Vexille (UK - DVD R2)
Our reviewer Marcus Doidge gets all animated with DVD release of Vexille...
World opinion had turned against robotics and the U.N. declares a ban on any further research. Japan-based Daiwa Heavy Industries protests the ban, but are unable to stop it coming into play.
2067. Japan begins High Tech Isolation which completely cuts Japan off from the outside world. All foreigners are deported and further immigration is prohibited and to make this a full on future anime, the R.A.C.E. network is constructed, which essentially masks the existence of Japan from the outside world completely.
Vexille picks up ten years later when American technology police agency AKA ‘SWORD’ discovers that Japan seem to be constructing illegal technologies—which in this case is a cyborg—and decide to send in a SWORD team to gather intelligence, and with the aid of a clever little decoder, get a sneaky glimpse of Japan that the outside world has been blind to for a decade.
SWORD team leader Commander Leon Fayden (Shosuke Tanihara ) and his female Lieutenant and lover, Vexille Serra (Meisa Kuroki) manage to get the SWORD team into Japan, but are quickly detected by bad-ass cyborg Saito (Akio Ohtsuka) and his team of rocket launcher wielding army guys. The SWORD team is ripped apart and Vexille is separated from the group after being blasted into the harbour.
A few days later, Vexille wakes up in a small shanty town only to discover she is actually in what’s left of Tokyo. The small town is bordered off from the rest of Japan, which is a barren landscape of nothing but giant living columns of scrap metal called ‘JAGS’ and with the help of Maria (Yasuko Matsuyuki), the head of the small resistance movement against Daiwa Industries, Vexille soon discovers that the last decade has changed Japan in more heinous ways than anyone could have predicted.
I’ve been a fan of Anime for the longest time, and whilst I feel it’s not exactly in the best state it’s ever been in of late, Vexille was a welcome return to form for the most part. I was initially put off by the animation style, which I never liked in the last couple of Appleseed movies. The images look fantastic in stills, but there’s something about the movement and the bizarre lighting effect that just make the whole affair feel like a game or a cheap kids cartoon and also knowing that the director, Fumihiko Sori, was a producer on the first of the new generation of Appleseed movies didn’t fill me with confidence as I found that movie pretty dull. Thankfully none of the above took away from the enjoyment of what is basically a very good story, told very well.
Vexille has some incredible set pieces from the get go. The robots and Mecha suits are all fantastically well presented and used brilliantly. There’s a flashback scene with a high speed bike chase that involves flying SWORD agents and robots fighting each other all whilst chasing down a biker, which just looked and sounded awesome. The visuals and action scenes involving the giant JAGS weaving about the desolate remains of Japan or frantically trying to assimilate with the vehicles while trying to avoid their clutches, felt like such a huge scale event within what was up to their introduction quite a confined stage for events. Even more rewarding was the fact that the movies unravelling events and reveals were actually interesting and relevant to everything they’d set up in the first couple of acts. I’ve seen countless anime tales of late that are just so cold and unfriendly to the audience that to actually have a connection to the characters and the story was enough to remind me just how good Anime can be when they get it right.
At its core, Vexille is about its two female leads, Vexille and Maria. Vexille is our eyes in discovering what happened to Japan and Maria is the solution to the problem, and more importantly the person that drives Vexille on her path to join the small band of freedom-fighters in their last ditched attempt to release themselves from the grip of Daiwa Industries. In all honesty, despite the movie being called Vexille, Maria is a far more interesting character, (who incidentally looks insanely close to the Playstation version of Lara Croft). She knows what’s happened to Japan and its people and she has a connection to SWORD Commander Leon from back when Japan cut itself off from the rest of the world ten years ago. She was a fantastic addition who enters the movie around the mid way point, and she’s certainly the element that keeps the movies momentum going to the end.
The film itself has all the classic elements of its genre. The mecha-suits, the infatuation with technology, the bad guys in smart suits, and the natural sense of kinetic energy in its visuals—it’s all here. While it’s not on the uber-scale of Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex (which in my mind is the pinnacle of this area of anime) and perhaps the Oakenfold beats of the soundtrack sometimes get too carried away, and maybe not everything tallies up if you think about it too much, overall it has enough on show and enough respect for itself not to slip into yet another Anime free for all that’s all about big guns, crazy technology and the bigger, louder, sillier approaches that many of its counterparts just love throwing at the audience without ever offering anything to really connect with.
Vexille isn’t all that impressive on the picture front. I don’t think it’s entirely the transfers fault, but has more to do with the animation style. The lighting seems to cause an almost blurred effect to the image as a whole and the darker scenes really suffer for it. The bright daylight scenes fare a little better but still share the slight blur and the colours feel as if they are bleeding into each other when the brighter oranges and yellow’s of the sunset’s fill the screen. That said, some of the sharper metallic images look very good and almost photo-realistic in places and outside of the floaty feeling they have when they interact with their surroundings in some scenes, it’s all quite impressive.
The audio on this one sort of snuck up on me. At first I hardly even noticed it and even when I thought to pay more attention to it, it seemed quite standard, but in the second half of the movie it actually becomes quite dynamic, in both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and the DTS. The power in the JAGS as they crash about the landscape is effective and the smaller sound effect, such as jangling shackles and scraping metal all weave nicely into the overall mix. It’s by no means a solid audio presentation but it does its job.
On disc one you just get the movie and a commentary by Jonathan Clements (co-author of the Anime Encyclopaedia) which actually proved to be great. He comes armed with an incredible amount of knowledge and little factoids about Vexille and its participants and not only was this a pleasant surprise but something I really think should be a standard on Anime releases.
On to disc two and we get a couple of documentaries. First up is a making of (48:02), which really isn’t a making of at all but the director discussing his thoughts and feelings on Vexille intercut with clips from the film. All very interesting and well paced.
Next up is ‘Vexille: Inside Story’ (61:00) which really is the making of, going into details about the director (he worked on Titanic as a visual effects guy, for any trivia fans out there), the entire process of making Vexille, sketches, animatics, voice work—it’s all here and is a great addition to the movie. Last but not least, you get the theatrical trailer (2:10).
Vexille is never going to be a defining moment in anime, standing alongside the likes of Akira or Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, but it’s certainly not one that should be ignored.
Its animation style for the characters is one that you’ll either love or hate, and I personally ain’t a fan. Thankfully, I think the movie’s vision of the future is a great one, with great characters, great moments and genuinely exciting closing events which far make up for my issues with the animation choices.
The disc comes with a nice batch of extras and an acceptable transfer but for those of you that might want to experience this one on better terms, you may want to hold out for the eventual Blu-ray release that looks to be on the way later in the year. I for one look forward to it—just for the JAGS which are bound look awesome in HD!
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 1st September 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, DTS 5.1 Japanase
Extras: Commentarys, Making of, Inside Story, Theatrical trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Fumihiko Sori
Cast: Meisa Kuroki, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Akio Ohtsuka
Genre: Animation and Sci-Fi
Length: 109 minutes
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