DVDAngle Animatrix Review

DVD Angle has a review of the Animatrix Review up. Here’s the review, archived here because the site is no longer available.

Expectations & Reactions:

Chances are good that no matter what I say about this DVD, I’m gonna piss somebody off. So I may as well just jump in head first.

I like Anime. I’m not a “real” fan… I prefer dubbed anime over subtitled, I’ve probably only seen a fraction of the stuff that many die-hard fans have watched, and there’s a healthy amount of it that I think is, well, crap. But I do think there is some awesome anime stuff out there – I just believe that you have to weed through a lot of incomprehensible storylines and bad plot structure to find it all. On the other hand, I am one of those guys who has seen The Matrix umpteen million times, and my anticipation level for anything new having to do with it is pretty intense. So where does The Animatrix fit in? To be honest, I’m not quite sure. I definitely have to chalk this one up under the heading of “mixed feelings.”

I know, I know – that’s not what most of you are hoping to hear. I would probably be wiser simply to sing the praises of the unheralded brilliance of the project and save myself (and my e-mail inbox) a lot of headaches. But the problem with any sort of medium that is presented in an anthology format is that you’re always bound to like some parts better than others. And that’s exactly the case here. There are some segments of the disc that I think are absolutely and unequivocally amazing. “The Final Flight of the Osiris”, “The Second Renaissance Parts I and II,” and “Program” are all incredible short films that are not only astounding, but also truly further the mythology of The Matrix. On the other hand, “Kid’s Story,” “Matriculated,” and especially “World Record” (easily my least favorite segment on the disc) left me pretty unsatisfied.

Overall, though, I have to say that for the most part, I was pretty blown away by the disc, and the segments that I loved more than made up for the ones that I didn’t. Not to mention the fact that the disc is loaded with extras, and the audiovisual presentation of the disc is absolutely stunning. I’m sure there will be many fans out there who will blanketly love every minute of this disc simply because it’s either a) The Matrix, or b) anime, but I’m going to have to stick to my original assessment of “mixed emotions.” I loved a lot of it, but the whole, in this case, is not equal to the sum of the parts.

Look & Listen:

The Animatrix is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, and each segment is anamorphically enhanced. There are nine animated short films altogether, and each one looks absolutely unbelievable. If any recent DVD could be described as flawless, it would be this one. It’s hard to decide what grabs you first – the sheer stunning detail of the imagery, or the vibrancy of the colors that seem to literally jump off the screen. The combination of traditional hand-drawn and computer generated animation are blended seamlessly, and the clarity and quality of the animation is unlike any other animation project I’ve seen. The picture is crystal clear throughout each and every segment, and detail levels are simply impeccable, especially in pieces such as “The Second Renaissance, Parts I and II” which features massive amounts of onscreen action and visual information. The only real exception to this is “Kid’s Story,” which is animated in a non-traditional, “sketchy” style that purposefully eschews solid outlines over a constantly-moving, chaotic style. In the rest of the segments, however, both the traditionally-outlined and the CGI elements never lose even a pixel of clear delineation.

Even more impressive, the color saturation is beyond description. Each and every story features a wide spectrum of colors, all of which are represented brilliantly and vividly here. What is also amazing is how many colors can show up in one scene (the aforementioned “Second Renaissance”, “Matriculated”) with absolutely no bleed or distortion. Even with the dazzling array of colors that can show up in a single scene, each one is clearly distinguishable from even the most similarly shaded hues. (The only exception to this is “A Detective Story,” which is essentially black & white, although the contrast levels on that piece are so effective that there still seem to be a surprising number of values.) The rest of the transfer is impeccable as well. Contrasts are rock solid, with deep, inky blacks, and there is no loss of detail in even the darkest of scenes (of which there are many). There isn’t even a hint of any kind of dust or debris anywhere throughout the disc, although “A Detective Story” is purposefully excessively grainy, to capture a strong film noir look. All in all, regardless of your opinion of the individual stories, the transfer brings each one to life in the best way possible.

There are two Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtracks on The Animatrix, one in English and one in Japanese. Except for the languages, the two tracks are identical, and both are outstanding. Highly active surrounds are the highlight of the soundtrack, and all of the channels are constantly active. This isn’t one of those mixes that only focus only on the big, obvious sound effects. Everything from a sword whooshing through the air to the sound of a crowd roaring to a high velocity bullet and everything in between is brought to life in awesome detail. Excellent stereo separation ensures that each track is its own entity, and there are some highly effective panning effects to boot. Sound Designer Dane Davis’s incredible panorama of sound effects gets the full treatment here, folks.

Even though this is quite the action packed disc, however, dialogue never gets the short end of the stick. Through every segment, all of the spoken word remains firmly anchored in the center channel, never overpowered by the sound effects or music. This remains true in both the English and Japanese language tracks. Don Davis, the movie trilogy’s composer, returns for The Animatrix, and provides new music for each story. His score is blended seamlessly into the action, weaving its way in and out of the various channels. At times it is full and intense, blasting forth from all the speakers with great power, while at other times, it is hidden so softly in the background that you almost don’t even notice its presence. It is a stunning effect, and it is an integral part of what makes the individual stories succeed. The bass (which is such a big facet of Davis’ score) resonates nicely, with the discrete LFE channel providing a solid, thundering low end. Whether you prefer English or Japanese, either way, you are in for an aural treat with this disc.

Extras & Highlights:

The Animatrix comes equipped with a pretty good complement of extra features, all of which do a nice job of going beyond the usual mindless fluff, to present some really entertaining and informative content. First up is a collection of Making-Of Documentaries that chronicle the creation of each short film. These can be watched individually or as a group, with a total running time of over 55 minutes. Each of the segments’ directors is interviewed at length (most of the Japanese creators’ interviews are subtitled), as are Producers Joel Silver, Michael Arias, Hiroaki Takeuchi, and Eiko Tanaka, as well as Composer Don Davis and Sound effects editor Dane Davis. There is a lot of behind the scenes footage presented here, along with a wealth of concept and design drawings, and even some early animation tests. Of course, the Wachowski brothers are notably absent.

Next up is a very informative documentary for those Matrix fans that may not be schooled in the world of anime, entitled Scrolls To Screen: The History and Culture of Anime. This 22-minute documentary discusses the history and origins of anime, from comics to animation, as well as its place in popular Japanese culture. A number of teachers, historians, critics, and authors are interviewed, including American comic book legend Todd McFarlane.

Additionally, director commentaries are available on four of the segments on the disc: “The Second Renaissance Parts I & II,” “Program,” and “World Record.” Each is presented in its original Japanese, with subtitled translations provided throughout. The directors do a good job of not repeating too much information from the making-of segments, and instead focus more on the themes of the stories and the underlying ideas, as well as providing some technical information.

Finally, a collection of Creator Bios is included, as well as a three-minute trailer for the Enter the Matrix video game.

Menus & Interface:

A brief animated introduction informs us that we are watching The Animatrix, before leading to a “Matrix Cube” three-dimensional design, upon which various animated images are projected on the various walls of the cube. Matrix code continually scrolls down the screens, and soundtrack music is present throughout the menus. Brief animated transitions lead to the various submenus, and chapter (or, in this case, segment) selection is offered via full motion video chapter previews. Navigation can be slightly annoying at times, and highlights could definitely be brighter, but those are really the only negatives to this interface.

ROM & Weblinks:

A collection of Weblinks are supplied when you put The Animatrix DVD in your PC. There are links to the Matrix website, the Warner Brothers website, the WB Home Video Events web page, the WB Home Store Page, and a sign-up page for an e-mail newsletter. It would have been nice to have gotten an art gallery or some downloadable desktop applications, but sadly, none of that is available here.

Storyline & Syllabus:

The Animatrix is composed of nine short animated films that expand on the world of The Matrix. Most notable among them are “Final Flight of the Osiris,” which serves as a prequel to The Matrix Reloaded, and “The Second Renaissance Parts I & II,” which chronicles the fall of mankind to the machines. “Kid’s Story” introduces a character that appears in The Matrix Reloaded, while the rest of the short films chronicle various inhabitants of the Matrix.

Cast & Crew:

“Final Flight Of The Osiris” written by Andy and Larry Wachowski and directed by Peter Jones.
“The Second Renaissance Part I” written by Andy and Larry Wachowski and directed by Mahiro “Maeda.
“The Second Renaissance Part II” written by Andy and Larry Wachowski and directed by Mahiro “Maeda.
“Kid’s Story” written by Andy and Larry Wachowski and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe.
“Program” written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri.
“World Record” written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri and directed by Takeshi Koike.
“Beyond” written and directed by Koji Morimoto.
“A Detective Story” written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe.
“Matriculated” written and directed by Peter Chung.

Voice actors include Kevin Michael Richardson, Pamela Adlon, Julia Fletcher, Dane Davis, Jill Talley, Dwight Schultz, Clayton Watson, Hedy Burress, Phil Lamarr, Victor Williams, James Arnold Taylor, Matt McKenzie, Melinda Clark, Olivia D’abo, Carrie-Ann Moss, and Keanu Reeves.

The disc was produced by Larry and Andy Wachowski, Joel Silver, and Steve Richards.

Conclusions & Afterthoughts:

Much like The Matrix films themselves, The Animatrix bears repeat watching (although I doubt I need to tell many fans to watch this more than once). While some of the individual segments didn’t blow me away, I still find the project overall pretty fascinating. (And of course, anything more that I can get my hands on that has to do with The Matrix is never a bad thing.) In all honesty, I think had each segment been written by the Wachowskis (as the first four pieces on the disc are), perhaps the project as a whole would have felt more cohesive. Especially considering the fact that much of what the Matrix really is hasn’t really been defined yet (as anyone who has seen The Matrix Reloaded can attest), I personally think it is a bit premature to start seeking out other creators’ visions of a world that is still so undefined. I love the various art styles and concepts, but a stronger hand in crafting the stories might have made the whole picture a little better, at least for me.

In the end, however, I have to recommend this disc to any fans of The Matrix or of anime in general. There is some truly fantastic stuff here, and the making-of special features are almost as much fun as many of the segments themselves are. What really tops it off is the fact that each and every segment looks and sounds absolutely incredible. Rarely does a disc come along that is this impressive in both soundtrack and transfer. Mixed emotions and all, I still hope this disc does well enough to warrant a return trip to The Animatrix. Somehow, though, if I know Matrix fans, I don’t think that’ll be too much of a problem.

Source: DVD Angle