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Mardock Scramble: The Trilogy Anime DVD Review

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Mardock Scramble Trilogy DVD CoverEveryone wants a place to belong … or someone to help them cope with the injustices of the world. But, will they find the one meant for them?

What They Say:
Murdered by a sadistic slayer of women, Rune Balot finds herself reborn for one purpose: to bring her killer to justice. But even knowing the identity of her murderer, proving he’s the one responsible for her death won’t be easy, especially when the murderer himself has forgotten his crimes. With the help of Doctor Easter, the man who restored her to life, and Oeufcoque, an intelligent, self-aware universal item capable of assuming the form and function of anything from a gun to a mouse, to a lady’s glove, Rune will have to find the proof to convict a vicious killer without dying a second time. In a world of black market body parts, high-stakes gambling, and lurid violence, justice will be written in blood as vengeance hit the streets in MARDOCK SCRAMBLE!

The Review:
Audio:
Although this series of films is available in both English and Japanese with subtitles, what brings the movies alive is the stirring music recorded in Dolby Digital 5.1 that gives us such a wonderful viewing experience. Even though the touching conversations between Balot and Oeufcoque could have been optimised with any audio standard, the emotional renditions which the background soundtrack invoke would have been missing and the heartfelt solo by Megumi Hayashibara (who is also the voice of Balot) with her wonderful version of Amazing Grace and ending song Tsubasa would not be able to evoke such a response if it were in normal stereo. This is one time when I am glad that the studio decided to record in this under used format.

Video:
The most striking element of this movie series is the tactical usage of colour and light to reflect moods or the emotional state of our protagonist within this dystopian nightmare. In an era where anything or anyone can be bought or sold for the right price, the first movie starts off with the brightness of oversaturated neon greens and pinks, signifying Balot’s optimistic outlook to a hopeful future with someone who loves her; but, this quickly degenerates into the dark morass of what she has always expected out of life – a bottomless well of sadness in which she can never climb out. However, when Dr. Easter rescues her and she wakes up in the reconstruction chamber, the light surrounding her paints a brighter outcome when she begins to accept help from this unlikely duo.

The second movie continues the themes by encompassing her within the warmth of the sea and a palette of blues which signify the trust and peace she has come to welcome from Oeufcoque; after the disastrous confrontation suffered at the hands of Boiled, Balot cannot but feel indebted to her rodent friend, although he keeps insisting that he is just doing his job. But, as the film progresses, it is this growing relationship that continues to bring the two closer while they battle against the schemes of Shell to destroy them. But at the same time, we see how her companion was drawn into the blackness surrounding Boiled but rejected this partner’s need to punish those who he had deemed had wronged him. This delicate balance of light and dark stirs an even more violent storm as Balot tries to decide which path she wishes to take against the one who had killed her.

Finally, with the information gleaned during the previous film, we see the final movie bring everything together with the vibrancy of Balot’s black and red dress. As the trio try to win the evidence they need to convict Shell within the ostentatious casino, the stunning red accent is what brings her and Oeufcoque together with the Red String of Fate. Even as she is playing to win the various games, it seems that some mysterious power is leading them towards their ultimate goal. When they finally arrive in the VIP room to face down the House, the dealer kept talking about how his actions seemed to lead him down one path instead of the right one. Perhaps he was suggesting that the dual was must make their own choice or that it was already determined for them – either way, that string tied them together for better or worse.

Packaging:
Sentai Filmworks tried to create a dark atmosphere for Mardock Scramble with a black slipcase enhanced by cold foil stamp images of a savage Balot, but writer Tow Ubukata’s main themes are trust, redemption and hope, so to set the mood with this initial foreboding imagery projects the wrong impression for the buyer. While they did do a better job on the DVD case with a beautiful portrait of Balot with Oeufcoque perched on her shoulder standing amid the data ocean of Paradise, but the damage has already been done since the first impact will confuse the viewer as to which one is the overriding topic of the films. It would have been better to have switched the pictures so that the brighter illustration was outside and the darker one inside, just like her emotions in the movies. Even though they tried to redeem themselves with marvelous pictures stamped on the disks of Balot, reflecting the underlying outcome of each film, you still can’t get that first reaction out of your head.

Menu:
The disk menus are back grounded by wonderful images of Balot, an emotional mask painted on her face depending on the resolution of the respective film. This ties them together with the menu, although they are all very basic, allowing access to: Theatrical and Director’s Cut versions of each movie, language settings, scene select and special features. Although they did use the same visual impact on the disks themselves, just being able to see these vivid illustrations projected on the screen instead of a flat image has a more meaningful blow to the viewer in the overall act.

Extras:
Perhaps the best part of this movie collection is the ability to see both the Theatrical and the Director’s Cut of the films. While the extra 3-5 minutes of footage between the two versions is usually background information and not very noticeable in the second and third acts, however in the first film, it makes all the difference. In the re-cut version, we learn Balot’s occupation is a prostitute and not an escort, with her choice being due to the consequences of her father’s abuse; in the general release, this information is largely ignored, and so the movie has much less of an emotional impact. Since this fact is glanced over in the theatrical version, most of the drive for her actions make less sense, and while the Director’s Cut may not be true to the original story, this view interlaces all of information into a much more cohesive tale of suffering and redemption.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Mardock Scramble is a trilogy of movies revolving around the story of Rune Balot – a young girl who is murdered and given the chance to bring her killer to justice, if she can find the evidence to convict him; unfortunately, after every crime, he undergoes a surgical procedure to erase his memory of the event. How can she prove his guilt if even he does not remember doing the deed? Hopefully her search will not be in vain and she will be able to bring his victims the security that someone will pay for their deaths.

The First Compression: Rune Balot is a fifteen year old prostitute who made the wrong choice of accompanying a prominent gambler named Shell Septinous. He works for the October Corporation, an organisation who uses forbidden technology for illegal enhancements; via his casino, those profits are laundered through the identities of various women he seduces, by which they are never seen again. Regrettably, Balot has become one of his victims; after he has his way with her, they drive to a secluded spot and Shell sets the car on fire, leaving her for dead. If it wasn’t for the timely assistance of Doctor Easter, she would have surely burned to death.

When they return to his lab, Balot is given the choice of dying or living by being turned into a cyborg via the Mardock Scramble programme. Easter will use the same science that Shell’s employer uses, and all they want in return is for her to testify against him so he may be prosecuted for his crimes. To make her adjustment easier and communication possible, she is given a case worker named Oeufcoque – an artificial intelligence construct in the form of a mouse, which can shape himself into any form that his user requires. But, while she is getting used to her new life, Shell’s own assistant, Mr. Boiled, approaches Rune and tells her to drop the case. When she refuses, a team is hired to exterminate the witness. After Oeufcoque and Rune manage to defend themselves, Mr. Boiled makes an appearance and gets ready to strike the final blow.

The Second Combustion: Following a fierce battle in which Rune and Oeufcoque cannot land a single blow on Boiled and her companion has almost reached his limit, Easter comes to the rescue; the scientist takes the pair to a former military testing facility called Paradise, where the Mardock Scramble technology was developed. It is here that Balot meets a young man named Tweedledee, who has also been enhanced by the same process which made her life possible. He explains to her that she cannot defeat Shell alone, that she and her partner must work together in order to succeed. After their discussion, he takes her to meet his partner, a cybernetic dolphin called Tweedledum; it is through his help that she is able to interface with the laboratory’s main computer and discovers that Shell’s memories are locked within twelve one million dollar casino chips.

After a brief explanation of game theory, the Doctor accompanies Rune and Oeufcoque to Shell’s casino, with the intention of winning at least four of the needed chips. While she watches a few matches, Balot soon realises she has a talent for learning and calculating the odds of the various games. In a short time, they raise the funds required for entering the VIP lounge so that they can start going after the necessary evidence. But while they were winning, Shell was contacted and panics after understanding their plan; in response, Boiled is sent to stop them at any cost.

The Third Exhaust: The Doctor and Balot enter the VIP room where the game is blackjack. With the help of Easter and Oeufcoque, she begins to learn about reading the players and strategies on how to win. Using her partners’ lessons, Rune starts to gain too much ground, and so the casino’s best dealer is sent in to bring the odds more in the house’s favour. Utilising various tricks and dealing techniques, he begins to whittle down their savings and turns things to his advantage. Balot starts to panic when she thinks that all looks hopeless, but her rodent assistant calms her down and tells her to analyse her opponent’s strategies. As they slowly rebuild their fortune, the dealer begins to understand the meaning behind Rune’s wanting to win the game. They slowly start to accumulate the million dollar chips and extract the evidence needed to prosecute Shell.

After they have won four chips and decide to stop the game, the owner of October Corporation and his lackey Shell confront her and demand their property back – which are happily returned and they leave. On their way home, Boiled tries to run the team off the road and fails miserably. However, by using the information they gathered, the killer is easily convicted of his crimes; but during the trial, Balot learns the reasons behind his murder spree and starts to feel sorry for Shell. Rune then decides that she will now help people, but without killing anyone. However, after he is sentenced, he skips bail and the October Corporation sends Boiled to tie up the loose end. The heroic team decide to protect Shell against his former employer, and after a ferocious fight, he is turned over to the police.

In Summary:
While Mardock Scramble is an exciting movie trilogy, the execution of the concept is lacking in several points. To have a fifteen year girl be the main character who is a prostitute and a killer is unsettling, especially when they show her having to ply her trade or murder someone without any engrained remorse. But the most glaring is the preconception that viewers have read Ubukata-sensei’s novels or manga, and thus have a clear understanding of Rune Balot’s world. Therefore, notions such as explanations as how their technology works, background on Paradise and the origin of Oeufcoque and his interface with Rune are skimmed over, leaving the uneducated to make presumptions in various areas. It would have been nice to see these ideas covered in a documentary about the series or a Making of Mardock Scramble since the development from book to film was almost a ten year process, instead of watching the creators participate in a poker tournament.

Although at times the protagonist felt like a pale imitation of Motoko Kusanagi from the popular cyberpunk franchise Ghost in the Shell, Balot’s relationships with her partner Oeufcoque and the world had deeper thematic drives than that series. The most prominent ones spread over the course of the films were those of: the wish to belong or having meaning in life, the ability to work with others to accomplish their goals and that Fate will lead you down the right path to the find the one who will complete your life. All three of these beliefs helped to push Rune and her partner forward to their objective and yet, these same things served as obstacles to deter them when their confidence wavered. Sometimes not the path is not always clear, but that is when you need to stride past and have confidence that the choices you have made are the right ones. Do not question yourself or you will never make progress, whether in fantasy or in real life.

Lastly, the strangest analogy that I have seen in an anime was the peculiar selection of the character names. While it may have been fitting in hindsight, why was Ubukata-sensei so obsessed with eggs when choosing what to call his actors in this melodrama? Everyone had some relation with this ovoid:

Mardock Scramble: Ugh … scramble, really? Scrambled eggs since the project reconstructed the subject into what the scientist needed the person to be for that particular contract.

Rune Balot: Even if the spelling if off by one letter, a balut is a fertilised duck or chicken egg which is sold as a street snack. Perhaps the comparison is that Balot is a developing child who would become anything she wanted, as long as she made the right choices?

Shell Septinos: His first name is rather obvious – he was devoid of any redemption and had nothing worth saving inside his hollow frame.

Dr. Easter: This holiday is a symbol of rebirth which is fitting since it was through his aid that Rune Balot was able to be reborn and had a second chance at life.

Oeufcoque: Fitting that his name was derived from French oeuf meaning egg and coque or shell. His purpose was to serve his current Mardock Scramble partner in whatever capacity they needed, thus he became a protector or shell for the person or egg.

Dimsdale Boiled: An apropos moniker since this man was just as tough as a hard boiled person, or cynical toward other people’s emotions since he was conditioned to be an emotionless killer.

Tweedledee & Tweedledum: The twin egg-shaped pair who assisted Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll. Although they tried to help Balot, they opened more mysteries that answered questions, just their namesakes did in the story.

If you sit back and enjoy Mardock Scramble without thinking too much into the movies, it can be a satisfying adventure into a dystopian world of twisted justice that only the strong may survive, however unfulfilled the ending leaves the viewer. But, the more you delve into this creation, the deeper the rabbit hole becomes and unravels into a universe of strange wonders. Do you take the Red Pill or the Blue Pill or do you take your egg scrambled or boiled, the choice is yours. Whichever path you take, the quest of Rune Balot will be one which can determine your future, or at least until breakfast!

Features:
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Opening On The Road, Blackjack Showdown, Memorial Talk, Director’s Cut Promo, Narrated Promo.

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 9th, 2015
MSRP: $39.98
Running Time: 199 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sharp LC-42LB261U 42” LED HDTV and Sony BDPS3200 Blu-ray player

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