Mardock Scramble: The First Compression (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze) Running time: 63 minutes approx.
In a futuristic society Rune Balot, a 15-year-old prostitute, is left for dead by her client for the night, unhinged casino king Shell Septinous, but is saved at the last minute by Dr. Easter, a former military scientist who resurrects the dead under a new law called Scramble 09, in which the revived victims of a misdeed are called upon as witnesses to prosecute their assailants.
Having rebuilt her body with a new synthetic fibre Dr. Easter puts Rune in the care of an artificial intelligence named Oeufcoque Penteano – manifested here as a golden mouse – to help Rune reclaim her life. After her appearance at his trail, Shell decides it is time that Rune disappears for good. With a new technology at her disposal, it is up to Rune to stop Shell, fuelled by her desire for vengeance.
This often bleak cyberpunk tale first appeared in 2003 as a series of novels by Tow Ubukata which later became a manga and now an anime film trilogy from studio GoHands, with the screenplay written by Ubukata himself. From the opening moments the visuals and tone will assuredly recall Ghost In The Shell for most viewers but aside from the aesthetics and a cyborg leading lady, the comparisons stop there.
Mardock Scramble takes the cyberpunk template as a conduit for its violent existentialist tale of political, moral and sexual corruption. The fact that this feature necessitated an edit for US distribution (presented here as the main feature) is an indicator that this is may not an easy ride for some.
Contrary to the splendour of bright colours and crystal clear futuristic vistas the life of our young protagonist is a dark and morbid one. Rune is very much a product of her debauched family environment which shaped her taciturn personality, tinged by a melancholic air of self-loathing. A recurring motif sees Rune declaring she doesn’t care if she dies but she doesn’t want to die, desperate for a reason to live.
Rune’s promiscuity is explained by the revelation of when and to whom she lost her virginity, which, as unsettling as it is, does put Rune’s whole attitude towards love and life into some sense of perspective, challenging the perception of what “normality” is for each individual and fuels her need for assurance that she isn’t damaged goods.
Thus we have a troubled protagonist fighting a battle against herself as much as she is fighting to protect her life, finding solace in the form of a the intelligent shape shifting mouse, Oeufcoque – the only other character to be developed in this opening instalment, although character is quite a nebulous noun to use in this instance, since he/it can assume any form – not limited to weaponry, jewellery, clothing or equipment – except a human but Rune’s preferred form of a golden mouse.
Since Oeufcoque treats Rune without judgement and thus better than most humans do, she becomes attached to Oeufcoque (quite literally in some cases) and our heroine begins to learn the importance of trusting and protecting others during a spectacular and carnage filled shoot out which closes this episode.
One of the casualties of the film’s hour long running time is that Shell is a sorely underdeveloped antagonist: paper thin with unexplained motives for his perverse hobby of making gemstones with the ashes of his sexual conquests. He is assisted by the cold blooded Dimsdale Boiled, about whom we learn is a former partner of Oeufcoque, having defected to the nefarious October Group.
Providing some rather grotesque back-up are a group of underground neurosurgeons, each with a fetish for certain parts of the body – some given away by literal nicknames like Rare the Hair and Welldone the Pussyhand (the less said about him the better) while Mincemeat the Wink has eyes attached to his body and Fresh the Pike’s rotund torso is covered with breasts! A dream come true for some, no doubt.
As suggested above, The First Compression suffers from the compact running time leaving some elements of the story rushed and undeveloped. There are a myriad of ideas and concepts it wants to explore but the insufficient time allotment precludes this, resulting in a mixed paced affair.
A further twenty to thirty minutes would have done the trick, but for now, the main foundation of the story has been laid well enough to follow without confusion. Action fans will be unfulfilled until mid away through the film and even then it is fairly short but the best is clearly saved until last with a hugely eventful finale which ends on a heart stopping cliffhanger of Code Geass proportions.
Among the extras one will find the “Director’s Cut”, which features an extra four minutes of material cut from the US edit, mostly sexual situations involving the underage Rune. While it may not make much difference to the narrative, the unabashed nature of their content gives the tale an extra edge to make Rune’s backstory just that little more chilling, otherwise one isn’t losing anything from viewing the edited version.
Whichever one you opt to watch though, the visuals are stunning and look sumptuous on BluRay. GoHands have delivered a CGI heavy work which features a throwback to the cell drawn days of animation, hence the GITS comparisons earlier, that suits the ominous tone of the tale.
The Mardock Scramble trilogy – complete with its apparent egg fetish (Boiled, Shell, Scramble, Easter, Balot, “oeuf” is French for “egg” – notice a pattern here?) – will arguably have limited appeal due to its well deserved 18 certificate.
However there is no denying that beneath the uncompromising content lies an intelligent and challenging tale, which this reviewer hopes will be able to overcome its glaring handicaps in the upcoming sequels to deliver a credible and absorbing viewing experience of greater depth, which has the potential to sit alongside the many sci-fi cyberpunk greats in the anime catalogue.
Director’s Cut (67 minutes approx)
TV Spots 1 & 2
Rating – ****
Man In Black