The Animatrix

directors: Andy Jones, Mahiro Maeda, Shinichorô Watanabe, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Koji Morimoto, Peter Chung

89 minutes (15) 2002
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Warner DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Steven Hampton

A collection of nine short animated films exploring the concepts and themes of Andy and Larry Wachowski’s phenomenally successful SF actioner, The Matrix (1999), The Animatrix offers revealing and surprisingly compelling accounts of stubborn individuals and the interface between everyday ‘real’ life and the extraordinary truths about reality and post-historical events hidden in subtexts of the Wachowskis’ sprawling cross-media mythology (albeit clearly inspired by the imaginative paranoid thrillers of Philip K. Dick sifted through the cool-affect filters of cyberpunk fantasy). Got all that..?
Final Flight Of The Osiris is like a lost or missing episode from the Matrix movies, which precedes the events of Matrix Reloaded, and its story is mentioned during that film during the sequence where Morpheus and Neo travel to Zion. This slick piece of computer animation matches the image quality of The Matrix in its hardware scenes, while its human protagonists are created with even better realism (check out the impressive body movements of blindfolded duellists in the opening striptease swordfight!) are superior to most of the groundbreaking work done for Final Fantasy.
Taking the form of lessons in future-history, comprised of archive media footage, The Second Renaissance (in two parts), shows exactly how the machines took over the Earth, in the wake of a catastrophic nuclear war. The whole planet’s ecosphere was damaged so badly that the artificial intelligence behind the Matrix system resorts to an imprisoned and enslaved humanity for its primary source of energy (as explained by Morpheus in The Matrix). Graphic scenes of spectacular warfare depicting mankind’s defeat by robots rival the most horrific and poignant visuals of any previous SF anime, including the renowned classic Akira (1987).
A supporting character in Matrix Reloaded, the Kid appears to be Neo’s biggest fan and in awe of his chosen hero. Kid’s Story tells of how the young man broke free of his Matrix programming, despite lacking any ‘outside’ help, and without having to take the red pill (as offered to Neo by Morpheus in The Matrix). This is known as “spontaneous unplugging” and, until the Kid came along, was thought to be humanly impossible by other Matrix escapees. Neo himself (as voiced by the One – and only – Keanu Reeves, of course) appears briefly at this story’s climax.
All of the above were actually written by the Wachowski brothers, so it’s no surprise to realise they adhere closely to the storylines established so far by The Matrix and Matrix Reloaded. The remaining five films here are spinoff pieces, mostly created by Tokyo based animators. Program features a combat simulation with a designer samurai theme, and showcases a training duel in a bamboo forest, which becomes the ultimate red-pill psych test for ivory-haired swordswoman Cis. Games theory and peak experience become fused as a ‘zenith achievement’ in the offbeat tale of World Record, as an Olympic class runner attempts to break the limits of human physicality and set a new sprinting record. Will he, can he, make it through the psychic barrier separating the illusory Matrix from the real world? Beyond concerns a ‘haunted house’ in the heart of an urban area, that’s home to a weird glitch (officially reported as a “rendering anomaly”) in the Matrix, where regular laws of physics are fractured when cause and effect, gravity and linear time itself are mysteriously warped to become a strange but fun playground for the adventurous local kids. Then dark-suited agents arrive with a clean-up squad and the location is ‘reconfigured’ overnight into something bland and suddenly quite empty, leaving a teenage female protagonist with fast-fading memories of a twilight zone experience.
A Detective Story is a b/w piece, featuring a private investigator in a retro noir future, hired to search for a mysterious super-hacker known only as Trinity. Yes, it’s our favourite action girl (voiced by Carrie-Anne Moss), who plays with subtle Alice In Wonderland references, expanding on her role in the original film. Not much is revealed about the secret life of discrete artificial intelligences in the Wachowskis’ Matrix films, except to hint they have irredeemably evil intentions towards mankind, so Matriculated is a clever and fascinating closing statement that redresses the balance. Spindly robotic sentinels meet their match here when an enlightened group of human scientists, surviving like cyberpunks in the grim post-holocaust landscape, use empathy puzzles in a VR maze to encourage one of the captured enemy machines to defect or convert to humanity’s cause. A riotous soup of blazing colours and shape-shifting avatars grant this final film an exciting visual dynamic in the manner of Tron, that’s far superior to the usual anime/CGI hybrids we have seen before. The nicely ambiguous ending hits just the right note of enduring mystery.

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DVD extras include informative documentary Scrolls To Screen: The History And Culture Of Animé, behind-the-scenes featurettes regarding each of the nine productions, directors’ commentary tracks for The Second Renaissance I & II, Program and World Record, biographies, Enter The Matrix video game trailer, and (allegedly) DVD-ROM content – yet I couldn’t find any… but perhaps I looked down the wrong rabbit hole?