The kind folks at Warner Home Video came through again and sent me an advanced copy of The Animatrix DVD, but I couldn’t put up a review until this weekend. It was nice, actually, as I was able to watch it once to enjoy it, and then again for the review. Read More for a full review. Brief capsule: A must for fans of The Matrix and anime in general, mut probably not as interesting for the casual person.
Let me preface this by saying I am not an anime expert. Although I do enjoy watching it, I don’t actually own any, but I grew up drawing Speed Racer pictures and dreaming of flying about the Yamato (well, it was the Argo to me).
A series of 8 animated shorts in the style of Japanese anime set in the world of The Matrix, along with a CGI animated prelude to The Matrix Reloaded
Here is a breakdown of each short with comments.
“Final Flight of the Osiris”
Written by Andy and David Wachowski, Directed by Andy Jones
The crew of the Osiris discovered that Zion is in danger and tries to warn them. This is a prelude to The Matrix Reloaded.
This is the only short that is not standard anime but rather computer-generated. It is probably the most realistic CGI I have ever seen, with realistic, fluid motions and textures. At times its hard to tell that it is not a real actor. The first part, a sword fight between two characters in which their clothes slowly get cut off until there is very little else is very amazing. The only flaw to the animation is that they still don’t seem to have mouth movements during speech quite right yet, but everything else is so realistic I at one point thought they simply filmed real actors and touched them up instead of standard motion-capture or pure hand-animation.
If this were a longer story, it alone would be worth the price of the disk.
“The Second Renaissance, Parts I and II”
Written by Andy and David Wachowski, Directed by Mahiro Maeda
A historical account of events that lead up to the creation of the Matrix, as found in the Zion Archives.
Familiar anime elements, such as the female image as an avatar and narrator for the archives, slow motion images and multi-level imagery. The menial robots appear cartoonish more than realistic, but I understand this was to keep true to the comic. Otherwise similar in style to some of the better anime available. It was also nice to get the history that lead to what we know in the movies,
Written by Andy and David Wachowski, Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe
A kid wonders why he feels more real when dreaming than when he is awake, and inputs his question on his computer – and is surprised to get an answer he didn’t expect from a source he doesn’t know.
This is one of my least-favorite anime styles. The characters are drawn in a more “scribble” style, such that the shadings are inconsistent frame to frame. In addition, the characters at times look more like animated paper cutouts (which for all I know could be how its done), and at other times appear distorted. However, the story was one of the more interesting ones in the set.
This one actually features the voices of Keanu Reaves and Carrie Ann Moss, albeit briefly.
Written and Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
In a samurai-themed combat simulation, Cis must decide between love and truth when Duo asks her to return to the Matrix.
This features more top quality anime and a decent story that fits in well with the Matrix.
Written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Directed by Takeshi Koike
A disgraced track star tries to come back and faces a little more reality than he expected in the process.
Frankly, this is my least favorite. The animation style involves distorted characters, highly exaggerated movements, and very dull and often monochromatic colors. The story reminds me more of an anime that was changed to fit within the Matrix, instead of one designed as part of it.
Written and Directed by Koji Morimoto
Yoko, while looking for her missing cat, discovers a place where reality is a little twisted – rain from nowhere, a broken bulb giving light, and even time and gravity are altered – a rendering bug in the Matrix.
The animation in this one seems at times a little closer to some of the juvenile anime styles, but is otherwise good. It is probably has the loosest relation to the Matrix, but still fits within it well.
“A Detective Story”
Written and Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe
A private detective is on the job to track a computer hacker named Trinity.
This is an interesting anime style and story – almost contradictory. Monochromatic and grainy as if to portray a old-style black-and-white Sam Spade-ish detective story with 40s-era backdrops, but with a story involving computers, chat rooms, hackers and the Matrix. Quite good.
Written and Directed by Peter Chung
Rebels capture and reprogram a sentient robot to believe in a vitual world in the hopes of bringing it to the side of humans.
The non-VR anime was pretty standard. I want to say it was similar to Aeon Flux, but it has been a long time since I’ve seen that to know whether its really that close. The VR segments, which allow the artists a freeform canvas, was reminiscent of the Minds Eye productions of computer graphics demonstrations, but with hand-drawn animation. The story is OK, but a little vague.
There are commentary tracks by the directors on both parts of “The Second Renaissance” as well as “Program” and “World Record”, Making Of specials and director’s bios of each, and a special about the culture and history of the anime style and the influence of anime on The Matrix. Plus there is a an preview for the “Enter the Matrix” game.
The commentary tracks provide a lot of insight as to what the director was attempting to convey in scenes – both successful and not. The history of anime was very interesting as I had never seen one before. It features clips from some classics such as Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers in the US) and Gatchaman (originally Battle of the Planets, and re-translated as G-Force in the US).
Plot/Story: Tough to qualify this score given the diversity and short nature of the stories, but I liked the historical nature of “The Second Renaissance” and a few of the others. Others, like “World Record”, I could do without. A couple probably could have been told better or been clearer. 3/5.
Special features: Almost as much special features as there was animation, and enjoyable. 4/5
Visuals: In general, there was more good than bad. The CGI characters were best most realistic ones to date. 4/5
Nitpicks: Mostly mentioned in line, but not that bad. 3/5
Overall: Although this was pretty much a showcase of different anime styles and directors, it seemed a bit uneven in quality. 3/5
Total: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Definitely a must for anime and Matrix fans, but perhaps not for the casual person.