Sci-Fi Action

Overview: Now that Matrix Revolutions is out, fans worldwide have the whole story laid out before them to pick apart. And yet, while Revolutions is the end of the Matrix movies (or so swear the Wachowski Brothers), so many people are left with so many questions. Now I won't say that Revolutions wrapped everything up, but I've been pointing out a lot of things people didn't seem to remember. Then I found out it's because they didn't watch The Animatrix. Remember The Animatrix? Collection of short story anime that came out right before Matrix Reloaded? Well, if you're going to really get the whole Matrix story, you've got to watch The Animatrix.

There are eight anime, three written by the Brothers themselves (including one so long it's broken into two parts.) They each have a different creative team and different feel to them, so I'll review them separately.

Final Flight of the Osiris: This is a visual feast, and the only story done completely in CG (computer graphics). Written by the Brothers and animated by the same studio that produced Square's amazing Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, this story is the direct precursor to the events of Matrix Reloaded and is referred to in the opening scenes. The crew of the ship Osiris discovers a terrible secret and must risk everything to get news to Zion.

The Second Renaissance Part I and II: Also written by the Brothers, directed by Mahiro Maeda (famous for the ½ CG ½ anime Blue Submarine #6), and animated by Studio 4*C (topnotch work on films like Spriggan). This story is vital to getting Revolutions, as it shows how everything started: artificial intelligence, 01, the war, the matrix, everything! The centerpiece of the bunch, it doesn't fail to deliver.

Kid's Story: The last of the pieces written by the Brothers, this is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Macross Plus) and animated by Studio 4*C. This is the origin of The Kid, who pops up as Neo's first disciple in Reloaded. The story is brief, but has certain nostalgia as we're taken back to a familiar situation: a guy in the matrix, a hacker, who knows that something is just not right, and has his suspicions confirmed. The animation is the real star here. It's done in a sort of roughed-in, A Ha video sort of way. Some people might hate it, but most will love it. Either way, like the rest of the Matrix properties, it injects something refreshing into an area that's getting too complacent.

Program: This is a seemingly simple action piece written and directed by the phenomenal Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Lensman, Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) with animation by industry veterans Madhouse Studios (Ninja Scroll). In this story, one woman is put in Cypher's position…if she could go back, would she take the other pill? The animation has a great style and action scenes in 'feudal Tokyo' are great!

World Record: Animation by Madhouse, story by Kawajiri, directed by his prodigy Takeshi Koike. This story is about a runner who is on the verge of inadvertently breaking free of the Matrix through sheer willpower. A thought-provoking story about life in the Matrix with highly stylized animation…it has to be seen to be appreciated.

Beyond: Written and directed by Koji Morimoto, animation by Studio 4*C. Morimoto has worked as an animator for years on such films as the original Macross and Neo-Tokyo, and has done miscellaneous jobs as assistant director, producer, or writer over the years between directing for anthologies like the seminal Robot Carnival or the new classic Memories. In this story, he tackles an interesting premise that was brought up in Reloaded, that of the supernatural. Neighborhood kids play at a haunted house while Agents are sent out to take care of some bugs in the system….

Detective Story: Written and directed by Watanabe, animation by Studio 4*C. This story will seem a little familiar as it apes and extends the classic noir premise and style seen in some of Watanabe's Bebop episodes. Shows one of The Matrix's main heroes as seen from the point-of-view of a guy embedded in the Matrix. A private dick is contracted by a secretive government agency to track down a mysterious hacker. Also tackles the idea of those who are too embedded in the Matrix to free their minds...what happens when they learn too much?

Matriculated: Written and directed by Peter Chung (Aeon Flux, Reign), animation by relative newcomers, studio DNA. An interesting and trippy mix of Chung's trademark animation combined with CG, this story tells about a sect of humanity trying to win the machines over instead of dominating them. Strap yourself in for this mind-bending telltale precursor to Revolutions.

So there you have it, eight (or nine depending on how you count) stories from the Matrix varying in length from about five to fifteen minutes. Crisp and clear video, English or Japanese audio, subtitles, a great soundtrack. All the shorts are good for one aspect or another, and all have great talent behind them. It's hard for me to pick personal favorites, as it depends on what mood I'm in, but I tend to like the ones with really different animation from the other anime out there (although really all the animation is a bit different from short to short.) This is really a high-quality product, well worth the money, essential for Matrix fans. About the only names missing from here are Otomo (who couldn't contribute due to scheduling conflicts) and GAINAX, or maybe CLAMP depending on what you like. So if you don't like The Matrix, but you love anime, you might want to check this out as well.

Suitable For Kids?: Not really. A little bit of harsh language, a fair amount of graphic violence, and some sexual innuendo. Besides, the general direction of the collection is a little heady for most kids to be into.

DVD: This is a great DVD, especially for anime, as it has considerable extras on it. First off, a pretty damn good feature about the history of anime, plus making-of features for each short, director commentaries with Maeda, Kawajiri, and Koike, talent bios, a trailer for the Enter the Matrix video game, and DVD-ROM features! Jackpot!

CD: There are two packages of this DVD, and I sprung the extra five bucks for the one that came with a CD soundtrack. This is a separate CD with ten songs used in The Animatrix on it, some of which are exclusive remixes, as well as two techno tracks incorporating some of the score and dialogue from the Matrix films. These tracks range from pretty good to excellent, and if you like trance, house, techno, drum 'n bass, and the like, you should definitely spring the extra cash to get this package, if you can still find it.

For those who've seen the trilogy and are disappointed, disillusioned, or just feel dissed, pay attention. I'm a big fan of The Matrix, and was pretty happy with the films when all was said and done. However, I have the nagging feeling that the whole thing could've been resolved a little better. Of course, you can't please everyone all the time, and that's what the Brothers were trying to do. Still, I made up a list of things that just bugged me about the trilogy, and I've included it here for those who are interested. Feel free to e-mail me with questions, comments, or concerns.

- - Jeff Light

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