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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: C+
  • Menus Rating: B-
  • Extras Rating: A+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Other
  • MSRP: 24.98
  • Running time: 90
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Animatrix

Animatrix

By Chris Beveridge     May 25, 2003
Release Date: June 03, 2003



What They Say
The Final Flight of the Osiris
Written by Andy and Larry Wachowski; Directed by Andy Jones
Animation and production design by Square USA, Inc.
The crew of the hovercraft Osiris must get a message back to Zion, a message of vital importance. Easy to do, but for the armada of Sentinels between them and Zion.

The Second Renaissance � Parts 1 and 2
Written by Andy and Larry Wachowski; Directed by Mahiro Maeda
Animation and production design by Studio4�C, Tokyo
The Genesis of the Matrix: the last cities of mankind, the war with the machines, and humanity�s ultimate downfall. An epic guided tour of the Zion archives and the history of the Matrix.

Kid�s Story
Written by Andy and Larry Wachowski; Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe
Animation and production design by Studio4�C, Tokyo
Sitting in his high school classroom, THE KID gets a personalized invitation from Neo (voiced by Keanu Reeves) to escape the Matrix. But finding an exit proves more difficult than he ever imagined.

Program
Written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Animation and production design by Madhouse Studios, Tokyo
In the simulated world of a Samurai training program, CIS, a soldier of Zion, is forced to choose between love and her comrades in the real world.

World Record
Written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri; Directed by Takeshi Koike
Animation and production design by Madhouse Studios, Tokyo
Through an incredible combination of will power and physical strength, DAN, a world-record-holding sprinter, breaks out of the Matrix and gets an all-too-brief glimpse of the real world beyond.

Beyond
Written and directed by Koji Morimoto
Animation and production design by Studio4�C, Tokyo
In a quiet town where all is not as it seems, YOKO finds a bug in the system: an abandoned mansion in which anything seems possible. And then the exterminators arrive to �de-bug�.

Detective Story
Written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe
Animation and production design by Studio4�C, Tokyo
Hard-boiled private investigator ASH tracks cyber-criminal TRINITY (voiced by Carrie-Anne Moss) through the looking glass�

Matriculated
Written and directed by Peter Chung
Animation and production design by DNA, Seoul
A small group of rebels have captured a sentient robot and proceed to program it to act as an ally for their cause. They succeed too well in teaching the robot to prefer their �human Matrix� to machine reality. And the robot�s appetite for the �human Matrix� may exceed the humans� ability to supply it.

The Review!
A truly rare project, Animatrix is the culmination of east influencing west and then going back east once again.

Audio:
Depending on the piece you watch, there�s likely to be some discussion about which language constitutes the original language to watch. For myself, I watched all of these in Japanese with English subtitles as it felt the most natural when watching it outside of the one all-CG episode at the beginning. Both tracks utilize an excellent 5.1 mix that provides a solid amount of directionality and an excellent score to work with. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout and we had no issues with dropouts or distortions.

Video:
Done the same as the films themselves, this set of nine episodes is done in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen sets. What we get with that is a really gorgeous looking disc that brings out even more life from these shorts. Some are more vibrant than others and look sharper, but the retention of the solid blacks and other shadings comes across beautifully here, particularly in the CG episode. Throughout regular playback we noted nothing in the way of cross coloration or aliasing. This is an extremely pleasing transfer.

Packaging:
One thing anime fans haven�t had to deal with for quite some time is the infamous snapper case, but they�ll see it again if they get this release. The front cover does a nice collage of images from the various shows set against the falling green data images that have become familiar from the first film. The back cover provides more shots form the shows and a decent summary of the premise and a few of the episodes. Each of the films is listed here as well as the basic technical information. While the program itself only runs 90 minutes and is listed thus, they�re smart enough to list that there�s just under 80 minutes worth of extras here as well. Once you pop open that snapper, the interior piece provides a list of all nine episodes with basic credits for each and a full listing of all the extras included.

Menu:
The menus here are the weakest part of this package. The main menu gives you the simple option of going to the nine shows, changing languages or going to extras set against the visual of looking into a Matrix-style cube. The episode selection menu is done as a grid with the episode names rolling across the top constantly � not in synch with your actual selection. Navigation throughout is decent, but there are areas where you can easily lose track of the cursor, such as language selection, and keep going to the wrong area. It�s not horrible, but it�s definitely weak and not as in-theme as a set of menus for this show could have been.

Extras:
There is a huge amount of meat here for both the fan and non-fan of anime. Almost too much I�d say, as it will take at least two sessions to really go through all of it without getting overloaded.

First, there are making of documentaries for all of the shows which provides a huge amount of information, talking with both the Hollywood folks and the Japanese creators and the studio that handled the bulk of this. Getting to hear the various creators talk about their mutual respect for each other and what they�ve created is great, especially since you typically don�t hear many Japanese talent talking about their U.S. influences as most extras tend to be for the Japanese market.

There�s a twenty+ minute feature about the history and culture of anime which provides a look at a variety of shows over time as well as pieces that are much more current, such as Bebop. The folks talking here definitely know what they�re talking about on both sides, and again, hearing the Japanese perspective on it continues to be one of the more interesting aspects of it. The inclusion of pieces from other shows and benchmarks in the anime world help to keep this feature from being too dry, but it�s the enthusiasm of the creators here that really makes it interesting. While there wasn�t a whole lot of really new information to me here, the presentation of it works well for new folks and for giving the non-fans a real look at why things are the way they are.

My favorite extra though is four commentaries that are available on four select episodes. Mahiro Maeda, one of my real favorites of recent years, gets a chance to comment on everything involved in his two part episode, from how he had to use certain designs to the basis behind the plot and visuals. Getting to hear Kawajiri and his producer talk about their show and some amusing comments about the staff was great, especially since Kawajiri has done interesting commentaries in the past. Takeshi Koikie also provides a commentary for his episode, though that was the one I found the weakest.

These are fantastic extras that are almost required viewing. This is not fluff or all feel-good promotional press junket stuff. These are the kinds of extras that are rare and worth watching every minute of.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Before seeing this release, I was very hesitant about the entire project and what it would accomplish. Various rumors of the initial top-tier talent not being interested in the project to the potential of the scripts being watered down and not all that engaging wasn�t exactly something that would really inspire enthusiasm.

When the first episode of the Second Renaissance was released to the Internet, I found myself very engaged in it and my enthusiasm climbed up quite a bit. I didn�t tackle any of the other ones, as I wanted to experience all of them as fresh as possible on as good a setup as possible, from the anamorphic transfer to the 5.1 sound. So in finally getting the end product in my hands, I ended up going from intending to spend ten minutes rewatching the episode I had already seen to spending four hours going through all the episodes and poring over all the extras.

With the nine episodes here, each is playable by themselves or as a play all feature. If you play them separately, they end by loading up the full credits, which runs about seven minutes. So your runtimes are skewed if you�re doing that. With each episode running ten minutes or under, there�s only so much they can do but they can also do quite a lot. If you don�t want to know about any of the plots, simply skip to the bottom of this review.

The first episode, the only one actually rated here (PG-13) is done by the folks at Square USA, INC as one of the only other projects they managed to get done before going under after the Final Fantasy movie. The animation here shows that they definitely learned from that movie as I think the designs are even more detailed and fluid, though some of the character animations certainly have a way to go. The story here segues into the movie itself but is mostly a fast movie chase sequence with a group of characters in one of the Zion ships escaping from a large number of the enemy drones. They do provide a bit of very nice fanservice from the start with an in-matrix sequence that has a man and a woman sword fighting in a traditional looking dojo, each of them slicing off the others clothes as they go.

The Second Renaissance, done in two parts, is the best episodes to watch in my opinion for getting a real feel for the history of the Matrix universe. With direction by Mahiro Maeda, they travel to the time before when humanity is at its Romanesque apex and has introduced the robotic society to deal with all the things they won�t deal with. The two episodes detail the rise and fall of both races and all the implications in between. There are a lot of segments that they consciously used that will naturally bring to mind real-world events. I�ve seen complaints about this, such as the Tiannamen Square incident being here and a certain piece of Vietnam imagery, being a shortcut or just out of place. I took it in a different direction, looking at the images as being a reminder of what has happened in our past and that we�re often doomed to repeat it. And as Maeda says in his commentary, when �re-using� imagery like that, it brings more of the existing real emotional impact to the scene since there is an association with it. These are by far my favorite episodes, from the use and imagery of the robots as Egyptian slaves to their attempts at befriending humanity in the U.N.

Kid�s Story impressed me on a whole different level. This is an episode that plays directly into the movie where director Shinichiro Watanabe deals with a teenager in California whose being approached by Neo and his group to be freed from the Matrix. This plays out pretty much the same as the first Matrix movie with the men in black coming into the school as opposed to the office, but is more action oriented and has the character go further than Neo did. The animation style used here (which the animation director asked to not be called anything special since it�s a really old technique) is fantastic in its style with anime. I�m not sure how to describe it outside of a rough drawing mixed with rotoscoping anime done with Watanabe�s Bebop style.

Another favorite comes in the form of Program, which was both written and directed by Kawajiri. This one takes place entirely inside the matrix as well and deals with a young woman named Cis who is partaking in some training in a classic Japanese setting when her friend Duo arrives in one of those huge bulky black samurai armor suits. The two engage in a bit of fun fighting on horseback with much of it looking like a scroll (or as referenced in the commentary, an ukiyo-e which is more appropriate) come to life. When Duo tells her that he�s made a deal to go back into the matrix and give up the fight and that he wants her to go with him, she refuses and the two engaged in a gorgeous fight sequence. There�s one bit of imagery where Cis grabs onto a rooftop while jumping across them and you see her set against a red sky. It�s just so visually striking that weeks later I�m still thinking about it.

One of the weakest episodes is World Record, which is written by Kawajiri but directed by Koike. This story focuses on a world class runner who was discredited previously but now trying to prove himself again. What makes him different is that when he runs, the way he pushes himself allows him to see outside of the system that holds him and to cross over. The animation style here is very reminiscent of characters and designs from Aeon Flux. The overall look is just not appealing to me and combined with an uninteresting story, it was the only one that really dragged on.

Thankfully, that episode is followed up with Beyond, a piece by Koji Morimoto. This story is a more traditional anime tale that has a young punkish girl that�s on her own going out into the streets of her city in Japan looking for her cat that left. She ends up coming across a ragged bunch of young kids that tell her it�s in a particular building that�s broken down. While she searches throughout there, strange things begin to happen and we see that this is an area where the programming has broken down. This provides some fantastic sequences such as the kids leaping off of one level but stopping an inch from the ground and hovering, or throwing a bottle against the ground to watch it shatter only to have it reform afterwards. This is a tale that really does a nice job of showing the real non-violent wonder of having some sort of control over the matrix.

Watanabe also managed to get an original tale of his own told here called A Detective Story, and it�s an interesting piece that brings Trinity into play, even bringing Carrier Ann Moss to do the voiceover for it on the English side. The tale is a real gumshoe style black and white noir piece that has the men in black hiring a down on his luck detective to try and find �this hacker� named Trinity. He goes off on various searches, only to find out he�s being used along the way as other detectives they�ve hired in the past have either disappeared or gone mad. The tale is a really odd fit into the scheme of things due to its style, but it plays out very nicely and is a solid homage to the more classic hardboiled detective stories of the 40�s that mixed science fiction into things.

The final episode is also a rather weak one entitled Matriculated. Written and direct by Peter Chung, it�s a tale of a group of humans on the surface who draw in various robot hunters to their secret lair and then capture them and reprogram them, or rather, attempt to enlighten them into working with humans as opposed to hunting them down. This is done by everyone sitting in a circle, the robot included, and all of them jacking into a private matrix and then trying to draw the humanity out of the robot so it takes over its prime functions. We see this process happen in total which is then followed up by an overall attack on the base. Between designs that I again did not find all that appealing and a rather weak story, it wasn�t the best way to end the disc. In fact, after it was over, I went back and watched Kid�s Story again to get my mind off of this one.

The Animatrix is overall an excellent package and a surprisingly solid mix of east/west mindsets to bring a more richly filled history and backstory to the Matrix universe. While there are a few stumbles along the way, there is a lot of powerfully good material here that will attract both anime fans and non-anime fans into enjoying it. I was very hesitant about this release, but now it�s something I want to keep near my player at all times so I can check out an episode or two anytime I want. Highly recommended.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Spanish Subtitles,Scrolls to Screen � The History and Culture of Anime,Seven �making-of� featurettes including director profiles featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes looks at each film,Four audio commentaries (featured on the films The Second Renaissance Pt. 1 & 2; Program and World Record) � all with Japanese audio and English subtitles,Enter the Matrix Game Trailer � exclusive look into the creation of the �Enter The Matrix� video game featuring interviews from some of the film�s stars including Jada Pinkett and Carrie-Anne Moss

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers


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jnager 3/13/2012 5:46:29 PM

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