Vexille (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, May 19, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2008
What They Say
In the near future, Japan's scientists have perfected the merging of biotechnology and robotics, its benefits extending the lifespans of all humans. However, the United Nations deem the advanced technology a dangerous threat and begins strict surveillance on Japan.
Refusing to abide by the UN's demands to halt research, the rogue nation isolates itself from the world. Enter Vexille, a young female operative of S.W.O.R.D., a specialized military unit charged with policing the potential misuse of robotic technology, sent to infiltrate the neo-isolationist Japan to prevent a potential biotechnological nightmare!
Ten years after a self imposed isolation policy, a special forces squad is sent in to infiltrate Japan to find out what they're up to.
With Vexille being a theatrical release, the odds were good in favor of it getting a 5.1 release and that definitely works in its favor. This release has both the English and Japanese audio tracks done in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448kbps. The film isn't quite as strong a push as one might hope, but when it does utilize all the channels it works out quite well, both in the big moments and the quiet ones. The subwoofer doesn't get a lot of heavy use but overall there are some good accents to be found throughout the presentation. Directionality is done really well in some of the more subtle scenes as sounds and effects are thrown to the rears. We listened to this in its original Japanese language throughout and had no issues nor did we notice anything in spot checking the English 5.1 mix.
Originally in theaters in 2007, Vexille is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Vexille is the kind of film that I expected to be more problematic in a couple of areas but was surprised at how well this looks. Cel shaded CG films tend to exhibit a fair amount of gradients in them which is often in the source material since the budgets aren't Hollywood level, as well as the aesthetic being one that doesn't seem to be an issue with the Japanese. There are definitely gradients to be found here, but they're much more smoothed than I expected them to be. The same can be said of the background noise that crops up, generally in the darker scenes with all the blue colors, which is more reduced than I would have expected. It's present to be sure, but it doesn't stand out nor detract from the overall experience.
FUNimation dips into the slipcover realm once more and it works nicely as the cover stands out more because of the brighter colors and the more visible logo which is done as red foil through the center. The artwork for it is terribly dark however with the character artwork along the bottom of three of the lead characters while the top half shows Japan under a swath of green lights as the sun rises over it. There is a lot to like about it in general, and it certainly fits well after you see the movie, but it's one that's somewhat of a harder sell to a casual buyer since nothing really stands out and grabs you here. The back of the slipcover is a bit better as it's lighter and is able to bring in a lot of shots from the show to highlight the action and characters. The back and the front both use the solid plug of mentioning the creative folks were behind Appleseed which will certainly help market it to that crowd. The summary runs through the basics of how the world has changed which is nicely done and the remainder of the cover has the standard production credits and small technical grid. The keepcase within the slipcover mirrors the slipcover exactly for the exterior while the reverse side features an expanded shot of the three lead characters which makes up part of the front cover artwork.
Vexille's menu is unfortunately quite bland as it's a static piece that features a shot of three of the lead characters together in close-up mode. The logo and navigation is along the bottom and there's a nice bit of mildly dark instrumental music playing to it to set the mood. The menu is certainly functional, but with this being a one-off release and one of some stature since it's a more mainstream theatrical piece, I had expected a bit more effort to go into dolling up the menus. The menus do work well and the functionality is solid. The disc didn't read our player's presets correctly though as it defaulted to English and utilized the English labeled song/sign subtitle track instead of the full subtitles which were labeled as Japanese.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In some ways, it's a bit surprising we haven't seen more movies like this out of Japan after the first Appleseed movie came out. While it wasn't huge in a way that say, Ghibli films are huge, it began to carve out a particular new genre that I continue to believe will dominate Japanese animation for films in the years to come. While Appleseed got a sequel, I was far more interested in seeing what else would be done. The arrival of Vexille is definitely a positive sign that there's more to all of this than just Appleseed, though I would have liked to see something that would push the emotional boundaries a bit more.
Vexille fits in perfectly with what the cel shaded CG film genre can do right now, and that's provide gorgeous settings, fast paced action and a look at a near future that feels incredibly plausible. The film takes place in 2077, ten years after Japan has withdrawn from the United Nations and gone into a technological exile on the world scene. The country has erected devices around its national boundaries that keep it free from foreign eyes. The scrambling that has gone on has allowed Japan to seem like it doesn't exist anymore as nobody has seen what the country looks like nor what they're doing over there. That has certainly frustrated many, but there is still trade occurring on some level as the biggest company from Japan, Daiwa Heavy Industries, has its robots and other mechanical devices all over the world.
With a tenuous world situation like this and the possibility, any knowledge of what's going on in Japan can change things dramatically. This happens through a combination of events where one man tried to escape from Japan two months prior only to be extradited back before he could be examined. And now there is a tipoff about a meeting between numerous world power players with a powerful Daiwa man named Saito. Through this discovery and the fight that ensues, the special services group known as SWORD gets a clue as to how far technology has progressed in Japan as it reveals that Saito is an android of sorts, with his body made up of a biometal. That puts the fear into many of how far Japan has progressed and the critical need to understand what's going on over there under the veil of secrecy that they have.
That launches the series into its main storyline of infiltrating Japan and doing what needs to be done to gather information and discover what's going on. Though it's an ensemble piece at first with the SWORD group rallying around their mission, it quickly turns to more of a single character show as one of the operatives, Vexille, gets separated from everyone and discovers what Japan is really all about. The film is one that proves to be very enjoyable for the view of Japan it provides. The visuals we get of Japan, Tokyo in particular, in 2067 are very interesting and really plays up the utopia feeling that often comes out of their more popular science fiction stories. The dark edge is there with what's going on with the isolation aspect of it as well as the technology but it doesn't go to the levels in a way like Ghost in the Shell. What's most appealing about this film though is that the less you know about it, the more enjoyable it is when SWORD makes it infiltration into the Japan of 2077.
Watching a film like this, I admit that I really enjoy the cel shaded CG style. I was one of the few that came out of a theatrical showing of Appleseed years ago in love with what they did and seeing that as a natural progression of what Square did years earlier with Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within. Vexille really does play in the same field as Appleseed, which isn't a surprise since it's generally the same production crew, but it has a different sense to it due to Sori's direction and a fairly more engaging story rooted in a more connected present. The characters are growing more expressive and the action sequences are incredibly detailed and fluid. This film has far less of a John Woo thing going on with its visual direction which helps to separate it a lot from the Appleseed films. Vexille really does a solid job of standing on its own and it left me wanting more of what it did here. It'll take more time for these films to become more common, but I still see it slowly supplanting more traditional anime films in the years to come.
Vexille has received quite a lot of praise and hype around the world with its various releases into theaters and much of it is well deserved. While there are some plot holes to be found here and there, by and large it is a very enjoyable film that fits perfectly into this kind of visual presentation. It brings about an interesting world where Japan isolates itself and is kept under a cloak of secrecy, and the first third is seeing how the rest of the world is looking at them and treating them. Once it gets into Japan, Vexille takes it up a few notches by playing with a fascinating setting and exploring things in a way that very few films do. While I do wish Vexille had spent a bit more time on the political and social aspects of its isolation and what went on during those ten years, the final film is one that is just a whole lof of fun and kept me fully engaged for the two hours it runs. And it has me extremely excited for the eventual Blu-ray release as a full high definition presentation for both video and audio will take this to a whole other level. Very recommended, especially since it stands alone and doesn't require any kind of serious commitment like a series does.
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 105
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2