Armitage III: Dual-Matrix
After the success of Armitage III: Poly-Matrix with its star-filled dub and heavy promotion by Pioneer several years ago, it's not a surprise that a follow-up would be on the way. Like another big film this summer, Men In Black II, it took 5 years for the sequel to actually be released. But unlike its counterpart, which decided to follow the road more-traveled by recycling a lot of its old gags, Armitage III: Dual-Matrix actually takes its characters and matures them in a variety of ways. It's an unpredictably good sequel, especially when most anime continuations are simple retreads. Though the audience has to get through an unspectacular first half, as well as some truly annoying digital editing and bad CGI, in order to get to the great final third, I enjoyed it on the whole.
Dual-Matrix takes us several years into the future after the ending of Poly-Matrix. Due to how that film ended, nobody expects our heroes Naomi Armitage and Ross Sylibus to still be around. They've kept a low profile, taking on assumed names and jobs that nobody would notice them doing. They've also started their own family, and little Yoko has changed Armitage in untold ways. But what kind of cyberpunk movie would we have with that lovely scenario? Soon enough, Ross gets involved in interplanetary politics when he becomes a local hero after defeating an assault on the complex he worked at under the assumed name Kevin Oldman. Armitage also takes off when a bizarre turn of events leads her to check out the destruction of a robotics plant. Dimitrio, an evil fellow determined to create more "Thirds" (specialized humanoid robots) for his own nefarious purposes, recognizes Ross and winds up kidnapping Yoko to get what he wants from both Ross and Naomi. But if you thought Armitage could get angry as a cop, you've never seen her trying to protect her child! Armitage makes friends with a low-end robotic specialist called Mouse, and with his and Ross' help, Armitage vows to make sure that her daughter is safe and to stop the threat Dimitrio poses for both Earth and Mars.
How much you like this film will depend highly on how much CGI and digital panning you can take in a show. It's got to be a cost-cutting device, because there is tons of mediocre CGI here. That doesn't bother me a lot, but digital panning does, and though the entire show isn't done that way, it's enough to make me frustrated. Does any animator in Japan really think it looks good? It's awful! But I'm sure the financiers have something to do with it. The hand-drawn stuff looks very good, though, often better than Poly-Matrix. The last third, which is action-packed, works very well in spite of the computer trickery.
Where Poly-Matrix delved into the familiar territory of "what does it mean to be human," Dual-Matrix really delves into Armitage's role as a mother confronted with the loss of her daughter. Armitage is not the juvenile misfit of the first film, but truly a young woman, and it makes her character more sympathetic. I liked Armitage a lot in this show and could relate with her somehow more fully than in the first film. Ross is relegated to a smaller role in Dual-Matrix. It's not that he doesn't get a lot of screen time, but the character development here is all on Armitage. That's great, but there's also a bit of loss in the same way. Poly-Matrix was in some ways the time-honored story of fire and water cops who learn to get along and care for each other. Dual-Matrix sacrifices a great deal by keeping Ross and Armitage apart the majority of the time. Though I love the mature Armitage, I miss the relationship between the two being so important. I'm not sure it was a wise decision, but with as much action as this contains, there just wasn't room.
The other issue I had with Dual-Matrix is the plot. Frankly, although the first film was hard to understand because the politics of the situation were often ignored, the political story overwhelms the first half of this one. Due to circumstances, I watched the first half of Dual-Matrix, then came back and watched the second. It was almost like watching two different movies. Also, without seeing the first film, any viewer will wind up completely lost.
Unlike the Poly-Matrix film, which due to its edits and origins contained no Japanese language track, Dual-Matrix does have both 5.1 Japanese and English mixes. I decided to watch the English track, which features the voice of Juliette Lewis as Armitage. Although not a stunning performance, she acquits herself as well as if not better than Elizabeth Berkeley did in the original. Keifer Sutherland doesn't return for the sequel, and Skip Stellrecht, an actor with 22 essentially bit parts to his name listed on the Internet Movie Database, steps into Ross' voice without much effort. (After all, it's not particularly hard to emulate Sutherland's oft-emotionless tone.) One surprising note in the voice cast is that Ahmed Best is cast as Mouse. That's right--though the mangled Rastafarian pidgin English is gone, the voice of Jar Jar is unmistakable. He actually does the best job of the whole cast in terms of turning in a strong performance, but his voice will immediately turn off a few people. If anything, I thought this dub was stronger than the first one, though it won't win awards, either.
It's hard to compare the two back to back. Poly-Matrix packs as many philosophical questions as it does action sequences; Dual-Matrix wades through some politics before becoming an all-out action romp. Poly-Matrix is about a man and a woman falling in love; Dual-Matrix is about parents desperate to protect their abducted daughter. What pleases me, though I don't think Dual-Matrix is great, is that it's consciously different. Though not every fan will love it, there's plenty here to recommend it at the same level as the first. The new double-pack of the two films together makes it a good choice.
Armitage III: Dual-Matrix -- brief nudity, graphic violence -- B+