Region: 1 - North America
Volume: 1 of 3
Length: 60 minutes
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
Mardock Scramble is an anime film set in a dark, technological nightmare of a future. Following cyborg girl Balot and her quest for vengeance against Shell, a degenerate gambler who inslaved her before she broke free, it's a cyberpunk noir adventure starring the voice of the acclaimed Megumi Hayashibara.
"Not many people know what their life's worth is. I do. Seventy grand. That's what they took from me. And that's what I was gonna get back."
Sorry if I start the review of Mardock Scramble with a quote from the Mel Gibson film, Payback, but it helps to illustrate the basic point of the newer film. In Payback, a person is betrayed by their lover and seeks to reaffirm their identity as a person by returning to former friends and lovers and getting back the money that was taken from the character. In Mardock, a person is betrayed by their lover and seeks to reaffirm their identity as a person by hoping that this situation will resolve itself. In both cases, the films build to an orgy of violence and counter-violence where the main characters are forced to think on their feet as the sands of retribution threaten not only to derail their plans but kill them as well.
Based on a novel and screenplay by Tow Ubukata, Mardock Scramble started life as an OAV series at Studio GONZO but after trouble at the studio, Aniplex and Go Hands Animation resurrected it as the first part of a proposed trilogy of films. Mr. Ubukata's previous works include Fafner - Dead Aggressor and Le Chevalier d'Eon and it's easy to see how he's progressing as a storyteller. Please note, Ubukata did not direct any of these projects nor his latest one but his is the style of a writer-creator. Someone is doing the day-to-day stuff but he's holding it together.
Megumi Hayashibara steps in as Rune Balot, a young, teenage girl whose family life has caused her to crave the love of any passing stranger who will spend their nights with her. Unfortunately, the latest person to keep her heart warm turns out to want nothing less than her very life to convenience his own. Kazuya Nakai portrays Shell Septinos, a man for whom no luxury is too far out of reach. After intercourse one night, travelling in Shell's car, the couple park at a secluded spot at the beach. After declaring that he wants to turn her into "diamonds", Shell promptly exits the car, locking it behind him and is escorted to a waiting car while Rune is incapacitated by gas, with the car exploding. At the same time, an investigator, Dr. Easter, a scientist who used to be part of the space exploration program, finds her and brings her back to life as a cyborg with amazing abilities and an artificially enhanced mouse, Oeufcocque, as her guide and protector. But for Rune, dying is the easy part.
Now, I break off from the plot summary and tell you why the hell, along with Redline, you should see this movie: Everything ends on a cliffhanger at the end of the movie. There, now how many anime series, OAV's or movies did you watch, ended with one of those? Not many. At only sixty minutes long, The First Compression (to give it it's subtitle) is one of the films that just gives you glimpses into this universe that Ubukata has created. People can be brought back to life by the authorities so that their "killer" can be brought to justice. Victims and culprit's lives are laid bare in all their ugliness for the courts to see. Technology has made man's life easier but the age old sins continue. When Balot takes the stand in her own murder trial we knew her life must be awful to want anybody, anybody, to cling to but we didn't see the true horror of why waiting for us. And these sorts of facts can be used against the victim! Balot, as a cyborg, learns talents that Oeufcocque is privy to that can equalise the gulf in skill between her and Shell's henchman, Dimsdale Boiled, a man I can only describe as a person who observes the black hole that is humanity everyday and not be hurt simply by the fact that he's an even deeper black hole of evil.
The characters are so different! Balot starts out as the typical 14-15 year old jailbait that otaku seem to thrill to these days who becomes a kick-ass, Roy Batty-style Repli- I mean, Cyborg. And even after learning how to kill with special-ops skill levels, she's still a frightened, damaged, teenager. She is one of those children you read about who just fall through the system. Nobody actively wants to make her life hard but still it happened, nevertheless. Oeufcocque really is the soul of the film, even if he's just a smart mouse. Balot instantly bonds with him as she discovers that he can't see human emotions the same way we do. Simply put, ideas like selfishness and cruelty are beyond him even though he has been trained as a weapon (literally) as well as a user interface. He knows the pitfalls of having a user like Balot precisely because another user abused him after travelling the same path as Balot. We see his hesitancy about bonding with another human and only at the end of the first part do we even gleam reasons as to why. Dr. Easter works for the future version of the chief prosecutor and does what he can to prepare Balot for the trial but even he can see past the trial and Shell's efforts to silence Rune and stop prying eyes from discovering his own secrets which are barely touched in the first film. The rogues gallery in this films are some of the most horrendous grotesques I've ever seen outside of say, a Bio-Hazard or House of the Dead game. Mince the Wink, Welldone the Pussyhand, Rare the Hair, Medium the Fingernail (voiced by Norio Wakamoto!) and Fresh the Pike are some of the worst examples of humanity and only the fact that they are employed by Boiled makes them the lesser of two evils.
Art direction, CG animation are all fine and spot on, insofar as, they don't become the point of the film, they merely help it along. Susumu Kudo does an excellent job of having a nice didactic pace with fast and slow moving moments in the film, designed to help us into the universe but not give us info-overload. Music-wise, Conisch (it's a guy, yeah I had to look him up on the net) gives good pacing, exploring softer moments contrasting with standard anime chase music when called upon to deliver something sellable. You've never experienced "Amazing Grace" sung by a Japanese person until you witness the cacophony of blood, violence and vengeance at the films denouement. Trust me, it's special.
I like what Mr. Ubukata is trying to do. I can't tell if he wants to be Paul Verhoeven, Satoshi Kon, Quentin Tarantino or Arthur C. Clarke. I'm also trying to figure out what he's saying in his latest endeavour. Is it a treatise on child abuse and the effects on the victim? Is it a polemic on the loss of innocence as we become shaped by the adult world and it's pitfalls? Is it a think piece on technology and the effect it's having on the human body and human condition? Or is it a morality tale with some kick ass action scenes where characters blow the living s%&t out of the scenery? Honestly I couldn't tell you. Maybe it's all of those things put together. But whatever it is, it can't and shouldn't be resolved within the confines of one movie. Now, the other two proposed films could turn out to be nothing more than hot air or worse still, fail to build on the successful world-building the first film achieved. But I know that I want to see the rest of this story. And this film needs to be seen in the cinema and at home where you, the readers, are right now. And you need to talk about what the hell the point of the film really is. It is not a "What just happened?" moment like Akira. I could tell what I think the whole point of the film is but it's a personal choice kinda thing here, people. You have to decide, firstly, if you like it to begin with and second, how you feel about it right after that. This is your command to carry out. I order you to do so! This is not a "Oh my God. This film has changed my life!" kind of thing. But it is a good movie that deserves an audience.
Mardock Scramble debuted anywhere in the world at the New York Anime Festival 2010 and Mr. Ubukata was in attendance and spoke before the film and answered questions after the film was over and even signed autographs for those in attendance. Attendance was a problem as NYCC/NAYF did a pretty miserable job telling people the film was showing. I had to rummage thought the con guide to find out it was playing. No marque banner on the website, no splash page in the guide. I think it was a minor miracle that anyone figured out the film was playing. Regardless, no word yet as to whether or not it'll be picked up but if fans want, whenever you're at the next con, ask one of the label reps if they're thinking about this one. It comes with my highest recommendation.