The Animatrix Anime Review
US Release By
American Movie Cash-In Merchandise
Movie of Shorts
9 shorts films of about ten-thirty minutes each, compiled into two hour long movie
If you're an anime fan who hasn't heard of this, perhaps you should seriously consider your status as an anime fan. This movie has a tenuous status as an anime, but it looks like one, and it acts like one, so I'm going to call it one. In case you need an explanation, it's nine short films by some anime directors they dug up that have to do with The Matrix. And since you can order it on Pay-Per-View, as well as buy the DVD, it ought to be readily available.
Oh yeah, these are the shorts (mostly in order):
- Final Flight of Osiris (Square Pictures USA)
- The Second Renaissance Part 1 and 2 (Mahiro Maeda)
- Kid's Story (Shinichiro Watanabe)
- World Record (never heard of the guy, but his name was Takeshi Koike)
- The Program, by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
- The Beyond (Kouji Morimoto)
- Detective Story (Also by Shinichiro Watanabe)
- Matriculated (my least favorite director in the world, Peter Chung)
I'm sure you've seen this movie reviewed everywhere, but the reason I decided to write a review is because I have something different to say about it: I didn't think it was very good. Yes, I saw The Matrix, and yes, I thought it was good. But I hadn't seen The Matrix Reloaded prior to watching the Animatrix, and The Animatrix did little to convince me to see it. Some anime fans might not even call this an anime, because the the only things really done by Japanese people were the direction and the grunt animation. Most of the production was done by Americans, including having most of the shorts written by the directors of The Matrix (y'know, those brothers everyone's talking about).
First off, the quality of the shorts was extremely erratic. Most of them had simplistic, barely-there plotlines, and even those will vanish instantly if you watch without a knowledge of the world of The Matrix (you don't have to be an obsessed fan, but seeing the first movie helps). The shorts basically fall into three categories: ones about the people in the Matrix, ones about people outside the Matrix fighting against it in various ways, and others. The ones in the first category are Kid's Story, Detective Story, Beyond, and World Record. Kid's Story and Detective Story are both by Shinichiro Watanabe (no, not Shinichi Watanabe, the director of Excel Saga; Shinichiro Watanabe is the director of Cowboy Bebop). Kid's Story had a fairly lame plotline. It was just a reproduction of the beginning of the first The Matrix, when Neo discovers the Matrix and escapes from the Agents. The art was bizarre, overstylized, and looked halfway live-action, and I wasn't really the biggest fan of it. It looked a lot like a moving version of the book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. It seemed to be lumpy and incoherent on purpose.
Detective Story was somewhat better, probably my favorite short (still not great, though). The plot involved a private detective asked to track down Trinity. The art was unique and well-done, in a grey sepia-toned style that (together with the plot) recalled old detective movies. Also, unlike most of the characters in the shorts, the main character of Detective Story had a fairly likable personality reinforced by detective movie-style voiceovers. Beyond was about a girl who stumbled across a 'haunted' mansion while looking for her cat. The haunting was actually a bug in the Matrix. The art is extremely impressive typical anime art, digitized, computer-assisted, and every other hi-tech process used on animation these days. Last of the 'discovering the Matrix' stories was World Record, by Takeshi Koike (can someone email me and tell me who the hell that is?). This was, overall, my least favorite short in the whole movie. The art recalled an athletic shoe commercial (some people will like that, but I thought it was hideous), and the plotline was pretty stupid. It involved some runner whose running career was on his last legs, but he's running anyway, yada yada. But while running, he manages to break out of the Matrix.
The next category is the one about people outside the Matrix.This included Final Flight of Osiris, Matriculated, and the one by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (sorry about not knowing the name of that one). Final Flight of Osiris was done by the same people as the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which I despised. This can be readily discerned from the amazing computer graphics and horrifying voice overs, recalling some very bad dubs (it was in English originally, I think). The short is basically just a show of impressive computer animation made to look photorealistic. The plot is about a ship (called the 'Osiris,' of course) that is besieged by those flying octopus things and taken down (but fan boys will appreciate the beginning). Matriculated (apparently, 'to matriculate' means to join a body, especially a university) was by Peter Chung (whom I hate the previous work of). I did like it slightly better than World Record, but the character designs were hideous and the plot, though well-conceived, didn't come out well. It was about a group of people who capture the Matrix's robot servants and use the Matrix to give them a free choice: to stay with the Matrix, or to join them. Most of the short is just psychedelic nonsense in computer graphics, which I found boring to watch.The next one, by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, is really hard to call; on one hand, it's basically a short version of Ninja Scroll (with cool swordfights), but on the other hand, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Matrix. The samurai fighting simulation is supposed to be a simulation in the Matrix, but that really doesn't mean anything within the short. The animation is impressive, though (hyper-digitized like Beyond, except with Kawajiri character designs).
The last category is the others. Okay, there's only one short in this category: The Second Renaissance, by Mahiro Maeda (director of Blue Submarine 6). This one was both the best and the worst. It's about how exactly the robots came to be the rulers of humanity (you'll also find out how the humans blackened the sky). The art is the same hyper-digitized animation as Beyond and the one by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. It's presented the same way as a historical documentary, with a robot voice of the Zion mainframe (or something like that). Let me explain that 'best and worst' statement. It was the best because the story was interesting and relevant to The Matrix. However, (this is wholly a personal opinion) I found it slightly disturbing. The disgusting way both the robots and humans were behaving recalls racial dilemmas of the past in the worst way, and there were a lot of unsettling war scenes (plus a murder by a robot of a human, and a lot of rioting and various destruction). In the end, I would say the only people who will enjoy this short are those people who are fans of both Holocaust documentaries and The Matrix. Violence fanatics will find it too slow and boring; it's presented in the exact way as a Holocaust documentary, showing and explaining the horrifying depths of human (and apparently robot) nature without showing TOO much actual violence.
The animation is impressive, but that's not going to win me over; the stories are slow and pretty boring. Anime fans who absolutely LOVE Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh, etc., will love this movie (especially if they also happen to be a Matrix fan). It's a lot like an art film, and obviously made with Americans at least somewhat in mind. In the end, The Animatrix could end up attracting a completely different audience than most anime. It also stands as a somewhat unsettling signal of a possible American animation revolution that could wipe out the Japanese ones anime fans love (okay, maybe that's a wild conspiracy theory). Oh yeah, and it also makes for a great fan discussion: "I thought Shinichiro Watanabe adapted his style much better to The Matrix than Yoshiaki Kawajiri." "Mahiro Maeda did a much better job than Peter Chung." "Who the hell is Takeshi Koike?"
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Notes and Trivia
Four of the shorts are viewable free online at the official website.
US DVD Review
The DVD features Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in both Japanese and English, along with 4 audio commentaries, 7 featurettes with director profiles, the documentary "Scrolls to Screen: The History and Culture of Anime", and a trailer for the Matrix video game.
16-up; Some bad stuff, much worse than the actual movie The Matrix.
Violence: 3 - A lot of pretty disturbing stuff.
Nudity: 3 - A lot of pretty disturbing stuff.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - One rape, but you find out a second later that she's a robot.
Language: 2 - A little less than The Matrix.