Mardock Scramble: The Third Exhaust (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze) Running time: 67 minutes approx
With this final chapter resuming from the exact moment we left it at the end of the second instalment a quick recap is in order: teenage prostitute Rune Balot, left to die by twisted casino king Shell Septinous, was rescued and rebuilt as a cyborg by Dr. Easter. Rune is partnered with shape-shifting artificial intelligence named Oeufcoque Penteano, whose regular form is a golden mouse, to hunt down Shell and bring him to justice.
Rune and Easter had infiltrated Shell’s casino to locate the chips which contain his suppressed memories to use against him in court. We rejoin the story in the middle of the high stakes card games which Rune – with Oeufcoque’s help (disguised as her gloves) – is able to read and manipulate the game to her advantage. You may wonder what this has to within the diegesis of this gory, sexual cyberpunk yarn but there is a method to the madness. Rune’s continuing success is to draw the attention to Shell while racking up such an impressive run of wins that her stakes can only be contained in the form of the rarely seen golden million dollar chips – inside one of which is hidden Shell’s memories.
If you’ve followed Japanese arts and culture to any extent you will know that they place high value in the philosophy of their actions and this game offers another exploration into these musing, with Rune realising the value and emotional cost of winning and losing. It sounds rather trite and pseudo-intellectual for a show in which every name is egg related but it makes for some interesting and thought provoking drama to offset the grisly violence and disturbing sexual content this trilogy is notorious for.
With the casino mission over (after some twenty minutes which may not please everyone) we get a short burst of action as Shell’s hired muscle, the deranged Dimsdale Boiled, pursues our heroes with all guns blazing in a nifty bullet laden car chase. Back to the lab and Shell’s memories are extracted via Rune, revealing the tragic and depraved events of his childhood that have shaped his perverted and vicious adult life. Shell has locked this away and it is understood that if he could regain these memories he would cease being the violent misogynistic psycho he is now and seek repentance for his actions. Naturally however this is easier said than done and with Boiled still on the loose a blood soaked, high body count, violent conclusion to this warped story is all but guaranteed.
And a conclusion we most certainly get, which is refreshing in anime these days, although whether is totally satisfies will remain subjective. Bullets do indeed fly, limbs are separated from bodies and the claret doth flow but the resolution is more for the characters than the story itself. To that end the final battle is a suitably engaging and visually energetic slice of action but doesn’t quite pack that decisive climatic punch expected after a near three hour viewer investment. At the risk of straying outside the boundaries of non-spoilers the last minute change in antagonist is a key facet in making this final battle less fulfilling than it should, a development in itself which feels somewhat ham fisted.
There is no denying that the events which sparked Shell’s behaviour would have a negative impact on anyone although they don’t fully explain his central motives as a result of this, other than residual perversion. Then we have the idea that restoring these repressed memories would suffice in bringing about a complete personality change when surely they would drive him over the edge instead? The result equates to “Oh, so that’s why I’m a psycho! I’d better not that do anything like that anymore then” which feels little more than a cop out to be frank, when locking up Shell for his own good would be a more fruitful first step towards rehabilitation.
As with all sci-fi based stories we are expected to suspend our disbelief and indulge the writer’s flights of fancy which is easily done if the writer is able to reward us with something in which we end up picking holes. To his credit Tow Ubukata has crafted a rather complex story and employs a number of interesting ideas which animation studio GoHands have done an impressive job in brining to life. Putting his egg fascination aside, Ubukata has unflinchingly tackled a favourite theme for Japanese writers, the tortured human psyche and the frailties of human relationships, offering a unique look into why bad people do bad things.
Perhaps Ubukata’s reasoning runs deeper in the original novels but the conclusion presented here is that it is a sad case of genetic chain reactions following an abuse of trust by the ones we love the most. This isn’t limited to the villains of the story but the protagonists too; remember Rune was abused by her father but consented because she was of the belief it showed the love between them. It’s a bold and distorted rational but one which could have been explored further given more time, although there is a lot to feel uncomfortable about in this series as it is.
As with the two previous releases, there are two versions of the film with the Director’s Cut longer by three minutes due to some extreme violence, nudity and brief sexual imagery. If your memory of everything that has happened prior to this release is understandably hazy, I would advise watching all three films in one sitting to get the most out of them.
The Third Exhaust may stumble a little at the conclusion, burdened with many threads to tie up, but brings suitable closure for the characters more than for the audience. Ultimately Mardock Scramble has been quite the ride, delivering an intense slice of violent, sexually charged cyberpunk action with gorgeous visuals and provocative themes. Ghost In The Shell it isn’t but it’s certainly not the worst of its many offspring either.
Theatrical Version (63 minutes approx)
On The Way To The Movie Theatres
Black Jack Battle
Memorial Talk with Tow Ubukata and Megumi Hayashibara
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black