Mardock Scramble: The First Compression
See original review.
On occasion there are shows and films that take me by surprise. In fact, those shows pretty much constitute the majority of what I now call my favourite shows. Mardock Scramble: the First Compression is not quite to that level but it is a show that has risen out of nowhere for me and caught me completely off-guard in a few ways. It is just a film that I picked up on a whim and I have found myself richly rewarded with the most thought-provoking and emotionally interesting sci-fi show that animé has produced in years. Not quite what I suspecting, to say the least. Not at all.
I'll admit that it is no surprise that the show is beautiful. GoHands as a studio have consistently produced attractive artwork and smooth animation for even their TV series so a film such as this was always going to be something special to look at. The music too is more than adequate and I have to give a special nod to the film's version of Amazing Grace that plays over the closing credits. It is also no surprise that Megumi Hayashibara (of Faye Valentine and Rei Ayanami fame) gives yet another fine performance as the film's main lead, Rune Balot, and I dare say it should be recorded as one of her best considering the limitations that Balot's voice has for the majority of the show (she manages to deliver her lines perfectly, even through a synthesizer).
Here is where the surprises come in. At a superficial level, this show could be said to be similar to the Ghost in the Shell - especially in terms of visual presentation - but where that film was populated by emotionally distant, philosophy spouting ciphers, Mardock Scramble gives us one of the most compelling female leads that animé has graced us with outside of a Ghibli film. To be blunt, Rune Balot is simply an incredible character and I was not expecting it. Her horrific past is more than just a backdrop or a plot point but actually permeates through her whole character in a way that I could seriously connect to. The film is brave enough to portray a person who has been victimised severely in every aspect and portray the negative result that has on a person's personality - every ounce of her self-loathing and emotional dependency painfully and brutally affecting because of how real and emphatic it feels. Balot consistently denies the descriptors of good and bad and instead falls somewhere in between, coming across as human. Rune Balot is truly a human character and that was not something I was expecting to see when I slid the disc into my DVD player.
Even with how gushingly positive I've been, there are problems with MS:tFC. The runtime is the first matter, it is just too short. The problem with developing Balot so well is that in a film that barely clocks 70 minutes, most of the other characters (aside from Ouefcoque) are grossly underdeveloped in comparison. Not that they are bad characters, their personalities are clear, well-defined and interesting, but they just aren't in the same league in terms of characterisation. Another thing that gets underdeveloped is the world that the film is set in. We are told (and shown) various things about the setting but, as of yet, the film never really delivers a full, immersive overview - currently feeling like more of a means to an end rather than a core part of the story. The pacing of events also feels a little squeezed because of the runtime and really could have done with an extra five to ten minutes to relieve pressure. Another thing that I feel compelled to mention about the show (mainly because it will seriously impact your enjoyment) is that the film is dark and almost gratuitously so. Given the nature of the themes that the show explores, darkness and very adult content is to be expected but I do get the feeling that the film revels in it too much and I think it does detract from some of its best, human quality.
That said, with two sequels, the film series as a whole can solve most of these problems in the long run. As a first film for the series, MS:tFC has done a fine job. It's exciting and has set up a great main character for the two remaining films. As long as you can stomach the contents then I fully recommend it to you.
I hope in the end that I can give the film series five stars, Rune Balot's story is one I am excited to follow, but with its pacing problems and spotty depth it has to settle for four. Remove two stars if you have trouble connecting with Balot, she is the heart and soul of the story, and don't even bother watching the film if you aren't prepared to be horrified by what it depicts. It is definitely not for everyone. — Aiden Foote
Recommended Audience: For mature adults. There are a lot of rape scenes, and I mean a lot and very graphic. For those offended by rape themes, don't touch this with a ten-foot pole. This is definitely not a show to bring home to watch for a Family Saturday night nor the anime to show friends for an Introduction to Anime.
Version(s) Viewed: R2 DVD
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Mardock Scramble: The First Compression © 2010 Tow Ubukata / Mardock Scramble Production Committee
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