|The Wachowski Brothers are saturating the Market with all things The Matrix related. Two movies in one year, one straight to DVD collection of animation and one full fledged playable movie for video gamers everywhere! The Animatrix is the Wachowski Brothers' tribute to one of their biggest ever influences: Japanimation! Andy and Larry love this stuff so much that they (and a few of their closest friends) have created a companion piece to their movies set entirely against a beautifully animated backdrop! All nine of these animated tales are worth watching, though some are better than others. Because of this, The Animatrix is specifically the sum of its many (mostly unrelated) parts. It's very good, but just misses being perfect! Disjointed though it may be at times, The Animatrix is universally well animated, and has to be respected for that alone! The only fair way to review this in my opinion is to take each piece individually and then sum the parts (as the filmmakers did).
The Animatrix begins incredibly with the short Final Flight of the Osiris which leads directly into The Matrix Reloaded! Directed by Andy Jones (the Animation director of the amazing Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) this one could scarcely be any better than it is! It shows its pedigree with photorealistic characters and breathtakingly beautiful imagery. Jue's skin alone is worth a Best Animated Picture Oscar! In typical Animae fashion, this one starts off with a beautifully choreographed sword fight scene that is just breathtaking! The remainder of the film is action packed and so amazing to look at one has to wonder why Andy Jones isn't a household name. The battle scenes, the martial arts, the chases, the tension... it's all amazing! What steals the show here, however, is the emotions found in the very faces of these virtual humans! The longing and the love and the fear that Thadeus and Jue show for one another while still bound by militaristic duty is so realistic you actually cared for these nonestistant people. As great as this is, I have to wonder if there just might be a Gregory Benford Moment or two here. Some have asked why the Electromagnetic Pulse wasn't used against the Sentinels here, but that makes sense, as Jue had to get the message to the other freedom fighters. However, in the original Matrix it was said that the only weapon that the humans have against the Sentinels is the EMP, but the Osiris uses projectile weapons. The title of this short pretty much gives the ending away, but there is so much to that ending to love... whether you've seen The Matrix Reloaded or not, you want to immediately after this one's over! YYYY1/2
The streak doesn't quite continue though as The Second Renaissance Part I (Directed by Mahiro Maeda, of Ultraman and Macross experience) begins. It's not a bad short, however it's not quite up to set expectations of The Matrix series! The Second Renaissance Part I sets up the rise of the machines who will eventually control the Matrix as well as all of humanity. Here's a story I wanted to see! Unfortunately it's disturbing as hell to see the way this comes across. For one thing the picture is painted that humanity deserved what it got. Wave upon wave of nastiness and inhumanity illustrates the culpability of the human race in its own demise, to the point that one actually identifies with the machines. For another thing, these aren't just computerized villains, these are anthropomorphic robots walking and talking and wearing hats and ties. It really gives a different feel to what we knew of The Matrix, but it's hard to claim this is "incorrect" because Andy and Larry Wachowski did write it. YYY
Also directed by Maeda is The Second Renaissance Part II which continues the origin story of The Matrix! By this point the machines have set up their own colony and are in full on war with humanity (by humanity's choosing). The machines have created tougher, sleeker versions of themselves and of the machines that carry them. The whole thing rings of another successful Sci-Fi series, Terminator. The machines becoming self-aware, the threat of humanity causing strife, the apocalyptic war that leads to humanity's subjugation... it doesn't end. Sure this isn't an insult to the story we know, it just makes The Matrix this much less original in feel! It's hard to give any spoilers here at all, as anyone who has seen The Matrix knows how this one's going to end, but it's the overall feel of human negativity that makes Neo and crew all that much more difficult to root for. Actual cheers when the sky is "blackened" makes what originally felt like a reluctant act into a sickening prediction of the self destructive nature of our race. Are these really freedom fighters here, or are the people of Zion the last remnants of a society that was really just as bad as the administrators of the Matrix in the first place? YY1/2
Kid's Story, directed by Shinichir˘ Watanabe (another Macross veteran) also relates directly to The Matrix Reloaded in its detail of one of Neo's most fervent followers. This is a unique take on a normal human's search for the truth and eventual discovery of that truth in the "Real World." Kid's Story might be a little hard to follow at times, and it might not meet up perfectly on every level, but it's an interesting story and very exciting! Not that anyone out there was dying to know about Kid after seeing The Matrix Reloaded (any more than Jar Jar Binks' back story is in demand), but it definitely fills in some blanks! YYY
Program by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) is the first of five shorts not written by the Wachowski Brothers. Kawajiri truly does understand the vision of the brothers here though as he details a fascinating training program with a special test involved. Cypher's plight of giving up the knowledge of truth for blissful ignorance and which choice is the smarter is explored here in spades. This one is not only a great companion piece to The Matrix but it's incredible Japanimation showing its roots in glorious art and classic Japanese imagery! YYYY
Kawajiri's World Record (directed by Ninja Scroll director Takeshi Koike) is yet another unique take on reaching self awareness and escaping the Matrix itself. This details the journey of an Olympic competitive runner fighting to break new records while avoiding losing any to his peers. The faster he runs, the more transcendent he becomes, and that doesn't sit too well with the Agents assigned to watch him. Oh, I could spoil this one, but I just won't do it! It's a sight to see. Unfortunately it was hard to tell exactly what had transpired in the end. You make the call... maybe you can explain it to me! YYY
The Animatrix gets playful with Beyond by Koji Morimoto (Animation director on no less a film than Akira). Beyond details a young woman looking for her lost cat who finds a programmatic flaw in the Matrix where reality (for her) bends and is bent! It's cute and fun, but Morimoto never allows us to forget that the Matrix is the Matrix! It gets dark quick, but it's still a hell of a lot of fun for the kids. YYY1/2
Wantanabe writes as well as directs the noir prequel A Detective Story detailing a Sam Spade like Gumshoe who is the latest in a line of private dicks hunting for Trinity! Naturally, he thinks Trinity is a guy, but as she herself said "Most guys do!" The sparse color and mixture of technological levels add to the overall film noir themes. There's plenty of action here, but the attention to minutiae in the scenery and even tiny hints are truly appreciated. Sure Trinity dresses almost too sexy, and the ending leaves a little to be desired, but this really is a unique and exciting element in the overall Matrix structure! YYYY
Matriculated by Peter Chung (Aeon Flux) is beautiful to witness on every level, but ultimately it leaves the viewer feeling empty! Naturally, coming from someone like Chung, one isn't to expect much of a happy ending (at least not if you know anything about Aeon Flux). Chung's surface level adventure of mechanical conversion and human interaction with machines again echoes The Terminator (or more specifically Terminator 2 Judgment Day). Fans of Aeon Flux will really enjoy seeing the sinewy, fast moving characters once again, but one can't help but feel a little let down by Chung's ubiquitous cynicism. YY1/2
Using the "Play All" feature of the DVD makes Chung's ending The Animatrix's ending, which is not the best note to leave the collection on. A different order would more than likely improve greatly the appreciation of both Matriculated, and the amalgam as a whole. I would recommend repeated viewers rearrange the order in their favorite way improving each part of the arrangement as well as the whole!
Still this is a very good collection of companion pieces! Just as with comics (even Elseworlds comics) companion pieces are a legitimate addition to any universe. A companion piece isn't intended to be a replacement to the original or even in the same vein as the original... if it was, why would we need both!?!? Here we see more minor characters, and the origins and back stories of others. I for one would demand such a thing if it hadn't already been delivered!
A collective Three and one half Stars for The Animatrix (well, technically 3.3888888888888888888888888888889, but I don't go that deep so I rounded)! It's a near classic, but it could stand for a little rearrangement, and less derivative subject matter. I hope that The Matrix Revolutions is more... well... Revolutionary! There's nothing innately wrong with this, and it's sure to be watched repeatedly. It could be better of course, but it beats so much of what passes for entertainment (especially straight to video entertainment) these days!
The Animatrix reviewed by J.C. Mašek III who is solely responsible for this site and for his devotion to Katsuhiro Otomo!
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