Mardock Scramble – The First Compression
As one of the many sci-fi-animes out there, this series actually does have an interesting sci-fi-setting not plagued by mainstream-stereotypes.
Mardock Scramble: The First Compression is the first movie of three and the beginning was an interesting offer that reminded me of the cyberpunk-genre. This may prove to be a really interesting sci-fi-anime that is generally rarely seen in the world of Anime. This could definitely come to be known as the best series of GoHands.
Running Time: 69 minutes
Plot-Synopsis: In a futuristic society, a 15 year old girl named Rune Balot is rescued after being nearly killed. She is subconsciously given the choice to continue living due to an emergency ordinance to preserve life called Mardock Scramble 09. Turned into a cyborg, Balot is then given the choice of assisting the investigations against the man who tried to terminate her. He is part of the powerful October corporation that is stealthily conducting illegal activities.
I think, this may be the key sentence of this movie as it’s about character with miserable lives trying to make the best out of it.
There’s certainly something interesting about the cyberpunk-concept that makes science-fiction-movies a bit different when one doesn’t want to use the usual tropes. Mardock Scramble isn’t really cyberpunk in the classic sense or post-cyberpunk for that matter but it comes near and its setting is unusual enough as are the characters.
Mardock Scramble is a really dark movie and it doesn’t try to hide it with lofty ideals or a utopian future. Instead it’s a gloomy movie about Balot, a girl with a tragic past, so tragic that her answer to her life is her belief that she’s unnormal. She’s one of those characters who is a typical outsider (that part is definitely classical cyberpunky) and gets thrown into the action as she’s picked up by Shell, the villain of this movie-series after being thrown into prison by being caught whoring as a minor.
The plot is rather gloomy as one may understand only knowing the past of Balot and its gloomy vibe never leaves the movie and rather subdues the atmosphere than helps it building up. This starts with the scene with the doctor and goes on with Balot being in court to give a statement against Shell. The problem with this is definitely Balot’s character.
Her character is a depressive one that protects itself by being detached and passionless. She changes towards the end but I would describe it as a rather “cold passion”, one that is learned instead of felt and I guess it’s also kinda reflected by her misusage of Oeufcoque. But there is some development as Balot begins as another suicide-candidate and slowly gains her self-confidence back by relying on Oeufcoque. Her abilities certainly seem a little overpowered for now and the only thing holding her back from becoming god are conscience-related problems. The plot is about a depressive girl turning into a sort of Robocop but prettier and a lot more self-aware (self-aware enough to have an existentialistic crisis for example), well and that’s what you gonna get in this film. Balot starts nearly invincible after nearly dying once and the rest of the movie just proves her invincibility except the end with the dramatic killing of my favourite character of the movie.
Oeufcoque is the best character of this movie, not only because he shows what a great setting Mardock Scramble has but also because his character shows that even if life is gloomy you can still have a strong character. Oeufcoque is a unique AI whose life is at stake after becoming a little too strong for the tastes of his military bosses so if he ever does something his bosses wouldn’t approve of, he would be killed. And the interesting thing is how he tries to live with it by taking the responsibility to live within those limits and redeem himself for what he did in his old days. This is no romantic tale of redemption and Oeufcoque’s redemption at the end isn’t an act of heroism but an act of desperation.
It’s a rather obvious metaphor that starts Balot’s character development by letting her subconscious decide to give life another shot and it’s a great flaw of the movie never to come to the conclusion of what has been started with her rebirth.
The world of Mardock Scramble is a dark place and the setting is surely the best thing about this movie because animes look so rarely at their sci-fi-settings as a thing that has to seem alien to us. Sci-Fi in Animes usually means very stereotypical mainstream stuff but Mardock Scramble truly embraces Cyberpunk in that aspect. From a doctor asking the permission for a procedure by talking with the subconscious of a comatose patient to Shell erasing his memories of Balot along with the rest of the memories connecting him to his crimes, therefore making him innocent regarding anything in his past and leaving his memories behind because they are replacable and storable: The setting is rich with many interesting sci-fi-ideas. Even characterwise the villain-team at the hand who are basically body-parts-collectors which they implant on their own body is just as creepy and dark as the world of this movie wants to be but the problem is that these elements don’t connect, you only see tidbits that are interesting but as a setting it just does seem too random and insular-oriented in its approach.
The plot meanwhile seems to move forward and things happen but why this should interest me as a viewer isn’t entirely clear. The characters are there, a villain is there who sends his goon and that goon takes a team of freaks to take Balot out. The good guys meanwhile, Balot, Oeufcoque and the doctor try to introduce Balot to her new life as Mardock Scramble, an experimental cyborg-technology and Balot is supposed to use her knowledge of Shell’s criminal activities to testify against him in court. But there’s no overall closure and Shell at this point seems like a simple criminal, just another wheel in the clockwork of a crime-syndicate. But that can’t be all, right? There should be more than this. I know, it’s only the first movie of a trilogy but there should be some hint what the overall theme is, what this is about. Will it be just a sort of “How I finally got a life”-story for Balot? Or is there a bigger conspiracy going on (with which I mean one that matters, just a big syndicate isn’t really that big a deal storywise)?
But it’s the first movie, I know… Although it sure reminded me of watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. That was another gloomy movie that lacked closure and felt like a beginning with no end.
A cyberpunky Sci-Fi-Movie that promises an interesting story and already shows an interesting setting. But one can’t help himself but be disappointed by the nagging sensation of this only being a beginning that lacks something without having seen the next two movies. This may be a good thing as a motivation for the next movie but it also means that the plot of this movie isn’t that engaging by itself.
PS: The three short novels it’s based on were combined into one novel for the English translation published by Viz Media and it was released earlier this year. If someone can’t wait to get to see the next movie or just wants to know whether the journey will be worth it (and bothers asking other people about it) here’s a review of the novel by Tow Ubukata. While I do doubt that a review of a novel can be applied flawlessly to its movie-adaption, I have to say some of the stuff that’s been noted there seem to appear also in the movie as for example the rather pondering dialogue with its overwrought metaphors.