Back in 2006, a little movie called Ultraviolet was seen by few and enjoyed by even fewer. Kurt Wimmer's attempt at cinematically reverse engineering a graphic novel elicited reactions that ranged from "psycho-stylized cheddar" (positive) to "gigantic flaming ball of suck" (umm...negative?); and that's just a few of my fellow reviewers on DVDTalk. Just to let you know which side of the fence I fall on, I rather enjoyed the movie despite its many shortcomings. Sure it's more than a little silly and the plot is barely coherent but when I'm in the right mindset I'm able to appreciate it in all of its nonsensical glory. Milla Jovovich hurting goons in a futuristic setting conceived by the guy who gave us Equilibrium (a film I legitimately love)...yeah, I'm okay with that.
Clearly someone over at Madhouse agrees with me because in 2008 the esteemed anime studio created this series, Ultraviolet: Code 44, set in the same universe as Wimmer's movie. The series only ran for 1 season, but over the course of 12 episodes it was able to tell a story with a clear beginning, middle and end. Now, I don't want to get your hopes up if you were hoping to see an animated Milla Jovovich doing more damage with her steely gaze and even steelier blade. The series isn't a direct sequel to the movie. It doesn't even feature Jovovich's character in any real capacity. It does however, extend Wimmer's mythology in meaningful ways while taking frequent breaks for eye-popping action.
I've mentioned the mythology of Ultraviolet so it might be worth laying it out for the uninitiated. Wimmer's film presented us with a future where the Hemophage virus was used to boost the abilities of soldiers. Unfortunately this virus got out into the general population where it started to show some pretty adverse side-effects. Lifespans were drastically cut short as people started to display vampire-like characteristics (if you're wondering why vampires, you're asking too many questions). In an ill-advised show of power, the government started rounding up the infected people and killing them. This in turn gave rise to an underground movement of the infected, now known as Phages, who wanted nothing more than to establish their own society and live free from persecution.
While Wimmer's film ended with Milla shaking the government to its core, Code 044 picks up an undisclosed period of time later with the hunting of Phages still being the status quo. If anything, society has become ever more unstable. In a sneaky move, the government has started using clones infected with the Hemophage virus to take down prominent Phage leaders with the ultimate prize being the head honcho known as King. Our protagonist is a clone, Agent 044, who is an accomplished assassin but at the tender age of 19 is already starting to worry about how much time she has left before the virus claims her life. She may seem to lack a clear purpose in life but she always follows the orders of Daxus II, the director of the central government.
In a government mandated attack, 044 runs into Luka Bloom, a young Phage leader, whom she instantly and inexplicably falls in love with. In protecting him, she lands herself on the wrong side of the government. Now hunted by her own people as well as the Phages, 044 finds herself on the run. Her only ally is Garcia, the doctor who cared for her during her training period. If she is to ever return home and live out her remaining days in peace, she'll have to face off against Daxus and his men. Along the way, she'll meet a few new friends, make a ton more enemies and gain a better understanding of who she really is.
Much like the film it's based on, Code 044 is targeting a rather specific audience. If you're willing to put up with paper-thin characters and occasionally nonsensical plot developments, then you'll be rewarded with a show that moves along at a brisk pace, tossing out gritty, stylized action sequences like nobody's business. Sure, the hot and cold romance between 044 and Luka is forced and unnecessary but you might not care after she lays waste to a room full of clone soldiers. With that said, a flurry of action can't disguise what you're watching. This is a modest show with one simple goal: entertainment. Transcending the medium and being truly special is a lofty goal that it doesn't even shoot for.
While there is plenty of eye-candy on display in terms of 044's swordplay and other assorted ass-kickery, the show feels underwritten when it comes to the characters themselves. 044 herself is pretty one-dimensional and monotonous. When she's not slashing through her enemies, she's succumbing to mommy issues and thinking really deep thoughts. Her backstory makes her relevant but nothing about her in the present day is all that compelling. Garcia fares a little better since he's allowed to have a sense of humor. Strangely enough, the most interesting character is Sakuza, a mysterious man who our heroine encounters on a mining planet where she's hiding out. In just 4 episodes, he is developed into an engaging presence which is more than can be said for many of the series regulars.
Another minor misstep lies in the pacing of the show. The middle third of the show (set on the mining planet) suddenly expands in scope and turns into something epic as our heroes prepare for full-blown war. Unfortunately, the payoff turns out to be a much more scaled back affair that offers a climax with a lot less power. With that said, I still have to give kudos for the mature approach on display here. Director Osamu Dezaki achieves a consistency in tone that even Wimmer had a tough time finding in his film. Although created in a different medium than the film that it's based on, Code 044 is an entertaining enough companion piece.
The show was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Each disc of the 2 disc set carried 6 episodes. Other than a few instances of banding in the early episodes, I didn't notice too many annoying visual defects. The muted color palette successfully depicted the worn in look of the show's futuristic setting while a touch of intentional softness played off the ultra-smooth appearance of Wimmer's film quite nicely.
The audio was presented in an English 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. For some reason the original Japanese audio track was omitted which would have been a nice feature for folks who don't enjoy dubbing in their anime. With that said, the English audio mix was clear and free of obvious defects. For the most part, the front of the soundstage was favored but the rear surrounds came alive during the action scenes. Dialogue was also presented with clarity.
There were no extras.
As anime goes, Ultraviolet: Code 044 doesn't aim terribly high but it has a certain appeal, especially for fans of the Kurt Wimmer film that it's based on. Frequent and frenzied action sequences cover up flat characters and plot holes for the most part. The show also hooks into many of the intriguing elements of the source film's mythology and successfully expands on a few that were previously unexplored. Recommended.