Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
In the future, nobody can hear you scream: Rune Balot learns this the hard way when, forced into a life of prostitution by an abusive father, she has no one to turn to but the infamous gambler, Shell. But Shell is no angel himself. He slaughters Balot with poison gas and fire, and he wipes the memories from his mind to erase the deed from history. But fate intervenes, and Balot is rescued by the eccentric Dr. Easter and the hyper-intelligent, shape-shifting mouse, Oeufcoque. A technicality in the law allows them to bring Balot back from the brink of death, to gift her with a cybernetic body, and to allow her to bring her attacker to trial. But in a city where lawsuits can be resolved through murder, can Balot survive the dark forces with designs on her life, or will she give in to the dark call of revenge as it wakes in the deepest parts of herself?
Man, if ever there was a movie that proves that not all anime is for children, Mardock Scramble is it. This is actually the first of three movies that adapt the novel series of the same name by Tow Ubukata, and I’ll inform you now that it ends on the most frustrating of cliffhangers, all but demanding you jump right into Mardock Scramble: the Second Combustion. Sadly, time did not allow me to do this myself, and so The First Compression gets reviewed separately, devastating cliffhanger and all.
First and foremost, this is a very mature movie: blood, guts, bare breasts, and sexual content abound, to the point that I was looking over my shoulder to make sure my parents hadn’t wandered into the room. But all of this questionable content is presented in context and appropriately critiqued, and Balot is never stripped down as mere fan-service. That’s where my first great praise for Mardock Scramble arises: Balot, for all of her vulnerability and for all the salaciousness of her gritty life, is never treated like an item, never presented as something to be consumed by the audience, so to speak. And she reacts to her hyper-sexualization in an apt way. When she finds a camera hidden away in a women’s bathroom, she destroys it while feeling both disgusted and defenseless. When men look at her as prey, she’s horrified and angry. Kudos to this movie for giving Balot both a spine and an openness that so many anime heroines lack.
Second, The First Compression covers a lot of territory in just over an hour. What’s most impressive, however, is that the movie never feels rushed, and it avoids leaving out crucial story details the way some adaptations do. Furthermore, it actually lingers on important character interactions rather than on the (visually impressive) fight sequences. The audience is given time to connect with Balot and her unusual companions, which makes all the running and gunning (and that damned cliffhanger) all the more hard-hitting when they do put in their appearances.
That brings me to the third point: the characters. Mardock Scramble has brought together a wonderfully vivid cast of flawed human beings (and one mouse). Not only are their designs striking, but each person is imbued with an actual personality. From smooth-operating sleezeball Shell to grim-faced grim reaper, Boiled; from the well-meaning and mysterious Oeufcoque to the deranged hitmen sent to eliminate Balot – every one of them is a guilty pleasure to watch, even as they inflict terrible pain and damage on one another. It’s particularly fascinating to watch Oeufcoque and Balot interact, as they are both two beings on the fringe of being human, both trying to navigate emotions that they can’t quite understand while facing an uncertain future. That sort of character introspection is something I can really get behind. I could, however, have done without all the egg-themed names. (Trivia time: oeuf a la coque is French for “boiled egg”.)
Finally, as you’ve no doubt deduced from the above screenshots, this is a beautifully animated movie. The colors are vibrant, the lighting is dramatic, and the animation itself is smooth as silk. There are more than a few instances of clunky CG, mostly where cars and cityscapes are involved, but it’s easy to overlook such moments when every other frame is beautiful enough to be hung on a wall as art. Just look at the world of Mardock Scramble reflected in Shell’s pretty-boy sunglasses:
Action scenes are particularly dynamic. Even if you’d rather pass on this piece, you’ll want to watch the shoot-out between Balot and the body-collecting bounty hunters from the end of the movie simply for the ballet of gorgeous violence that it becomes.
Here’s my final verdict. Mardock Scramble: the First Compression is a beautiful movie worthy of your time and attention, and you should jump over to Hulu at the first opportunity and watch it. But make sure you have a way of watching The Second Combustion immediately afterwards, lest you find yourself stunned and shell-shocked by the ending, like me.