Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Anime review: The Animatrix

The Animatrix is a series of short animated stories from the Matrix storyline. They are supplemental tales introduced around the same time as The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions to accommodate for the expansions to the franchise. In keeping with my review of Halo Legends, I will be providing each individual anime entry with its own rating (out of a possible five ranking), and then providing an overall rating for The Animatrix as a whole (which will be out of the standard ten-point ranking system I use). Please note that the overall rating is not an average, rather a rating based on how well the sum of the Animatrix's parts work together in delivering stories and expanding the universe of The Matrix.

Final Flight of the Osiris kicks things off with a visually pleasing 3D render of the Matrix world. There is great attention to detail throughout as the crew travels to the surface, a hauntingly beautiful place, and discovers the machines are planning to drill their way down to Zion. As soon as the Osiris is spotted, a swarm of Sentinels give chase, while one crew member plugs herself into the Matrix to warn the people of Zion of the machine's plans. It is an interesting point to explore, as it ties quite closely with the films. However, much of what is covered therein is familiar territory. Despite the fact that the introductory sequence is over-sexualized to a ridiculous degree, the animation is a saving grace as it is of a decent quality by today's standards. 3 out of 5

The Second Renaissance explains everything that led to the war with the machines and the subsequent fall of man. It draws some rather direct parallels to historical events, such as the slave labor used in constructing the Pyramids of Giza. The style in which the machines are presented makes a gradual but stark change from the friendly humanoid butler persona to the black and red tentacled bots of the films, a visualization of their change in ideals and political stance with the humans. This story of man sowing the seeds of his own destruction boasts some impressive animation for an early 2000s release. It fluctuates between the 3D and 2D combinations seen in Blue Submarine No. 6 and the borderline-obscenely stylized characters of Tekkon Kinkreet. 4 out of 5

Kid's Story revisits the first awakening from the Matrix, albeit in a much different manner than what Neo experienced in the original film. Kid is struggling in school and has dreams that are so vivid, he thinks they might be more real than his own day-to-day routine. When he seeks answers through his compute, he gets more than he bargained for, as Agents converge on his location, intent on stopping his search for the truth. This story is delivered through an animation that is heavy on sketches and watercolors, falling into an almost-impressionist category. Its surreal nature coupled with the adrenaline-rush of skateboarding action scenes and universally relatable idea will no doubt draw viewers in for the relatively short duration Kid's Story lasts. 3 out of 5

Program revisits the Training Programs briefly explored in both The Matrix Reloaded and the Enter the Matrix video game. Its animation style follows in the vein of Ghost in the Shell, and uses a rather direct and over-the-top feudal Japanese duel to train users. There is more talk than actual substance to any of the words dealt back and forth between the characters, which is rather annoying, and because of that this entry into The Animatrix feels unnecessarily long. To put it bluntly, Program is little more than a compounding of anime stereotypes, with one or two loose ties to the grander Matrix storyline. 2 out of 5

World Record explores what happens when someone tries to break free from the Matrix and fails. A track runner is trying to break his record and in the process, inadvertently sees the programming that makes up everything around him, which is a stark contradiction to all of the specific memories he recalls in the midst of his running euphoria. This entry is one of the most stylized of all the chapters of The Animatrix, fixating on the film series' cyberpunk style through color palettes that define a significant contrast between lights and darks. The character models - the Agents in particular - are very creative and captivating for the moment the bulk of World Record is encapsulated in. 5 out of 5

Beyond follows a young woman whose cat has run away from home. After asking some kids if they've seen the cat, she is led to a house the children say is haunted. As it turns out, the house is not only where the cat has run off to, but is also host to a number of strange anomalies, including irregular gravity, reconstruction of broken objects, and a door that leads to a dark, seemingly bottomless pit. The lighting and shadow effects are truly impressive for the time of The Animatrix's release. The character designs as well as the direction this vision of the Matrix took immediately evoked memories of Satoshi Kon's works - more specifically, Paranoia Agent and Paprika. The occasional shaky camera style and cel-shaded 3D animated objects truly set this entry above and beyond what most of the others in the collection manage to accomplish. 5 out of 5

A Detective Story, as its name implies, follows a detective who is hired to track down the mysterious hacker known as Trinity. The detective knows he is not the first to have been contracted to investigate her, and he is also aware of the fact that those before him ended up either dead or insane. Still, he can't argue with an $800,000 pay, even if the customer is incredibly shady. The story is delivered in a noir style that echoes the 1940s and 50s, a golden era for detective tales. The majority of the episode is animated in black, white, and shades of grey, with many backgrounds looking like they were ripped straight out of a newspaper. 4 out of 5

Matriculated is delivered through a notably American-influenced animation style. Backgrounds are comprised largely of still images that are heavy on detail, while the machines are all rendered in 3D models. The story opens with a female on the surface, decked out in some overtly cyberpunk gear, as she lures two machines into a building. Once there, she and her colleagues spring a trap to shut the machine down with the intent of repurposing it. The humans have found a method of interfacing with captured machines through a dream-like program that allows them to dupe the mechanized enemies into believing they have human qualities about themselves. The conclusion brings into question how the friendly machines might react when presented with negative emotions, and to what extent can they actually relate to being human. Interestingly, this machine is the only character who is explored to any significant degree. 3 out of 5

For the most part, The Animatrix does a wonderful job of expanding the borders of the Matrix universe. It offers many a fresh take because it is not afraid to revisit the familiar in bold new ways, ala A Detective Story, World Record, and so on. In breaking away from the Neo-centric formula of the films, the storytelling becomes much more adventurous and, in most cases, quite a bit stronger. And it certainly doesn't hurt that the animation for each is ahead of its time.The weakest moments show through when stories revisit the all-too-familiar, which are thankfully few and far between.

My rating: 8.25 (out of 10)

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