A collection of nine short films set in the world of The Matrix, these shorts are the result of collaboration between Eastern directors, writers, and animation studios with American writers and directors. The anime in this compilation consist of: The Final Flight of the Osiris, The Second Renaissance: Parts 1 and 2, Program, Detective Story, Kid’s Story, Beyond, Matriculated and World Record.
summary by Madoka
Highs: East meets West; thought-provoking and unique short films
Lows: Stories and characters take a backseat to style
The Animatrix is the first international collaboration between writers and animation studios to bring anime into the mainstream. Although some of the films stretch the definition of “anime” (in particular Final Flight of the Osiris and Matriculated, both of which were written and directed by Americans), this collection may well be a hint of what is to come in the future of anime.
Of the short films presented, The Second Renaissance and Beyond are arguably the best of the lot and showcase the benefits of such an ambitious effort to produce quality anime for Eastern and Western audiences. Oozing with symbolism, these films in particular contain images that burn themselves on your brain and have the potential to inspire many discussions. Most anime in this collection are less than ten minutes in length but take full advantage of a well-established setting to tell stories that humanize a world of machines and technology.
The Japanese directors of other films, such as Detective Story and Kid’s Story, obviously leapt at the chance to flex their creative muscles and produced a unique style in contrast to the typical anime character and background design. Unfortunately, there may have been a little too much creative freedom allowed. The weakest of the films, Matriculated and World Record, leave little to enjoy beyond their distinctive style. With poor stories and characters relegated to taking a backseat to the overwhelming style, these two films are disappointing to say the least.
With the release of a disc like this to a worldwide audience, anime may finally be on its way to catch the American public eye. Not only do these films serve to complement the feature films they are based on, they promise a bright future for animation.
Highs: The Second Renaissance; Beyond; Final Flight of the Osiris; Program
Lows: Matriculated; Kid’s Story; World Record; Detective Story
Loads of character development are not to be expected in The Animatrix. However, shocking plot twists and well-thought, fluid action are usually enough for a short film to grip its audience. A few of them pull it off admirably, while others lack both.
The best of The Animatrix‘s movies is arguably The Second Renaissance. It cheated by splitting itself into two parts and is, therefore, longer than the others, but it does not misuse its extra ten minutes. This documentary about the rise of the machine, which led to the creation of the Matrix, has an impressive amount of details and originality in both its story and visuals. The right-hand of Studio 4°C, Morimoto Koji, excels in short features, having notably directed Memories‘ Magnetic Rose, Noiseman Sound Insect and promotional videos for Japan’s biggest musical artists and companies. Beyond has the same animation quality and uncanny atmosphere that makes you want to watch again and again. Final Flight of the Osiris is the essence of style with a decent plot. A lot of its precious time was wasted on inconsequential action sequences, but they are animated so well that it’s easy to forget their futility. Program just screams Kawajiri Yoshiaki and looks like an excerpt of Ninja Scroll, except the pointlessness of the combat scenes is eased by constant dialogue and an interesting twist.
On the other side of the coin, half of the short films are below par. A Detective Story is extremely rushed and does not offer much more than an interesting style and world design. World Record is a nice take on the “awakening” process, but it goes nowhere fast and displays terribly rough artwork. Kid’s Story isn’t pretty, either, but even its disappointing brothers offer an original variation to the Matrix universe; this one just rewrites the motion picture in ten minutes. Finally, Matriculated just drags on and on, thinking the psychedelic artwork alone will grip the viewer… but never does. All filling and no story makes Matriculated a dull short.
The Animatrix has ups and downs in equal proportions, but the ups are well worth it. You may end up skipping a few features, but the sheer diversity ensures at least one of the eight shorts will tickle your fancy.
Highs: Covers every facet of The Matrix; a few outstanding episodes
Lows: A few horrible episodes; loses steam towards the end
“Humanity creating the devices of its own demise” certainly isn’t a very original concept. Bleak, Nostradamus-esque interpretations of the future have been done better in Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Soylent Green. Still, none of those works have been presented with the raw visual power of The Animatrix.
While several of the nine vignettes are quite enjoyable, the magnum opus of The Animatrix is undoubtedly Program. This episode successfully sums up the dichotomy of the Matrix (truth versus blissful ignorance) while putting on display several outstanding action sequences in homage of Ninja Scroll (both directed by Kawajiri Yoshiaki). The Second Renaissance, parts I and II, offer a wonderful amount of background with a captivating narrative style that certainly sets the stage for the rest of this movie.
And then there are the duds. To call Matriculated the redheaded stepchild of the group is like calling Lt. Colonel Oliver North a “global entrepreneur”. The much-maligned Peter Chung commits a severe directorial faux pas: using a variety of eclectic camera styles and a psychedelic array of colors to convey unconventionality… in a story that is already itself unconventional. The end result is large helping of style with absolutely no room leftover for substance. Watanabe Shinichiro (Cowboy Bebop) takes the helm of Detective Story and continues the same film-noir-meets-future-present feel he made famous with Bebop… but this is the wrong kind of anime for noir, which relies on strong characterization; the main players in The Animatrix are the humans and the robots, so individuals are treated more as cookie-cutter placeholders who play their roles without much fanfare.
The Animatrix is a modern doom-crier’s wet dream. Humanity may be digging its own grave, but this product of Japanese and American talent is a good start. Soylent anime is people!
Highs: The Second Renaissance; Beyond; above-par techno OST
Lows: World Record; Matriculated
If you have never taken the time to watch the Matrix trilogy, watching The Animatrix just might entice you to check it out. With a combination of big anime studios (Studio4ºC, Madhouse) and the Wachowski Brothers working together to fill in gaps of the universe, this is not your typical anime by a long shot.
Of The Animatrix’s compilation, two parts stand out as being the best shorts I have ever seen in any storytelling medium. Undoubtedly, The Second Renaissance is the cream of the crop in this omnibus. While revealing much of the important history that took place before the Matrix movies, it uses excellent symbolic imagery by transposing examples from ancient Egypt, the Vietnam War and the Tiananmen Square Massacre, as well as featuring some of the most brutal, raw and disturbing storytelling ever in anime. The second best part is Beyond, a simple yet astonishingly beautiful piece by Morimoto Koji. With a wonderful blend of style and substance, Beyond explores what the Matrix has to offer in a short period of time while telling its own story. In addition, the OST is strangely addictive; using songs from big names in trance and techno like Juno Reactor, Overseer and Peace Orchestra, the soundtrack is pure pleasure and greatly enhances each vignette.
However, there are a couple shorts that even the music cannot save. World Record tries accomplishing what Beyond does, but it falls short… very short. Exploring the Matrix and the furthest of human potential is interesting, but the short itself is half-baked, almost as if director Koike Takeshi could not devise a proper strategy to come full circle on both topics. Also, Matriculated is flawed just because of the basic concept it uses: converting machines to the human’s side instead of creating new ones. Maybe Peter Chung believes that an acid trip followed by carnage might be a great storytelling method, but it just falls flat on its face. Pete: I loved your work in Aeon Flux, but Matriculated is a disaster.
While I do mull over whether The Animatrix truly fits the definition of “anime”, another question has already been answered: otaku or not, this anthology is highly enjoyable. Forgive a couple of awful shorts and you are ready for a true treat for the senses.
The Animatrix can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.