Review by: Clive Owen
Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $39.98 US
Running Time: 60 minutes
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now
To catch a serial killer, his latest victim must be brought back to life to stop him.
As a devoted fan of Ghost in the Shell and any other anime feature or series remotely like it, Mardock Scramble is a series I was seriously excited about sinking my teeth into in manga form but – more importantly – as an anime feature that is supposedly going to compose of three separate releases. Starting with The First Compression, Mardock Scramble is a short yet epic beginning that makes for a compelling and totally surreal viewing experience.
A beautiful young girl named Rune Balot wishes she was dead as she takes a limo ride above the city in an unknown futuristic city. She is accompanied by a seemingly charming man named Shell Septinos who has picked up this fragile young flower from off the streets. You see, Balot is an adolescent prostitute who has runaway from home after a horrific event that was born out of an even more horrific home life. Little does young Balot know that she is sharing a limo with a most unusual psychopath.
What happens next is something of a shocker as Balot realizes that Shell plans to leave her to suffer a terrifying death and suddenly the girl who wanted to die wants so badly to live. Unfortunately, not even a mystery man who calls himself Doctor Easter comes in time to rescue her. However, this is not the end of Rune Balot’s life as Doctor Easter initiates a frowned-upon ordinance known as Scramble 09 that could bring a person back to life in a somewhat organic body that is a recreation of the original body. Since she didn’t want to die at the time of death, Doctor Easter took it as a sign that she was fine with the procedure.
Balot does come back to life with a few setbacks such as the fact that she’s not able to talk on her own but rather project her voice through a radio. Doctor Easter also introduces her to Oeufcoque … a special item that talks to her in the form of a cute mouse but also has the ability to transform into a weapon such as a gun. In return for living again, Balot is asked to testify in court in order to bring down anyone connected to Shell to put him away for good.
Of course, this is not going to be easy seeing as testifying in court will open up emotional wounds that will bring up her past and her questionable lifestyle before she was killed. As she explores the city with Oeufcoque by her side, Balot finds out that Shell discovered that she is still alive. He sends his partner, a man named Mr. Boil to finish her off once and for all and Mr. Boil sends assassins to kill the girl. Luckily for Balot, she has Oeufcoque who she uses as a weapon against her attackers.
The story takes an even darker turn when Balot does agree to testify and finds herself in a courtroom filled with men that judge her for the things she has done in her past and the tragedy involving her father and Balot’s brother. Little by little, we come to realize what type of girl Balot is and the seedy nature of her relationship with a family member.
Meanwhile, Mr. Boil turns to the Bander-Snatch Livestock Company to eliminate Balot who turns out to have come back from the grave with some skills in combat. This group is composed of twisted freaks, each one obsessed with specific body parts. One has eyeballs scattered throughout his body while another is obsessed with fingers to the point that he wears a necklace made out of them. Believe me when I say that each member of this group will not fail to creep you out.
The freaks do attack and something awakens in Rune Balot as the girl turns into a fierce killing machine. This leads to one of the more exciting and bloodiest fights in this feature film and an even more exciting cliffhanger ending.
While the story weaves a complex web that mixes science fiction technology with a courtroom scene that reveals a troubled past, we realize Mardock Scramble manages to make the characters’ seem lifelike. In fact, the more that is revealed about Balot the more fleshed out her character becomes to the point that she turns out to be a hauntingly tragic figure you can help but root for by the end of The First Compression. Her need for real affection – even if it comes from a piece of hardware like Oeufcoque – is touching and her unquenchable thirst for revenge in the end is understandable.
Sure, the first part of this planned trilogy clocks in about 60 minutes and, at times, it feels as though the story is being rushed, but it still manages to be a mature and satisfying feature. Personally, I would have loved to have seen a release that featured all three parts to this story but then again that just means I enjoyed the first part so much I just can’t wait for the rest of the story.
Mardock Scramble, The First Compression, delivers a dark, gripping and well-told story that should appeal to those who appreciate a complex and mature anime feature with a lot to offer. While never pushing the violence, nudity and freaks as its main selling point, Mardock Scramble reminds us that a good story can contain all of that while not sacrificing rich characterization or a strong central plot. We are so looking forward to a Second and Third Compression if they are just as good as this first step.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Rune Balot is a troubled girl whose life took a most unfortunate turn and even more so when she becomes the victim of a demented serial killer. However, her story doesn’t end with her death as Balot is brought back to life by way of a new technology. As Balot tries to come to terms with her new self, the killer and his partner in crime attempt to put an end to her.
VIDEO QUALITY: A-
Visually speaking, the series sports some interesting animation that is a nod to the manga but there’s more blood, nudity and grotesque-looking characters in this anime version. The flashy effects and grainy look are for effect but that might not sit well with others.
AUDIO QUALITY: A
There’s a stellar voice cast for both the original Japanese language track as well as the English dub that contains talents such as Hilary Haag and David Matranga. The music by Conisch is spectacular and so is the use of “Amazing Grace” at the end.
Just about the only extras you will find on the DVD are a few Sentai Filmworks trailers and the DVD credits.
A complex but genuinely rewarding anime feature, The First Compression is a darkly engaging first chapter that will make you a fan of Mardock Scramble. Definitely for the more mature minded anime fan, you will find more than enough to like about a series with a compelling lead character and an intriguing story you will not forget anytime soon. Consider this one on our Highly Recommended list.
Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks