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Mardock Scramble the Second Compression: Eggs Sunny Side Up and Poker Chips Down

August 20, 2012

Old hippies may ask, “Where have all the flowers gone?” but old anime fans ask, “Where have all the cyber punk anime gone?” It seems like one of those genres that occasionally still appears in anime but overall has faded away from the general milieu. Some elements of the genre have permeated their way into the rest of the medium and that is all that is left of it. But on a rare occasion you do get a full case of the real deal. For the longest time the only stand out examples were any entries in the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series but recently the Mardock Scramble movies have come along to round out the roster a bit.

We did not talk about the first movie as a unified effort. Narutaki saw it way back in 2010 when she caught a premiere at the NYAF but I did not see the movie until I watched it on Hulu in December of last year. So if your intimately curious you can go back and read our brief reviews there. Sufficed to say we both enjoyed the movie as a return to the combination of sex and violence with brooding philosophy that was the hallmark of so much 80′s OVA anime. We included it on our “New Anime for Older Fans” panel for a reason. But is this the Empires Strikes Back or The Matrix Reloaded for the series?

I’ve had to wait quite a while to see the conclusion to one heck of cliffhanger in Mardock Scramble the First Compression. Seriously guys, it was just plain mean. So understandably there was quite a bit of anticipation for this next part in the series.

Mardock Scramble the Second Compression gives us that closure as well as opening up a slightly wider look at its world.

The First Compression ends with Rune Ballot getting ready to make a desperate last stand. With Oeufcoque near dead only a last second bit of intervention is able to save them. But even as Rune Ballot attempts to recover in Paradise a determined Boiled is relentlessly hunting her. The only way for Rune to get out alive is to stop running and take the fight to Shell. If she can win the memory chips that he is hiding in his casino she can finally have the upper hand.

There are two major settings for this middle film: Paradise and Shell’s casino. The similarities of those two things are nicely portrayed. Both are havens from the real world, both are indulgent, and both have their own rules. Their even related visually through color in the movie.

Paradise is a place that opens up a lot of questions and curiosities but I’m not sure how much more we can expect to learn about it. Also they don’t beat around the bush when it comes to the Biblical references. Also, Alice in Wonderland. But I don’t really know how it all fits together with the rest of story yet. I found imagining Rune as an Eve figure a little bizarre considering all she’s gone through before landing in Paradise. But then again, the entire population of Paradise is pretty bizarre. They aren’t really naive, maybe uninhibited would be the right phrase? They are unbound by the real and imagined rules of society. So when Tweedledee declares “He’s my friend, brother, and lover” about a dolphin, that’s just status quo.

Shell’s casino so far has actually been rather tame. Considering him and those around him, I expected something really crazy. But Rune doesn’t enter the high stakes room until the end so there could be decadence just around the corner.

Everything and anything that made the first film feel like an 80′s OVA is still here in the second movie. Rune is naked quite often. When she is not naked is does spend a good deal of time in a medical gown. And when she is naked she spends some time swimming with sexually liberated cyber dolphin. And the violence is just as bloody. Norio Wakamoto is back as an even more deranged Medium the Fingernail so people are losing arms left and right with giant gouts of blood.The old school actions fans should be happy in the regard. But there is no way to edit this and not have it be 18+ without making it 10 minutes long.

Also Rune and Oeufcoque’s philosophical musing is back as well. If the first movie was Rune learning who she was after her resurrection then this movie is her accepting that fact and figuring out where to go from there. When she started really coming into her powers in the first movie she quickly went to a very dark and sadistic place. As she drastically learned how much that hurt Oeufcoque she clearly saw that was not the road she wished to go down. But then she is left with the question. What path to salvation can she take? Throughout the course of The Second Combustion has to steel her resolve while resolving her issues with Oeufcoque and more importantly with herself.

At the same time in this movie we learn who exactly Boiled and Oeufcoque are, how they became partners, and then how they became each others nemesis. Boiled and Oeufcoque were both lost souls when they first met. But whereas Rune rejects the thrill and power of near invincibility we see that the one time shell-shocked Shell embraced the darkness. Shell likes to give the infamous “We’re not so different, you and I” speech several times in the movie it is clear than Rune could have been the next Boiled but has already rejected that twisted philosophy. But I am sure it will come back in the final confrontation at least once. That is just the way these thing work.

As Narutaki mentioned Paradise has a very obvious Garden of Eden theme permeating its existence. But is does help build the larger conflict of how experience and the lack thereof twists people. Everyone who stays in Paradise like Professor Faceman and Tweedledee are mostly safe from most of the negative experiences of the outside world. But at the same time they are both clearly twisted by their lack of experience. Professor Faceman has become a head in a jar and  Tweedledee’s confrontation with Medium the Fingernail shows that living such a sheltered life has clearly made him very strange. On the other hand leaving paradise destroyed the two Professors and turned Boiled into a monster. Leaving Paradise clearly exposes you to countless trails and tribulations.

Rune’s path clearly has been one who has rarely ever been in Paradise. From the time she was born the weight of horrible experiences has been thrust upon her. Her trial is if the can bear the weight of so much pain and learn from it with be destroyed or twisted by it. The temptation to slide wither way is constantly present. Giving in or giving up has repeatedly been shown to be all too easy. But the middle path to something higher with Oeufcoque as her guardian angel is in her grasp if she is strong enough.

There is a bit less action in this movie. Or maybe it is just felt that way because the action mostly took place in the first half and then tapered out as the rest of the movie became an extended gambling scene. But this movie did have giant cybernetic flying sharks so win some, lose some.

And since there are giant cybernetic flying sharks, you know the action that there is is totally awesome! We don’t have a group of creep-o assassins to contend with but the ferocity of the violence is just as strong.

The gambling feels a bit too draggy coming off of everything else that we’ve seen. It probably needed to be inter-cut with something more peppy because even knowing it is important for Rune to win at the casino, so far there was very little tension in the play. The poker game went well enough but the roulette scene was bordering on boring. And I enjoy gambling and gambling in series, too, but this was just not up the task. I again suspect, or at least hope, that they Black Jack room will hold something more exciting.

About the only thing that is majorly different between the two movies is the casino scene. As Narutaki mentioned the scene goes on quite a while and is clearly going to continue into the next movie. I did not find it too aggravating but it needs a little more Akagi crazy life or death bets and a little less Saki Episode of Side A super sedate tea time gambling. The poker scene is a nice warm up but the roulette game is more of an extended character moment. But for a trilogy of movies that so far has been action scenes intercut with philosophy and character examination you can really feel the pace of the movie slow down here.

I get the point that the game against Bell Wing is a distinct and unusually non-violent way to see how Rune’s resolve has been hardened while showing she still retains some empathy for others. From what I understand the book goes into the gritty details of the poker match as much as the mechanics of the roulette table. So the movie wisely just gives the viewer the highlights of the poker match. But since there is this greater moment of character examination involved we pretty much get the whole roulette scene. I think the scene could have been cut a little while retaining the valuable thematic points and still retained its power. I think most people came for the futuristic cyber-samurai battles and not the hardcore Rio: Rainbow Gate! games so they should have stuck a little more to what they do best.

Then again the writer, Tow Ubukata’s column for NewType magazine is called a “A Gambler’s Life” so the man clearly has a bit of an obsession with games of chance. And it obviously bleeds into this series with the amount of attention it gets.

If the first movie went out with a bang, this movie went out with a sigh. It’s not that I don’t want to know what happens, it’s just that this movie doesn’t have an immediate threat. But like the first movie, it ends in the middle of an event. In this way, they really don’t function like a movie. Or rather don’t function like I would like them to. They just feel like, hey I guess we better stop here for now, instead of really thought out about how to create a satisfying bite of the story. And since it’ll be another year before I see the conclusion…

All told, I enjoyed this movie but it was an unexpected follow-up from the first.

Well if nothing else you can’t say they left you on anywhere as nasty a cliff hanger the end of this piece of the story. It is clear that the casino is sending out their big guns to take down Rune but a world-class blackjack dealer is not that same level of suspense as a super solider who can control gravity. But overall I enjoyed what I saw. Despite the length of the casino scene there was still quite a lot to enjoy inside of that segment and outside of it as well.  It is a bit refreshing to have an anime that has a bit of that old school gritty feel mixed with a fresh pop of modern techniques. I look forward to the spectacular conclusion of this trilogy. I am sure that getting the memory chip will merely be the catalyst that sparks the inevitable and visceral final confrontation between Rune and Boiled. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.

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