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.
What They Say:
Japan seals herself off from the eyes of the world in the face of unilateral international policy setting strict limits on the use of robotic technology. The island nation exists only behind a veil of seclusion. No soul shall enter. No soul shall leave.
The veil is breached. Japan is infiltrated by agents of the organization S.W.O.R.D., a fighting force operating outside of the protection of the United States and her allies. Their mission: Determine if the Japanese are developing banned robotic bio-technology, forbidden due to its threat to humankind.
In the battle between machine and man, humanity stands to suffer most.
What We Say:
Vexille is one of those films that I had really wondered if there would be a marked difference between the DVD and Blu-ray releases. The DVD release had a decent but underwhelming 5.1 mix capped at 448kbps. It simply didn’t feel like the source material really worked to its full potential and the whole thing felt kind of flat overall. This Blu-ray edition contains a pair of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix with its variable rate and what a world of difference it makes. The action sequences are so much more intense now and the clarity so much more. The main scene early on that really made it clear was when the SWORD group crashes through the window at Mt. Filar. The tinkling of the glass was much more precise and placed with better detail that it really felt like it changed the scene. The music was stronger throughout and the action scenes in general had a much more powerful feel to it.
Originally in theaters in 2007, Vexille is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 using the AVC codec. The DVD release in early 2008 had left me wanting to see this in full high definition, especially as it got an HD DVD release in Japan around the same time. This feature really comes across strongly and eliminates what few problems there were with the DVD release, as well as bypassing the limitations of it. Though it wasn’t featuring a lot of heavy banding, everything has a much smoother and more well rounded feel now when it comes to the colors and the way it breaks down. The blacks look a lot deeper than before and shadows come across very well. The presentation as a whole is very solid and it’s one of the best examples of an anime CG feature in high definition on Blu-ray and very much worth the upgrade if you bought the DVD.
Vexille seems plagued with mediocre artwork to use for its covers and this one is no exception. The cover is a bit more spartan than what we’d seen on the previous DVD edition as it’s an all black background with the red rising sun in the center. In front of that is one of the power suits without any real detail to it in a way as you can’t tell who is in it. It has a certain imposing look but at first glance if you’re unfamiliar with the show it doesn’t really resonate. The plug of its origins alongside Appleseed is again expected but overall they do a good job of keeping it minimal and intriguing. The back cover is heavy on the darks as well with only a few shots from the show itself set against a very murky background. The right side has a pair of brief paragraphs describing the world of 2067 and 2077 while the left half is given over to an extensive breakdown of the special features that make up this special edition. Add in the technical grid and production credits and you’ve got a solid back cover that pushes the technical and special over the content itself. While no reverse cover artwork is here, there is an extremely fascinating and lengthy booklet included with an interview with Sori about the feature and how it was all broken down in their eyes. For fans of the film and the people behind it, this is very worthwhile.
Not unlike their Dragon Ball Z menus, Vexille is rather minimal all told in its design with the navigation strip along the bottom being made up of small tech boxes that sort of relate to the show itself. The same menu design is used for the pop-up menu so there’s some nice continuity between the two there, even if both menus are mostly unmemorable in the long run. The navigation is simple and straightforward so it works well but it’s not surprising that it isn’t more elaborate. Submenus load nice and quickly and navigation is certainly easy and pleasant to work through. The disc correctly read our players’ language presets and played accordingly.
The original DVD release had nothing to it, but the new DVD release and this Blu-ray edition provide over two hours of extras. Thankfully, FUNimation has broken things down in a way that really makes it very accessible both individually and as a larger piece. The main chunk of the extras, which covers a wide range of material such as the voice action, the animation side, Sori’s past and much more, is done as a nearly two hour special. Each of the individual sections are broken up in a way so that you can get to it from the menu and check out the areas that really interest you. This makes it look like there’s a lot here – and there is – but also makes it very accessible. In addition to that, there’s a fun little “Secrets of Vexille” section as well as the original TV spots and the previews for the feature. This is a very loaded disc in terms of extras – in standard definition – that really helps to expand on how the film was made and received.
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.
When we first saw Vexille earlier this year, it turned out to be quite a bit more fun than I was expecting. It had plenty of similarities to Appleseed which was to be expected, but it also forged its own path along the way and played in a very different kind of setting. It also took the interesting route of really taking a different view of Japan and how they’d survive this kind of isolation in the world. So many stories about Japan in the future are done in various stages of utopia that to see one presented in this particular manner feels unusual. And now getting to see it and hear it in high definition, Vexille only becomes all the more engaging. This is a strong presentation and one that FUNimation really should be pushing a lot harder at the mainstream audience. There’s no reason this shouldn’t be selling the same as Appleseed: Ex Machina did and getting out there into the hands of a lot more people. Definitely worth every penny of the upgrade from the DVD release.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English TrueHD5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Opening Comments from the Locarno Film Festival, Following Sori's Work as an Animation Creator, Voice Acting Footage, Creating the Cities in Vexille, 2007 Tokyo International Anime Fair Event, Sori's Guest Lecture at Digital Hollywood Tokyo, An Old Friend Pays Sori a Visit, Behind-the-Scenes Footage of ICHI, Creating Vexille's 3D Animation, Creating the Music in Vexille, Sori's Closing Comments, The Secrets of Vexille, Original TV Spots and Previews.
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.