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Mardock Scramble: The First Compression Anime DVD Review

8 min read

Dying was only the start of Balot’s life.

What They Say:
To stop the unstoppable you need the irresistible. To kill the unkillable, you need someone for whom death no longer has a meaning. And to catch the perfect serial killer, you need the one person who knows his methods the best… his last victim! Murdered and reborn, no longer human, the female cyborg Balot exists for only one reason: to track down the man who killed her and bring him to justice. But can even the ultimate hybrid between ghost and machine take down a monster who wipes his own memory… especially when his partner already has her in his sights? The future will be painted blood red as vengeance hit the streets!

The Review:
Mardock Scramble makes out well with its audio presentation by getting both of its language tracks, Japanese and English, in a 5.1 mix. The show has some solid moments to it where it gets to work its magic, but a lot of the best uses come with the dialogue in terms of placement and depth. The show goes big at times and the payoff is certainly there, but it’s also the accents of the music that helps to make it a solid, fully realized work. There’s a good warmth to a lot of the dialogue and from the performances at times that lets it carry through well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released in theaters in 2010, the transfer for this features is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The presentation doesn’t use a terribly high bitrate and part of it is just the style of the show where there’s a fair bit of stills, but also a good amount of seemingly intentional grain. The problem is that with a lot of green hues here in dark scenes, it has a fuzzier than normal look and when things sit still or move too fast, you can see more of the noise and breakup in the backgrounds. There are some good looking scenes to be had at times, but just the first couple of minutes will reduce expectations with the way it plays out.

The packaging design for this release is a mixed bag as it has its appealing elements, such as the attractive young woman in skintight clothes with a serious look and a gun in her hand, bu tit’s set against such a dark, murky background that it loses some of its impact as she does blend into it too easily. That’s partially the point but it makes it less appealing. The background has a wedge of easily visible cityscape behind her with its lighter colors and the greens, but most is given over to blacks and purples that dominates it. The back cover is a bit brighter with the right side having some white space in which we get the taglines and the plot concept while the left has several shots from the show that push its darker nature. There’s another murky shot of the lead below that which isn’t bad and fits with the overall layout, but it’s not a huge selling point. The remainder is given over to the usual production credits and a clean and accurate technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for the release is very simple with a static image of the cityline across the screen with the water in front of it in which the menu navigation is located as well as the logo. The cityline itself is really nicely done with the green energy bursting forth from it that gives it an appropriately eerie feeling. This is accented by the soft but distinct music that sets the mood even more. The layout is straightforward as you’d expect with a feature as we get the main selections and a submenu for the discs extras. The release did read our players’ language presets and played them accordingly.

While there is a special features menu, all it has is a series of trailers and disc credits.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the novels of the same name from Tow Ubukata, who has had some striking works over the years, Mardock Scramble is having the three novels adapted into films with this being the first one. The novels ran from 2003 to 2010 and the animation production has been handled by GoHands, giving it a solid feel and a look of its own. After Ubukata’s work on Le Chevalier D’Eon as well as Pilgrim Jager, he became an easy creator to follow. Even when things don’t live up to their promise like Heroic Age and Fafner, they still have a very distinct feel to them and stand out from the pack.

The film revolves around a young woman named Balot who found herself with the wrong kind of man named Shell. With a series of girls going missing and several suicides, there are those that are watching out for this and keeping an eye on him. Unfortunately for Balot, they don’t quite make it in time to save her before Shell gasses the car she’s in and it explodes. Her anger is palpable as she realizes what’s going on, trapped inside, but it’s the afterward that’s surreal for her. She ends up waking up in a body much like her own but not quite, discovering that she’s been given a second chance at life as a cyborg. And one that will help this group figure out what it is that Shell’s up to so they can take him down. But like any origin story, it’s not going to be easy, especially as she can’t even talk at first in this new body.

What Balot finds out is that the people she’s being helped by are doing case work of sorts. The doctor behind it, a man named Easter, once worked in advanced military projects and created the new skin that she has. But what they did during that time was considered a crime with human experimentation, so now as part of the group he belongs to he works these cases of people doing things with the banned materials. And that’s where Shell comes in as the people he works for in the October Project deal in an area where the banned materials aren’t banned, name amusements and pleasures. With Shell running some big name casinos, he funnels and launders money for others that uses these things. And Shell himself is kind of cracked in the head based on some of the things done to him as a youth, so he’s full of style, pain and intensity.

The bulk of the show works through Balot trying to figure out exactly what’s going on with the help of Oeufcoque. He’s the most interesting character in the show as he’s a special rarity himself, a universal device that can transform into anything, be it a radio, a weapon or a collar on Balot’s neck. He takes the form of a mouse more often than anything which is where he uses his ability to sniff out odors that indicates hostility, attacks and people watching them. With Balot unable to talk, Oeufcoque and she talk through electronically and that’s what carries much of the show. He explains the case, how the suit will work in the upcoming trial and trying to convince her to stay on board as she is so they can actually go up against Shell for what he’s done. But Balot’s completely unsure of whether she wants to do this, even as attempts on her life are made and others threaten her.

Mardock Scramble has a very odd feel about it, as it’s giving us a look at a world that’s similar but skewed in some significant ways while never being truly clear about it all. There are interesting moments, such as the first hearing and much of how Balot and Oeufcoque work together, but tit also goes in bizarre directions such as the group that the opposing case worker goes to that features some body hackers of sorts, from a man that fills his body with various eyes to another that collects pinky fingers. And even more disturbing is one that adds nothing but breasts onto his already obese body. The investigative side of the feature isn’t terribly linear or sensical, but it’s at least balance by letting us see Balot starting to become comfortable in her body, and to learn what it can actually do.

The animation by GoHands has some interesting bits of style to it, especially when it comes to Balot herself. She has a good look but there’s a definite riffing on Motoko from Ghost in the Shell here. They do manage to cheat a bit in the show though since Balot doesn’t talk for most of it and that makes things simpler, especially since it’s usually her and Oeufcoque talking and they both communicate the same way. The look of the world is also similarly skewed but it has an almost noir-ish style to it with an empty feeling. There’s not many people seen in the course of the show outside of the primary characters and that makes it an even more lifeless feature, which doesn’t help since it’s already hard to connect with Balot.

In Summary:
Mardock Scramble left me wanting to read the novels and the manga after the show just to see if it actually manages to tie things together in a coherent way. The show makes a certain amount of sense here but I can’t help but to feel like I’m missing a lot of context at the least. It has some neat moments and the ideas are definitely serviceable, but it doesn’t come together in a compelling way. It’s telling a story that it knows it wants to tell but is having a hard time clueing the rest of us into it since it’s caught up in it. Watching a story from the outside in this way can have its moments and charms, but largely you just feel like you’re watching it rather than becoming invested in it. And that lessens the enjoyment overall. The pluses here are good, but they’re outweighed by the cons.

Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles

Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 27th, 2011
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 65 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480 i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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