The Leeds International Film Festival is a frequent host to anime movie premieres. Last year they were the venue for the European premiere of Ponyo. I’d just moved to the city and I bloody missed the thing because I heard about it too late and tickets were sold out. So this year, with the premiere of Mardock Scramble: The First Compression and Yet Another British Screening Of Redline, I sure as hell wasn’t going to miss it this time around. There was a full anime day that also included Evangelion 2.0, Summer Wars, One Piece: Strong World and Gintama the Movie. I’d already seen Eva and Summer Wars at a Dublin anime film festival and I didn’t have much interest in seeing the other two. So this post will be a review of Mardock Scramble with a review of Redline tomorrow.
This installment of Mardock Scramble is the first in what’s planned to be a 3-part series. In it, a teenage prostitute is killed by the man who took care of her, but she’s brought back to life by some magical science to try get revenge on her killers. She’s given a robotic body, lots of skin tight clothing and a highly intelligent golden mouse who can transform into whatever he wants, normally a gun of some sort.
It’s hard to talk about Mardock Scramble without giving out some plot setting spoilers. People might say that descriptions of the plot aren’t spoilers at all, but it does seem a shame to hurt one of the few things this movie actually does very well. The exposition, often a clunky and tedious part of a movie, was revealed in a gradual course of exchanges between the female lead, Balot, and her mouse sidekick, Eufcoque. Asides from revealing how the world works and what the extents of Balot’s and Eufcoque’s powers are, it also builds up the relationship between the two in one of the most strangely charming duos I’ve ever seen. Balot doesn’t exactly think straight, hardly surprising given her past, and abuses her powers for various reasons. Eufcoque doesn’t think like a human, seeing as he’s a mouse and everything, but his mind works off a logic that hauls in Balot and builds a trust between the two. Using the other as a springboard for further exploration, the movie excels in the exchanges between the two that make up about half of the movie.
I did say that this was one of the things that it actually did well, which implies that the movie performed less favourable in other areas. This movie has a lot of grand ideas about how great it is and how it’s exploring themes of depression and sexual desires, but most of it is done in such awful fashion that parts of the movie come out as unintentional humour. There’s a group of underground surgeons towards the end of the movie with a taste for attaching parts of human bodies to themselves. One guy has eyes all over his body, which was probably supposed to be intimidating but really just looked stupid. There was another guy with breasts sewn all over his body like that ghost from the Fat Stocking episode of Panty and Stocking. The rest all equally looked like characters Apocalypse Zero. As for the disturbingly literal nickname of their leader, Pussyhands, the less said the better.
These characters were probably supposed to symbolise humans living out their sexual fantasies, but like much of the rest of the foreshadowing and imagery, it mainly resulted with scenes in various degrees of clunky or stupid. A bunch of the characters are given names related to eggs, such as Boiled and Shell, probably meant to symbolise birth of a new life or whatever, but that was rather eye-roll inducing, like calling the violent villain in your show Vicious or something. There were some more standard problems, such as lots of cryptic conversations that failed to grab the interest, or overbearing level of madness they gave characters that didn’t fit well into the story. Oh, and playing Amazing Grace as your ending song was pretty eye-rolling too.
Not all of the symbolism failed, to be fair, the relationship between Balot and Eufcoque being the best example. Heck, anything good about this movie came about when it was just those two together. The best scene in the movie was one where Balot asked Eufcoque to love her, with the golden mouse’s stuttered retort being that he wasn’t capable of loving as a mouse and that “I can’t just turn into a male human in order to love you”. The scene, asides from revealing a slightly messed up side to Balot’s mind, also shook Eufcoque and revealed we wasn’t quite as assured and logically perfect as earlier scenes had you believe.
(As an aside, I kept expecting Balot to turn Eufcoque into a dildo. That wasn’t just a dirty mind at play in a highly sexualised anime. Balot kept going on about how she just wanted someone to love her, with the only way she knew love in her depraved life was through sex, but Eufcoque kept pointing out that he was just a vessel that was incapable of love and that he was just a tool to pretend she was being loved. See where I’m going with this? Contrast this to our good friend Mr.Pussyhands, who quite literally has sex with his hand. I would not be that surprised if Eufcoque becomes masturbation aid at some point in the later movies)
Again, this movie only ever good when it was just interactions between the main character and her mouse sidekick, the rest of the movie being dumb, sometimes painfully so. Thankfully a lot of the movie was just interactions between the main two, which is enough to keep my interest to watch the later installments. But it’s not enough for me to recommend it either.