Armitage III: Poly-Matrix
Cyberpunk is what most Americans think of when they hear the word "anime", primarily due to the institution known as Akira, as well as Ghost in the Shell and series like Bubblegum Crisis and A.D. Police. It's easy, therefore, to also dismiss other cyber entries as being derivative. However, Armitage III: Poly-Matrix is not derivative of its animated brethren so much as it is of Blade Runner, not so much in style but in plot. It succeeds in many areas where some of its brethren fail. It's good despite that this 1997 film has some problems from being assembled from a longer 1994 OVA series with no Japanese language version available to fit together the missing pieces.
The film is set on Mars, where colonists have set up a huge city where "Seconds", robots that perform menial tasks, are everywhere, and no one is too happy about it. Enter the "Thirds." One generation up, these robots have the ability to think and feel, and they are easily mistaken as human (not unlike the replicants from Ridley Scott's work). Naomi Armitage, a cop who dresses in hot pants, is tracking down a killer who is systematically killing all the Thirds on Mars. She's hotheaded and immature, but her instincts save her in a variety of situations. Her new partner, Ross Sylibus, is distrustful of all robots since one killed his last partner; at the same time, he's dealing with the fact that he's nearly a robot himself after all the replacement parts he has from injuries sustained in the line of duty. As the two grow closer, they uncover several mysteries about the Thirds, including a couple that will shake Armitage to the foundation of her being.
The question of what makes people human, including androids, is a centerpiece of this and many other cyberpunk titles. Poly-Matrix adds some interesting concepts to the mix, in that the "Thirds" have some special abilities that you wouldn't expect from robots (that I won't mention for spoilers' sake). I was never taken in by Ghost in the Shell, even though it covered similar territory, possibly because it was not only bleak but also boring. Although Poly-Matrix does slow down enough to breathe at times, there's enough action to keep the pace going. The philosophical side of Poly-Matrix is worthy of note, not because it's new but that it adds some unique thoughts. (Although it blatantly copys Blade Runner's plot at times, that film is so visual and so languidly paced that it's hard to compare them otherwise.)
Unfortunately, the animation itself is not so worthy. At times, it is beautiful. At other times, it's almost ugly. This comes from its origins in a four episode OVA series; the budget just wasn't always there. If you're not nitpicky about such things, you'll be absorbed, but the difference between the great sequences and the "off" work is casually noticeable. However, the action sequences tend to be great despite the problems elsewhere.
The OVA origins also cause some problems for understanding Poly-Matrix completely, especially on first viewing. I've seen the film twice now, and the second time plays better because some concepts aren't well explained the first time around. I'm not sure if that's because the details were lost in editing over 2 hours of material down to a 1 1/2-hour film. I'd hope so, because at times I felt like I was just missing something the first time around--for example, the whole business of the Earth and Mars signing a treaty seems to come out of left field. You'll also notice minor continuity errors, particularly in clothing, due to this.
The dub of Poly-Matrix employs Elizabeth Berkley and Keifer Sutherland. I assume this was done in an attempt to get the film marketed into larger circles than it would have been otherwise. However, neither of them emote in their live-action roles, so why they would here is beyond me. Neither is bad, but neither is exemplary. The rest of the cast is similarly uninteresting, though fans of Robotech will get a kick out of several of its cast members having roles here too. There is no Japanese language track, which bothered me greatly the first time I saw it, since those tracks are usually far superior. However, the more I've read about the editing done on the film, it's very possible that the dialogue and music was changed in a variety of ways from the Japanese OVAs, making a Japanese language track impossible.
When I originally reviewed the film, I gave it a hard time for some particularly bad sound editing. Perhaps it was the copy of the disc I was watching or some other problem. That's not the case now--the version recently re-released is THX certified, and it's awesome. The sound is great and the 5.1 mix is quite good, with lots of surround editing that's much appreciated.
Though it has some problems both with animation and some minor plotting issues, Armitage III: Poly-Matrix still plays. Although I'm planning to pick up the OVAs when they are made available in the next few months, it's not a bad title as it currently exists.
Armitage III: Poly-Matrix -- brief nudity, graphic violence -- B+