Monday, October 5, 2015
Mardock Scramble- The Trilogy (2010-2012)
In a dystopian future, ex-prostitute Rune Balot is brought back to life with forbidden cyborg technology. Her troubles are far from over however, as she must learn to fend for herself if she's ever going to help bring her tormentors to justice.
Based on a series of light novels, Mardock Scramble comprises three short movies- known as the First Compression, Second Combustion and Third Exhaust respectively- originally released separately. Despite having been shown in cinemas a year apart, this really is a single story, with the plot carrying straight on where the previous film left off each time. The series is best appreciated therefore as a single work- making this release the optimum way to see it.
The idea of someone being resurrected as a cyborg essentially to be able to testify against their own "killer" is frankly, genius. It's just one of the unconventional and inspired ideas in this unique spin on the cyberpunk thriller. At first glance it might look like a close relation to Ghost In The Shell but in reality this is something quite in a world of it's own.
Take for example the gang of bad guys who all specialise in collecting a separate body part from victims. Or the Sky Sharks who act as guard dogs for the secret hideout known as Paradise. Or-best of all- the character of Oeufcoque the cybernetically enhanced talking mouse who can transform into a gun and becomes Runes' unlikely partner.
Producers GoHands have done an impressive job of creating an immersive cyberpunk world. It's futuristic skylines and bright lights look the part, the perfect setting for a sci-fi yarn. Yet, as that initial set-up tips you off, this isn't just any sci-fi anime. Instead this gives us a dark and unforgiving vision of the future, with fantasy elements blending with story elements that are sometimes all too real.
Despite each film's relatively short running time- each one clocks at a little over an hour- the pace is pretty sedate. Mardock Scramble is pretty talky, and distinctly heavy on the exposition. It's sometimes hard not to suspect that this may be down to budgetary concerns- especially seeing as they devised a plot device to cut down on the need to animate lip flaps. The series slows down even further in the middle, devoting around 45 minutes to a trip to the Casino.
When the action does come it's at least worth the wait. It looks pretty good and is suitably exciting. Outside the action set-pieces too the trilogy is for the most part pretty easy on the eyes. The animation is generally good, if not great and not quite up to usual modern theatrical standard. It has a distinctly old-school flavour and in fact, if it wasn't for some (not too well integrated) CGI, we could have sworn this was made much earlier than it was. Both in look and atmosphere- especially with the Cyberpunk angle- this feels like it could almost be a lost 1990s OAV, alongside the likes of Cyber City Oedo or AD Police. It even boasts character names bizarre enough to make Metal Gear Solid blush.
Unfortunately, less impressive is the use of sexual violence as a plot device. As a bonus feature, the set contains a "director's cut" version of each film, which- in the case of The First Compression at least- is considerably more explicit. Even the theatrical cut however contains scenes that some will find to be offensive and unnecessary.
Balot's characterisation doesn't really go beyond "victim" either, coming across as a bit of an empty shell. We feel for her for because of what she's been through, but this isn't really a substitute for a personality.
The majority of the contentious material actual takes place early on in the first film. Get through this not insignificant barrier of entry though, and there's a lot to enjoy for fans of dark dystopian science-fiction. . Fans of Cyberpunk anime have been starved of new material over recent years, as the genre has fallen out of favour. Anyone who enjoys anime for it's more bizarre and other-worldly side will be well served too.
So, despite our reservations about certain elements of the plot, there's still plenty here to make Mardock Scramble worth a watch.
MARDOCK SCRAMBLE TRILOGY is available now on DVD and BLU-RAY from MANGA/KAZE in the UK and SENTAI FILMWORKS in the US
Posted by Chris Perkins
Chris writes about movies, games, TV and other stuff you love, and has written for places including MyM magazine, Rant Gaming, KillStreakMedia and Anime UK News. He particularly specialises in the field of animation and spends far too much time watching cartoons for a grown up. He regrets nothing. Follow him at @misterchristor.