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The Animatrix
Reviewer: Rowena Lim Lei 06/16/2003

Synopsis:
The Animatrix is a collection of nine short stories all related to the Matrix universe:
  • "Final Flight of the Osiris"
  • "Second Renaissance" (Part 1 and 2)
  • "A Kid's Story"
  • "Program"
  • "World Record"
  • "Beyond"
  • "Detective Story"
  • "Matriculated"
Review:
Before anything else, I have to say that it's a must to have watched The Matrix (although not necessarily Matrix Reloaded) in order to have a good understanding of The Animatrix. All the episodes are anchored in the world presented in The Matrix, and a chockfull of references abound to events, characters, and situations that had been seen on the aforementioned film. Neo and Trinity (aptly voiced by their live-action counterparts Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss) even make appearances in the stories at some points.

First we have "Final Flight of the Osiris", which I thought had the most arresting visuals of all the episodes. It's from the folks who brought us "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" but this time, the computer-generated characters look even more real (even I didn't think it was possible) than those in Final Fantasy ever did -- down to every hair, pore, and freckle. Story-wise though, it is as the title says -- about the last flight of a ship called Osiris. Osiris is under heavy attack from an army of sentinels. One of its crew members, a beautiful woman named Jue, decides to plug in and make one final broadcast in the Matrix. Simple yet stunning, not to mention brimming with fan service, every moment of it left me in awe.

Next we have what are arguably the most powerful and meaningful episodes in terms of plot, "Second Renaissance". Second Renaissance shows us how man advances in terms of robotics, creating mechanical assistants with sufficient artificial intelligence to carry out various laborious tasks. The problem is, the robots become too smart. They start clamoring for equal rights and recognition among humans, but the humans are staunch in their belief that robots must be their slaves. A war between humans and robots ensue... with very mixed results. Second Renaissance is directed by Blue Submarine No. 6's Mahiro Maeda. Overall I found Second Renaissance to be a superior piece of work with its realistic storytelling approach and equally appropriate imagery.

Cowboy Bebop's Shinichiro Watanabe tries his hand at the franchise with "A Kid's Story" and "Detective Story", which are probably the most directly related episodes to The Matrix movie. "A Kid's Story" (see third screenshot below) is reminiscent of what happened to Neo. A teenage kid makes contact with Neo on the internet, which in turn unleashes hordes of men in black suits who go after him in school. I found the art and animation to be unique and stylish, although I didn't really care for the character designs. The scenes seemed to consist of colored pencil sketches moving with great fluidity, giving the episode a surrealistic effect that matched what was taking place perfectly. Meanwhile, "Detective Story" (see second screenshot below) is about an investigator hired to track down a hacker called Trinity. He succeeds, but there's a price to be paid for their meeting. Detective Story's monochromatic look reminded me of Dick Tracy-esque comic strips you'd see on newspapers, except that its artwork is a lot more refined. Of the two Watanabe offerings, I'd say I liked Detective Story better.

It took only one look for me to deduce that the fourth episode, "Program" (see first screenshot below), is Yoshiaki Kawajiri's (director of the cult classics "Ninja Scroll" and "Wicked City") contribution. The character designs were just so... Ninja Scroll-ish, as anyone who has seen Ninja Scroll can attest. Program shows us two people arguing about going back to how their life was before, or living with the truth of the Matrix. They present their points while slashing at each other with their weapons of choice. What really struck me about this episode were the fighting scenes, which came across as an ingenious blend of 2D and 3D effects. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.

In "World Record", we have an Olympic runner who's obsessed with setting a world record. Majority of the screening time is devoted to actual run -- sweat dripping, muscles rippling... that kind of thing. Of all the episodes, I found this to be the least attractive. The characters looked weird and the story was so-so to say the least. I could not even enjoy watching the guy run because he looked so... unsightly.

"Beyond" (see last screenshot below and title graphic) is about a punk-ish young woman who discovers that her cat is lost. She goes looking for him in a so-called "haunted house" and discovers a world of wonders inside its premises. It shows us what happens when some ordinary, uninitiated folk stumble upon a part of the Matrix. The art and animation are very colorful compared to all the other episodes, and watching it felt like getting a breath of fresh air.

Last but not least there's "Matriculated", Aeon Flux-creator Peter Chung's take on the Matrix. Like "Program", I knew right off who had spearheaded this feature because the character designs are exactly like those I had seen in Aeon Flux -- defined facial contours, lithe and willowy bodies, and so forth. Matriculated is about a group of people who "rehabilitate" various sentinels by plugging them in and convincing them that they are better off siding with humans. I found it to be one of the more interesting and solidly narrated episodes in this collection. Visually speaking, it's satisfying I guess... it's just that I'm not really a fan of Peter Chung's animation style.

To cap this review off, I should mention that this is one of the rare occasions where the English language version is a lot better than the Japanese counterpart. The Animatrix is overall an excellent collection, definitely a must-see for fans of The Matrix and anime. It's the perfect title for easing someone into anime... provided he / she had already seen The Matrix and liked it.

Miscellanies:
DVD extras include behind-the-scene featurettes, a documentary on anime history and culture, and "Enter the Matrix" video game trailer.

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The Animatrix
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Review Title:
The Animatrix
Type:
OVA
Episodes:
9
Duration:
90 Minutes
General Rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars
Aired:
2003
Suitable For:
Young Adults
Genres:
Action, Drama, Fantasy,
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