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Mardock Scramble: The First Compression Director’s Cut Anime DVD Review

11 min read

Given a second chance at life, Rune must decide if she wants to see her killer brought to justice.

What They Say:
To stop the unstoppable you need the irresistible. To kill the un-killable, 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 now reborn, 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? Or will a shadowy cabal of gruesome mutants who want her body parts for their own perverse purposes get to her first?

This new, special edition director’s cut of Mardock Scramble deepens the mystery, providing even more insight into the dark psyche of the cyborg assassin and her dangerous assignment! Contains both the original theatrical release of Mardock Scramble: The First Compression as well as the director’s cut featuring five minutes of extended scenes and new footage.

The Review:
*Note- for the purpose of this review all info comes from the Director’s cut version of the film
Audio:
Included in this release are a 5.1 mix for both the English and Japanese language tracks. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it is a serviceable one, if somewhat uneven at times. For the most part the dialogue comes from the center track as do most of the effects unless the track is going for a bit of directionality. In some respects this is a bit of a loss as the back speakers fall way down in volume during non action scenes and so don’t contributes as much as one might hope to the atmosphere of the feature. Other than that the track is rather decent as the mix is done well enough so that dialogue isn’t lost to music or effects, while at the same time the music and effects don’t disappear to make this happen.

Video:
Originally appearing in Japanese theaters in 2010 Mardock Scramble is presented here in its 1.78:1 ratio and is also given an anamorphic widescreen encode. The film has the look of one that lives up to its theatrical nature, though some elements do seem a bit hard to tell if they are due to a creative decision or possibly an encode issue. While portions of the film switch between bold colors and some more subdued hues there is often a bit of a washed out look to many of the scenes. While it is possible this is intentional to help create the somewhat dystopian nature of the film as clearly the grain is intentional, there are a few issues that are clearly encode related such as the presence of jaggies, some blocking issues, noise, a bit of aliasing, some color blur with strong colors- especially strong reds- and a bit of ghosting. Just to round out the fun there are also a few CGI scenes that are obvious in their nature, though this isn’t anything Sentai could have done anything about.

Packaging:
The DVD comes packaged in a case that is sure to draw the eyes as Sentai has chosen to use a rather rare type of case. While the case is a standard DVD type it is a rather unique blue grey color that I haven’t seen on the market since ADV’s release of the Zone of the Enders television series. This adds a very nice touch as it complements the cover sleeve well. The case also has a different sort of make up around the hub as it uses a suspended type mechanism and the DVD sits in a pocket with a raised edge that runs along almost its entirety, except for a depression at the top to allow for easier access to an edge of the DVD while removing the disc.

The front of the sleeve uses an image of Rune Balot in a pair of shorts and a top that is a cross between revealing and a bit more conservative as she stands with her jacket over her shoulder while leaning against a lamppost. Behind her is architecture that has a rather classic look mixed with just a touch of futuristic design mixed in as it leads up to a glass arch spanning over the promenade type area. The spine largely crops this image of Rune with the logo at the top with some pink looking blood stains under it set against a white backdrop. The back of the sleeve features an image of Rune on the right looking over her left shoulder out at the viewer as she wears her strap like outfit from the end of the film while carrying a gun in her hand against a red, blood splashed looking background. On the left side is the copy, below which six stills from the feature are present, a listing of the included material and extras with the films copyright and technical information taking up the bottom ¼ or so of the cover.

The DVD itself uses an image of Rune Balot as she stands on a staircase in a rather run down looking building, gun in her right hand and left hand on the banister with part of the city visible behind her and the golden mouse Oeufcoque present next to her and just under the banner that stretches across the disc starting just a bit under the hub.

Menu:
The Main Menu uses the same image of Rune that is found on the back of the DVD cover though it changes things up by putting her against a backdrop that features some of the of the more modern buildings from the series on the left while the right has a more run down but contemporary looking one present. Additionally the background uses a mix of green colors at the bottom that change to blue at the top with some ethereal white and purple wisps surrounding Rune on the left. The right side of the menu contains the various options listed in a white font inside a bordered box that also changes from green to blue like the background. The highlighted options are indicated by a lime-green little block that stands to the left of the options.

The language screen uses a slightly airbrushed image of a naked Rune laying in a liquid from the beginning part of the film while bellow that the English option is on the left and the Japanese with subtitles option is on the right. The highlighted option has a green box bellow it that has the word “Activated” present in white while changing the language provides a green prompt at the top of the respective box that turns red when selected and the Main Menu option has green bars on either side of it. The Scene Select screen uses a green bar in the center that has numbers that hang off it which are present under the image of a bridge tinted blue and above a green background at the bottom with the option to change between the Director’s and theatrical cut in-between, depending on the cut currently selected. The Special Features screen continues the color scheme for the background as well as the box look for the options and it uses a tiled room that has a pipe running along it and a window on the left as the image.

Extras:
The extras on the disc include both the original Japanese trailers as well as the original Japanese promo spot, though it is possible that one could count the theatrical cut of the film as an extra as well.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Taking place in a world that seems a good deal more advanced in many ways from the world we live in today yet which retains many of the same marks and some technology that will be familiar to the viewer, Mardock Scramble is a complex mix of elements with a very modern touch. The story revolves around Rune Balot, a 15 year old girl whose past is a nightmare and who makes her way through her current days as a prostitute and has come to a point where she is more than a little emotionally flat and even wistfully makes an offhand comment that she wishes she were dead.

It turns out that her companion as of late, Shell Septinous, already has plans along that line as Rune is to be the latest victim in his serial murders. Luckily for Rune, Shell is under investigation by a (barley) legally recognized pair who are waiting to see if Shell will attempt to murder Rune and if he does, if they can then get Rune to agree to become a cyborg and testify against him in court.

Just as Doctor Easter and his partner Oeufcoque, who is a bit of a scientific marvel in his own right, are thinking the night may end fruitlessly for them Shell makes his move to add Rune to his trophy list of victims. Shell leaves with a man named Boiled in a separate car, having made a trap out of his car which he has parked in a deserted area as he leaves Rune trapped inside to die in the fireball it is going to become. As her life is ebbing away due to the gas fumes that are permeating the car she pronounces she doesn’t want to die just as the car bursts into flames.

Rune wakes to find herself in an odd room where she is lying in some sort of liquid. During the time between getting trapped in the car and her current waking state she had a few moments of lucidity and one of the characters from that dream approaches. He introduces himself as Doctor Easter and tells her how he has turned her into a cyborg under a program known as 09. The man isn’t exactly endearing as he has an odd manner, has set up shop in a former morgue and is rather up front that his work for the current government is under a form of duress, as without their blessing he would find himself in prison for the human experiments he has performed using forbidden technology.

While Rune was under she also has a memory of a golden mouse which turns out to be Easter’s partner Oeufcouque Penteano. Oeufcouque is a special form of intelligence that can transform his shape into just about any object. Oeufcouque was created for use in the space program but his current role has him serving as an 09 case agent and just like his partner he is walking a fine line as his existence is just barely tolerated by the people in charge. The two partners are working to try to take down Shell and the shadowy organization called the October Corporation behind him. To do this they need to convince Rune to take the case of her murder to court, but things get hairy as Shell is also not a man without connections and he will do anything to stay out of prison from witness intimidation to murder and has just the right man for the job- a man who happens to have a history with Oeufcouque. Now Rune will have to decide for herself what her purpose in life is and whether pursuing her killer is worth the pain that will come with it.

Mardock Scramble is on its face a show that adapts very well from its novel origins to animated feature film. The designers play this up by combining some unique elements with some rather familiar to anime fans visual elements. It is almost impossible to miss some of the connections made with the Ghost in the Shell TV series beyond just the idea of cyborgs as at one point in the film Rune all but dress almost exactly like the Major with a swimsuit-cut bodysuit complete with half gloves and light jacket. Some of the other visual elements tend to adopt a similar world as well as many current day structures are still seen with a futuristic highway of light being the perhaps biggest visual cue that this is not the world we know.

The show also works in a bit of court procedural drama as part of its course which also opens up dialogue to try to examine the psychology of Rune (mostly) as she has to confront her past under oath. Along this line her assailant, Shell, also has some odd psychological twists as he experiences things differently than most people as a result of an early government anti-crime initiative that went spectacularly wrong. He regularly has his memories extracted and deleted while new ones are put in which creates an odd psychological dynamic as well as a twist to events.

The movie doesn’t just operate on the psychological level though as it is very liberal in using visual elements to excite or repulse the viewer- sometimes accomplishing both at the same time. There is also rather copious amount of nudity in the feature which is a bit on the questionable side given that Rune is 15 years old. And this isn’t even the part that may be the most unsettling as there are a group of characters introduced late in the film who walk a fine line between bizarre and grotesque with more than a dash of exploitation thrown in.

The film comes across as an eclectic blend of action and the psychological state of people that doesn’t quite mix as well as it seems it is meant to in this early part. While the action is strong and solid some of the psychological issues seem to be floated out there with at best a tenuous connection to events. A few of them, like Rune herself and her personality, are explained fairly well but a couple of them seem to exist just to tease the audience and work along the line of shock value. Granted some of this unexplained nature may owe to the fact this part of the story is merely the opening of the tale and there are still two more movies to come. This “first of three” nature does add a bit of a challenge to the idea of how to rate the film as it looks to establish a fairly stable foundation for what comes after while still leaving major issues not even close to solved so the subsequent films can deal with them. This film will probably ultimately be remembered based on how well all three parts work as a whole, though this introduction isn’t anything the series will have to make any apologies for the most part, though it may signal the rest of the material may be a touch too macabre for some viewers.

In Summary:
The inescapable fact of Mardock Scramble: The First Compression is that it is merely the first in a planned series of three films. In many ways it feels less like a fully stand alone movie than Act 1 of a 3 Act play where the ground rules and motivations are laid but the big payoff is down the road. The film isn’t one that doesn’t have its own merits, though anyone entering should be aware that it is a mature feature in just about every sense of the word from some heavy subject matter to some pretty jarring images. Those who do choose to give it a shot will find a tale that works to lay bare some of man’s darker side in a rather fantastic futuristic/just the world next door setting as it sets up expectations for the two fims to come.

Features:
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade:
Extras Grade:

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: March 13th, 2012
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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