DVD Review: The Animatrix
by R.J. Carter
Published: June 7, 2003
Running time: 89 minutes.
Bonus Materials: 78 minutes.
"The Animatrix" is a collection of animated shorts done using a variety of techniques, but all in various styles of anime, a form of animation developed in Japan.
If this is your first contact with the definition of anime, as simplistic as I've made it, you're probably thinking of Pokemon or DragonballZ or, if you're an old-timer like myself, Speed Racer. If that's the case, exposure to this DVD will expose you to the many other facets of anime--most of them far more elegant than any children's show you'll have seen, and far more mature. And if you still have some lingering questions about what anime is and isn't, there's an excellent tutorial in the bonus section of this disk.
Let's look at each of the tales on this disk individually, shall we?
FINAL FLIGHT OF THE OSIRIS
Written by Andy and Larry Wachowski
Directed by Andy Jones
Animated in the ultra-realistic style of "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," this piece plays as something more within the trilogy rather than alongside it as the other bits do. Occasionally the characters are obviously hexagonal, but there are also several instances where you forget you're watching a cartoon--where the characters feel almost real.
The story opens with a lengthy samurai sword-sparring scene that's more foreplay than fencing; and just when things start to get very steamy, the viewer learns it's a simulation, and the participants are pulled out by an alert that sentinels--hundreds of them--have detected their ship, The Osiris. The hunting machines, despite their gigeresque appearance, help to make the story all the more real-feeling, possibly because we've seen these CGI beasties before in the Matrix movies.
The Osiris escapes the sentinels by popping up to the surface world, where they find a drilling operation is in place that places Zion--the last human city--in peril. Someone has to enter the matrix and transmit a warning, and do it while the ship is once again hunted. The female half of our earlier courtship scene takes the job while her lover remains behind to pilot.
There's a lot of acrobatics that are probably unnecessary but just look so darned cool, including a diving scene with parallel bars that is evocative of the first bit of Jack Chalker's The Cybernetic Walrus (a story that was Matrix when Matrix wasn't cool.)
And how does this story fit into the plot of everything else? If you're already playing the Enter The Matrix videogame--you already know.
THE SECOND RENAISSANCE PART I & II
Written by Andy and Larry Wachowski
Directed by Mahiro Maeda
This two-parter details the origins of how the machines were created and, ultimately, took over.
The human-dominated world is very much like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, with the affluent humans living in above with the working machines marching in masses below. And the people aren't very nice, behaving more like the characters from some Will Eisner epic than the way we'd like to think they would--which is to say, they acted realistic. This isn't a world where the machines took over because they grew malevolent, like some Terminator, but a world where they were pushed to find refuge and, ultimately, retaliate. Obviously Asimov's laws were ignored byu the manufacturer.
The machines build a city of their own, the first machine city, Zero One (which sounds somewhat similar to the last human city, Zi-on). The city prospered, their currency overtook that of other nations, and thus they were militarily contained in their city by the humans. War ensues, initiated by the humans. And when nuclear bombs didn't work, they developed the solution mentioned in the first Matrix movie--they would make the sky dark, blocking out the solar energy that powered the machines. If you've seen the first movie, you know where the machines turned for alternative power; if you haven't, you probably aren't reading this review.
The artwork favors the realistic over the cartoony and is frameworked by a brightly colored kaleidoscope with a heavy East Indian influence. As for fitting with the other movies, it's probably the most integral to the overall story arc, whereas the others are of a more tangential nature.
Written by Andy and Larry Wachowski
Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe
A risky story, this one, and not only because of the plot (which involves teenage suicide). The animation involves characters and backgrounds that are more penciled than inked, and veers to blurred watercolor action scenes. It works, and is probably one of the more visually interesting of the shorts contained on this DVD. The soundtrack also
The tale is much like Neo's story: a young man, sitting at a keyboard, with a nagging suspicion that his real life doesn't feel all that real. His computer questions get answered, by none less than Neo himself.
As he grows closer to learning the truth, the agents come for him in his classroom. He escapes, thanks to a magnificently executed skateboarding sequence, during which all the sideline characters begin to take on a more zombie-like appearance. But eventually they corner him on the top of the building--and the teen is left with only one way out: to believe the unbelievable and take a literal leap of faith.
Written and Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
This one is the least interesting of the stories, plot-wise, as it's merely another simulation aboard another ship. However, the illustrative style is unique.
In the simulation, the woman is tempted by her lover to return to the virtual world of the Matrix. He tells her he's already contacted the agents, and everything is prepared: they're on their way. A long, drawn-out battle ensues as the two debate. If you love Samurai Jack, then this one is definitely going to be right up your alley.
Written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Directed by Takeshi Koike
Can someone learn about the Matrix without someone in the real world helping them? In this short, we meet an athlete who's intent on setting a world sprinting record, and as he learns how to break through the pain, he breaks through into other aspects of the world he lives in as well.
The agents are on him in a flash, of course, desperate to contain him before he begins to understand what it is that's happened to him.
While most of the stories shoot for realism, this one takes another tack and aims for caricature; muscles are stretched yet loose, giving the characters a rubbery appearance. The movements are hyperactive, and the fashions themselves are high-collared things from one of Gucci's nightmares. It's very Aeon Flux.
Which isn't to say this is a bad story--it's an excellent one, it's merely done differently from the others. Of particular interest is the way the animators make use of the flow of time to illustrate speed; it's not bullet time, but an appealing alternative.
Written and Directed by Koji Morimoto
Ever wonder what happens when there's a glitch in the Matrix? A coding bug, when the logic loops and the IF/ELSEs aren't quite in place? When gravity stops working and time runs in reverse, but only a a very specific location?
That's what happens in this lushly illustrated tale that follows the search for a lost cat into an area the local children claim is haunted. In fact, it's one of their favorite sites, for within it they can float, break and unbreak things, and create all kinds of games that are best played with the laws of physics take a vacation.
And it might be a way to break into the real world, and thus must be contained--by any means necessary--by the agents before that can happen.
If each of these shorts had been marketed on nine different DVDs, this is the one you should want to have bought first. The camera angles, the play of light and shadows, the use of color and sound--this one has it all.
A DETECTIVE STORY
Written and Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe
"Of all the simulations of all the computers in all of the Matrix, she had to walk into mine."
That might well be the opinions expressed by the lead character in this black-and-white noire tale of a detective hired to track a bounty. His quarry? A female computer hacker and terrorist who goes by the name Trinity.
He's not the first to have been offered the case--and all the previous ones met messy endings. The only one still alive is in a mental ward, muttering about the "Red Queen." This leads our hero to investigate hacker hangouts that make references to Alice In Wonderland. (Interestingly enough, the detective owns a cat named Dinah--the cat owned by Alice in Carroll's immortal classic.) He ultimately finds Trinity, who leads him to her with clues straight out of Through The Looking-Glass.
The technology and style of this film is so 1940-ish that it causes me to question whether the inhabitants of the Matrix all inhabit the same one, or if there are sub-Matrices, each of which operate on different gestalts and paradigms. Regardless, this moody tale is a monochromatic delight.
Written and Directed by Peter Chung
This story is strictly a Yellow Submarine, "Pass the acid, I'm having a flashback," turn up the Pink Floyd, psychedelic trip. It starts out plainly enough, with a person in the real world sitting on a beach when suddenly two sentinels are spotted coming out of the water. They chase her into the pipes, where she loses them (or believes she has) and they set up a way to track her (or think they do.)
Things quickly go from the weird to the uber-surreal. The animation begins as a mix of traditional drawing with computer aided wireframe skinning, and ends with... lots of stuff. The overall idea is to take a captured machine and reprogram it in such a fashion that it will convert, and join the humans rather than hunt them. And to do that, it's necessary to upload the machine intelligence into a simulation, much the way the humans do for their own training. From there, it's all psychovisuals that ravage the senses and create questions. A stunning masterpiece of cinematography.
Through the "Translator" menu, viewers can change the subtitles between English, French, and Spanish (or Off), while switching the audio between English and Japanese.
In the "Bonus_Data" section, you can turn on director commentaries (subtitled in English for those who don't speak Japanese), be taken through the making of each of the shorts, and also be given an in-depth class on what Anime' is and why it's becoming so popular in Western culture. You can even plug the disc into your DVD-ROM drive and access even more hidden features.