility with the some of the story’s plot points and indeed, nitpicking certainly results in a few plot holes but I’m of the opinion that the core of the entertainment value here is found in the suspension of disbelief rather than by attempting to find faults in some of the fictional reasoning.
Now comes the trickiest part of the review, the language debate. Like all sub & dub anime titles, Vexille is perhaps strongest emotionally when viewed in its native Japanese (with English subtitles for those of us who cannot understand the language). However, the English dub is very strong here as well. This one in particular seems to deviate from the original dialog more than is customary in a dub, due surely to the fact that some of the native script could well be considered offensive by many cultures. However, what results is quite a solid English dub from Funimation’s upper echelon of vocal talent (led here by Colleen Clinkenbeard).
In all Vexille is a film that does an awful lot of things really well. On the surface it is an action spectacle with cool armor, awesome technology, futuristic politics and intense action scenes. Below the surface it’s the catalyst for some intelligent concepts and serious concerns about the world around us. I thoroughly enjoyed this one from beginning to end and feel the experience was certainly a reminder as to what it is that makes anime sensibilities so attractive to me in the first place.
What did you think of this review?
Stills from Vexille (click for larger image)