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Mardock Scramble: The First Compression is an anime movie based on the science fiction novels penned by Japanese author Tow Ubukata. Already adapted into a manga comic book, the animated version of Mardock Scramble was originally envisioned as a direct to DVD series (known in the industry as an OVA.) For whatever reason the project was scrapped and years later the story is being told instead as a trilogy of short cartoon movies.
This first part of the Mardock Scramble saga begins by introducing us to Rune Ballot, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been forced into a life of underage prostitution after the collapse of her dysfunctional family. After her brother seriously injures her abusive father, Rune is left to fend for herself on the mean streets of Kamina City and ultimately ends up in jail. She is eventually picked up by Shell Septinous a casino manager with a unique medical condition that requires the extraction of his memories via regular surgery.
Unfortunately for Rune, Shell is a psychopath who gets his kicks by cremating ladies and using their carbonated remains to fashion blue engagement rings. Rune is left for dead when Septinous detonates the limo the young whore is trapped in. Thankfully for her she is rescued by Doctor Easter who uses the Mardock Scramble 9 law, which allows the use of unsanctioned technology to preserve human life in an emergency situation, to reconstruct her body. Rune is essentially turned into a superhuman cyborg, with artificial skin and the ability to manipulate electronics within close proximity of her.
Seizing the opportunity to bring down Shell, who is known in underworld circles for engaging in money laundering practices, Rune is convinced to testify against her would be murderer. Time will tell however if Ballot can survive long enough to last the court case's fruition given that Shell has dispatched a group of assassins tasked with keeping the resurrected cyborg silent.
Making the protagonist a teenage prostitute was a brave move by the writer as it's not exactly a career path most audience members will be able to relate to. During the second act, when Rune's past is probed by defence attorneys, it however becomes easier to sympathize with her as the rough upbringing were she was forced to cope with an incestuous parent is brought to light. Although naturally reserved, towards the end of the film she does let loose when it dawns on her that the cybernetic enhancements, she has been endowed with, give her the strength to punish those would have exploited her more vulnerable self in the past.
Rune's tragic past shapes her into a sad figure who wants to find someone to love. She clings to life although she has yet to discover anything worth living for. It's good to see Hilary Haag get cast in the role for the English dub as it allows her to expand her horizons in a part outside her comfort zone. Due to Haag's chirper voice, I often see her playing little girls or upbeat heroines so the more somber performance we get here is a nice change of pace. Due to the burns Rune sustains, her vocal cords are damaged and she is forced to communicate via electronic devices. The speaker effect mixed into Haag's lines works well as it offsets the naturally bubbly tone of her voice.
Doctor Easter entrusts Rune's care to Oeufcoque, a shape shifting artificial intelligence originally developed for use in space exploration. Oeufcoque likes to assume the form of a mouse, but can change into practically anything including a pendant, clothing and a range of firearms. As is often the case in science fiction the synthetic being ends up coming across as more human than a lot of the flesh inhabitants of Kamina City. Diplomatic, considerate and polite he makes a good partner for Rune whenever her conscience is tested by the corrupt society surrounding her. Oeufcoque has previously worked with one of the assassins pursuing Rune and their history is an aspect I hope is further delved into in future movies.
Mardock Scramble: The First Compression is a solid anime movie that should appeal to those with a taste for the cyberpunk genre. The impressive visuals are reminiscent of the original Ghost in the Shell movie, although I suppose the similarities come with the territory given that both films are set in near future cities. As the eighteen certificate on the box warns this is one of those cartoons for mature audiences only. The dark themes the story deals with include child abuse, prostitution and incest. Although not pornographic in nature there is some nudity and brief scenes of gore which may be too much for some adults to stomach let alone children.
Although I was impressed by the movie I can see some people being put off by the slow pace of things. The movie is barely an hour long and a good forty minutes of that is spent just introducing characters and setting up the world. Aside from a car chase scene, which does a good job of showcasing the computer effects seamlessly integrated with traditional 2D animation, the action is reserved for the finale when Rune takes on a group of twisted killers who have a thing for grafting body parts of their victims to their own bodies (one of them for example has decorated his skin with eyeballs.)
I really want to give this movie four stars, but I am going to have to settle for a mere three as I felt a little short changed once the end credits rolled. The short running time along with a cliffhanger ending hurts the release's value for money. Perhaps they would have been better off consolidating three short movies into two feature length films. I can't help but feel that this story would have been better told as a short series even if budgetary restraints would inevitably have resulted in the visuals suffering. Although I encourage anime fans to support the release and purchase the disc it may be better to wait for a price drop or see if they release a set with all three movies. Based on this strong start I suspect this three star movie has the potential to develop into a five star story once the trilogy is complete and viewers are able to experience it all in one sitting.