What is the Matrix? Before the Neo Saga, nine different stories are told, each highlighting a different facet of Earth, the Machine and the Matrix. These are stories of how humankind deals with the world it now lives in.
It delves in the present, the imminent attack on Zion. It looks at the past, how the machine finally usurped man. It looks at the training freed humans now have to undergo to fight against the machine. It shows how the Matrix influences people currently living in it. It describes how people strive to free themselves and turn machine against machine.
It shows us how a lonely boy can try to escape from reality. Or is it reality? Just what is the Matrix?
Animatrix is an interesting experiment. With so much interest in the Matrix franchise, the producers pushed for a product. The Wachoski brothers obliged. They are already anime otakus, so they decided to provide a few more stories based in the Matrix franchise world and get some of the best Japanese Directors and studios to produce them. The result? Nine brilliantly told visual masterpieces.
The stories are pretty average on their own, with a broader insight being set for the Matrix world in anticipation of the remaining films in the trilogy. What makes this series are the visuals. Simply breathtaking. Each episode is as varied as can be, but every one of them is sumptous to look at.
The sound and voice acting is of a very high quality, adding to the overall appeal of the package.
Because of the short story format, the series isn’t really coherent, but Matrix fans who aren’t into anime will enjoy this venture into this new world of visuals and likewise, the hardened anime fan will thoroughly enjoy the visuals brought to them by these great animation houses.
(Historical Note: This was written back in February 2004. Thankfully my writing has improved greatly since then!)
Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animatrix
Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s original 1993 Ninja Scroll was somewhat of a sleeper hit until it finally hit our Western shores, gaining immense popularity and a cult following for this blood-soaked, violent samurai epic. It took however ten years before anyone thought of capitalising on its success, and in 2003 we finally got Ninja Scroll: The Series, a 13 episode long series directed by Tatsuo Sato (Martian Successor Nadesico; Stellvia) and animated by MADHOUSE studios.
Ninja Scroll: The Series follows master samurai Jubei Kibagami as he inadvertently gets dragged into an age old conflict between the Hiruko and Kimon ninja clans, sparked anew by the awakening of the Light Maiden Shigure and the revealing of the legendary Dragon Stone, the key to untold treasures and fortune.
And that pretty much sums it up. Unfortunately there isn’t all that much substance to the story of Ninja Scroll: The Series as essentially each episode serves as a new battleground for Jubei to take on and defeat a new and even more outlandish than the last opponent before moving on to the next episode and rinse and repeating. There is limited character development in the beginning and towards the end of the story, but for the most part the majority of characters simply make an appearance in one episode to be killed off in the next. The Dragon Stone and the accompanying march of the Light Maiden acts as the vehicle for this tale of destruction and this is pretty much par for the course for the rest of the series.
We do get a couple of supporting characters to add to the ‘story’ and ‘mystery’, but unfortunately they really aren’t good enough to add anything special into the mix and unfortunately this leaves one with no other choice but to declare Ninja Scroll: The Series as pretty much a brain-dead exercise in futility. BUT, and it is a big but, if on the other hand you don’t really care all that much about story and instead just want plain, all out action, then Ninja Scroll simply doesn’t put a foot wrong. Each and every fight is a masterpiece with innovative opponents and ‘abilities’ for Jubei and his trusty compressed air sword skill to tackle, all of which usually comes to a sharp end with a lot of blood and body parts flailing about. It’s certainly as visceral as its predecessor, that much is without a doubt (although I do have to mention that some of the characters and abilities kind of go a bit overboard, leaning quite far out to the ridiculous and just plain stupid category – though if you are already a big Naruto fan then this shouldn’t bother you even in the least! :P).
Artistically, MADHOUSE goes for some fairly interesting and not necessarily attractive facial designs, but overall their character models and environments are all very nicely detailed and portrayed, making Ninja Scroll: The Series certainly look a little bit above ordinary. The chosen colour palette is surprisingly vibrant though, a little bit of a mystery to me as I might have thought that they would have opted for a slightly more gritty feel to the visuals just to try and make the animation a little darker, edgier perhaps. Oh well, at least I can’t complain about the smoothness of the animation and the excellently choreographed fight scenes which really do at times keep you on the edge of you seat. Actually, there are in fact a lot of stylish samurai conventions packed in for good measure as well, so fans of the genre should be kept pretty happy on the visual front as well then.
Musically, Ninja Scroll comes up strong with some excellent arrangements and a very peculiar but perfectly positioned opening number (by Kitaro and Peter McEvilley) which certainly serves to kick off the show with a bang. Similarly the majority of the voice actors all do a stellar job, with the two lead voice actors in veterans Houko Kuwashima as Shigure and Rikiya Koyama as Jubei both putting in exceptionally strong voice performances.
So in summary, if you are looking for a nice juicy, meaty samurai-influenced story then Ninja Scroll: The Series doesn’t exactly offer all that much. However, if you want to see some awesome, extremely well-executed and violent fight scenes with a lot of blood splatter then you will most certainly enjoy it, meaning that ultimately it is up to the type of viewer as to who will get the most satisfaction out of this short, but polished anime series.
Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninja_Scroll:_The_Series
I recently revisited one of those seminal anime titles that first introduced me to the world of anime way back when… and boy am I glad that I made the effort. Cyber City Oedo 808 is considered one of the original cyberpunk genre releases and is set in the year 2808, in the megalopolis of Oedo (Tokyo). The three part OVA was first released in 1990 and is directed by famed anime director Yoshiaki Kawajiri, with animation duties handled by the ever brilliant Madhouse Studios.
Essentially in a high tech, but pretty dystopian future, the Japanese government has set up the Cyber Police unit to better combat computerized crime. What makes this unit different however is its use of hardened criminals with a history of hi-tech offences and deadly assault to do all their dirty work for them. These criminals are controlled via an explosive collar attached to their necks and are generally motivated to work by the promise of reductions to their sentences in return for successful missions.
Three such criminals are Sengoku, Gogol and Benten who are serving their 300-or-more year sentences in an orbital penitentiary…
The OVA is split into three distinct episodes, focusing in turn on each one of these three characters, though at the same time making sure to emphasise that these three often work together on cases, thus presenting an almost pseudo teamwork feel to the story. Each episode is self-contained and all three pretty much investigate completely different scenarios, the first being a battle against a sentient computer that is controlling one of Oedo’s super skyscrapers, the second being a battle against a military grade cyborg capable of blowing you to bits with its sonic blasts and the third investigating modern day vampirism thanks to a nanotechnology infusion gone wrong.
The stories are all action packed with a hint of intrigue and generally make for a pretty absorbing watch. What pushes Cyber City Oedo 808 up the ladder just that little bit extra is however without a doubt its stunning visuals, with some highly detailed backgrounds and character models, as well as its particularly smooth and stylish animation (which is brilliant considering that this is an early, early 90’s production). The musical score is just as polished and as a package this OVA was certainly one of the top shelf releases for the period.
So if you enjoy a bit of cyberpunk and want to see one of the earliest good entries in this particular genre, you would do well to check out Cyber City Oedo 808. It is not exactly the most awe-inspiring of creations that will leave your jaw on the ground, but it IS an extremely polished and tight package that shows you exactly what can be done with a lot of effort and a good director behind the helm of an OVA.
And besides, it is another Madhouse masterpiece, so why the heck haven’t you seen it yet? :P
Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyber_City_Oedo
Work is slow, so I hunkered down to watch Highlander: The Search for Vengeance this afternoon. Now I was an avid fan of the – Highlander franchise when I was first introduced to it many years ago, lapping up all the Christopher Lambert movies and even the slightly cheesy Adrian Paul series that followed. I watched the childish animated series that followed, all in order to get my fix of all things Highlander. And now the franchise holders have once again forsaken the iconic There can be only one and once again introduced a new feature into the Highlander stable.
Highlander: The Search for Vengeance an anime movie, a joint venture between Imagi Animation Studios and well known Madhouse Studios, with Imagi providing the script and the soundtrack while Madhouse produced the animation. It is directed by the acclaimed Japanese director, Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) and written by David Abramowitz, who was also the writer for the Highlander: The Series, Highlander: The Raven and upcoming Highlander: The Source. –
The story revolves around an immortal called Colin McLeod and his never ending search for vengeance against a fellow immortal known as Marcus Octavius for the murder of his wife Moya, back on the plains of Northern England circa 125 AD. For more than 2000 years Colin has stalked Marcus, losing in battle on every occasion and surviving on sheer luck every time.
The year is 2187 AD and New York lies in tattered waste. A wasteland city, the product of war, pollution and global climate change, New York a city divided into the protected citizens and the discarded survivors left to die outside the sparkling inner fortress city. Colin finds himself amongst these ragged survivors in the midst of a deadly viral plague that is slowly killing all these underground inhabitants off. Oblivious to their plight, Colin wants nothing to do with them or their problem – that is until he learns just who is in charge of the golden inner city.
The first thing I need to say about this title is that the animation quality is sheer eye-candy fantastic. Gorgeous detail, strong colour and extremely fluid action permeate throughout this entire movie, mixing both classy CG with extremely strong 2D animation. The colour palette used is sublime, the best example of which is perhaps the cutting through of Marcus mechanical soldiers or the bullet scrapes during the intense gunfights throughout the movie.
Indeed Highlander is one long action movie, peppered with some truly remarkable and memorable action sequences, especially the sword duels over the various eras. But amongst all these moments of action, a rich story is woven and although a few of the characters such as Joe are cardboard and seem forced, the principle characters of Colin, Marcus and Dahlia get pulled off perfectly. The story is pretty much a rollercoaster ride, throwing a number of exciting bits at you, intermixed with some slow plodding, before ending off with a great ending to good movie.
The English voice actors used carry their scripts well and the soundtrack used works very well, though I must admit to being a little disappointed that no Queen music made it into the soundtrack. Queens songs have always been a staple of the Highlander franchise from the beginning, and it is a little sad that it is missing :(
To be honest, I enjoyed the movie, perhaps more than I should have because I am a Highlander fan. Viewers not familiar to the series will feel a little lost because the film doesnt go far in explaining things central to the Highlander franchise, for example the tagline There can be only one or even the Quickening itself. But the movie really is a great piece of animation, showcasing what todays animation techniques are capable of, particularly in terms of what the Japanese anime industry can produce. Perhaps not the classiest of movies ever, certainly not in the league of any major league movies, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance is definitely a great action movie than most Otaku should enjoy.
Just a note, this is a title not aimed at kiddies. There is quite a bit of graphic violence, gratuitous language, nudity and even a brief sex scene.