Mardock Scramble

“I wish I was dead.”

Spoken by 15-year old prostitute Rune Balot, these are the first words that set the dispirited tone of the anime movie trilogy Mardock Scramble. The story is set in Mardock City, a cyberpunk world where the skyline is filled with skyscrapers, cars glide on fluorescent green roads, and everything sparkles like champagne. It’s a stunning place to look at, but it’s also a savage place where cruelty and crime are often left unpunished.

001.jpg

Homicide has become so rampant that the government has authorized a controversial procedure to resurrect victims from the dead to help track down and testify against their assailants. This is one of the several unusual, and perhaps implausible, concepts in Mardock Scramble, but it’s presented with such conviction that it’s not too difficult to get caught up in the moment and suspend disbelief.

005.jpg

The central plot-line, which is essentially about Rune’s revenge, is likely just a catalyst for weightier themes. There are some fantastical action sequences, but the series tends to be more of a character study than a typical action-adventure. The conversations are philosophical, covering a wide range of topics such as the nature of memories and regret, free will, finding a purpose in life, and rebirth.

004.jpg

There’s a lot of hidden symbolism to keep your mind busy if you choose to look for it—such as the egg references that frequently appear. The doctor who performs the resurrection procedure is named Dr. Easter; “scramble” is, of course, one of the ways in which eggs are cooked; and there’s a yellow shapeshifting mouse named “Oeufcoque”, which is French for “soft-boiled egg.” What all these egg references mean, I’m not sure.

002.jpg

Mardock Scramble has a consistently abrasive aesthetic. The art is usually intensely bright, shrouded in shadows, or textured by noise that must’ve been hell for the video encoders to deal with. GoHands doesn’t appear to have cut any corners or expenses with the animation, which, especially in the action sequences, looks painstakingly detailed. And an electronic and ambient music soundtrack rounds everything off.

007.jpg

If you like science-fiction fantasy with a psychological twist, strong and stylish animation, and don’t mind scenes with graphic violence, mental and physical abuse, and nudity, you should definitely check out Mardock Scramble. If you haven’t read the synopsis yet, don’t. The less you know going in, the more surprised you’ll be. Just sit back and get pounced by it.

Advertisements

Agent Aika

aika post

Agent Aika opens with a leisurely tour of the waters that are now covering Saitama. This Japanese city—along with 95% of the world’s land—was submerged after a worldwide disaster twenty years ago. Salvaging work to recover valuable goods and data from these abandoned areas has become a booming profession.

An attractive fighter and submarine pilot, Aika Sumeragi, and her spunky megane partner, Rion Aida, pursue salvaging work at the K2 Corporation that’s headed by Rion’s father, Gozo Aida. Rion is frustrated with her father’s overly generous business practices that have lost profits for the company. Through Aika’s intervention, they agree to a shady business proposition to collect data on a new energy source being developed called Lagu. Unbeknownst to them, Rudolf and Neena Hagen, siblings who were contracted by the military to research Lagu, also have a vested interest in this energy source, and they’re willing to kill to obtain it for themselves.

The fanservice, which—let’s be honest—is the whole point of this series, is brash by the more restrained standards of modern anime. I often see people today complaining about small bits of service that pale in comparison to what this series defiantly shovels into your face. Gratuity aside, I couldn’t help but appreciate the inventiveness of the choreography and shot compositions. The fight scenes are practically balletic in their staging, accented by service that isn’t confined to comedic or sexual situations. The camera itself turns the viewer into a voyeur, giving you a sleazy first-person view of the “action.”

The non-service cinematography was also done well. By episode five, the series starts to demonstrate an impressive play on perspective and depth of field as typically seen in live action crime thrillers.

For a series that likely started as an excuse to fill the screen with panty shots, the animation is surprisingly detailed. The characters are proportionally realistic, and, for an ecchi anime, the premise is appropriately simple. With the support of an eccentric array of characters, my interest was sustained outside of the service.

Agent Aika was clearly a labor of love, something that the creators believed in, and wanted to see for themselves. Many of the people producing anime nowadays—and media internationally in general—don’t seem to have this kind of passion. They simply paint by the numbers laid forth by focus groups, steering clear of anything that could be considered too weird, offensive, or unprofitable. Agent Aika on the other hand didn’t give a damn. It did what it wanted to do, how it wanted to do it, and it did it with style.