Background: A great many writers spend an awful lot of time reminding the rest of us the axiom expounded by historians: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." While the words of Santayana often fail to impress students until they are much older, current events show us the value of keeping it in mind. With wars and economic distress impacting our current way of life, we need only look backwards in time to recall how very often all of this has happened before (and yes, we got over the bumps in the road to achieve success time and again in spite of it all). Today's review of Vexille is an example of this philosophy tied into an admittedly flashy looking story, set decades into the future during a time when the world is at odds with technological progress.
Movie: Vexille is set in 2077; the United Nations having set limits on the advancement of robotics due to the likelihood of the troubles it would cause. Japan decides to reject the idea and go into seclusion, employing a comprehensive policy of isolationism backed by a technological shield that prevents the rest of the world from spying on the island state. Limited trade is maintained but given the advances Japan had been making since the veil of secrecy went up in 2067, her exports limited to allowable technology by their most powerful corporation, Daiwa Heavy Robotics Industries. Daiwa is the most powerful force in Japan, her board of directors including strong political and economic figures from all over the world. The movie starts off with a meeting of the board outside of Japan in a heavily guarded mansion on Christmas Eve, the free world sending in a team of military operatives to investigate claims of international violations of law. The team sent in is a small group of agents in battle gear from a secret group called SWORD; a highly advanced team akin to Delta Force, the Seals, and geared up with weaponry that surpasses anything of our time.
As a result of some intelligence gathered on a routine guard operation (shown in flashback form), the meeting was discovered and all efforts were taken to figure out what was so important that it would be held on a snowy holiday night. As the perimeter is breached, we learn that the location is not without defenses but the biggest surprise being the fate of the board at the hands of Daiwa executive Saito. Saito is known by one of the operatives, a talented young lady by the name of Vexille, the lead protagonist of the story. She does her best to capture him for the information he holds but he escapes just before the mansion blows up, nearly taking the team with it. Upon inspection of Saito's amputated leg, lost during the firefight, it is discovered that Japan's technology has not only advanced to the point where perfect copies of humans exist but the means to imitate their bio-signature masking the fact as well. In a change of long time policy, it is decided to send out a recon team from SWORD to infiltrate Japan to see exactly how far their advances have come in the past ten years; a possible suicide mission with the caveat that anyone caught will be on their own.
The SWORD team uses stealth to breach the barrier protecting Japan from prying eyes and they almost succeed in their goal to set up a device that will allow spy satellite's to peer into the hidden land but most of the team is gunned down by Saito's men. Vexille barely manages to escape thanks to the help of some natives in a shanty town near the coast, finding that a lot of the natives oppose Daiwa's control over the country. The secrets she uncovers during her stay threaten to change the course of the entire world, pitting her and her newfound allies against the might of the nation. As the story continues to unfold, the stakes get much higher as the fate of the entire world rests in the hands of Vexille against someone from her past, a dangerous man with an even more dangerous vision that he fully intends to achieve.
Using animation much like that of Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo rather than hand drawn or more traditional looking techniques, the CGI was a nice attempt to try something almost humanizing in some ways, falling short in my book but still another step in the advancement of the genre. The story itself, reduced of eye candy and big budget tricks, was on the weak side but it showed enough promise in terms of layering the different elements into what became a limited theatrical release (still rare for anime in the USA) that I think traditional fans of the genre will fall all over themselves to sing its many praises. I wanted something with more substance but I said that about Appleseed too, much to the chagrin of folks suggesting I turn a blind eye to the faults of the project in favor of focusing my efforts on the more positive aspects. Regular readers know I do not do that and I applaud FUNimation endlessly for their efforts in providing the best anime to domestic viewers but I really felt that a rating of Rent It was more appropriate given the lack of extras (almost ensuring it will have a better re-release, hopefully in Blu-Ray with a full compliment of extras) and limitations.
Picture: Vexille was presented in a fetching anamorphic presentation using 16:9 enhancement with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 color with the MPEG-2 codec used on this SD version. The characters moved almost as fluidly as the backgrounds, the falling snowflakes adding depth in the opening scene as did the various secondary elements throughout the show. The backgrounds were not strictly a single frame looped in and that assisted in tricking the eye into seeing the show more realistically but the macro-blocking in the darker sections was noticed more than once and some of the effects did not seem as advanced as others. Director/Writer Sori wove a fairly boilerplate espionage thrill here, the science fiction elements added in mostly to appease the audience of cyberpunk fans from what I could tell. This type of animation looks kind of creepy to me in how it cannot (yet) mimic the human nuances (at least on budgets like this) but seems to project a certain human quality better than the anime most of us have become used to over the years. I noticed no compression artifacts and the bitrate hovered around the 8 Mbps mark.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround in either the original Japanese or the newly commissioned English language dub, with optional English subtitles (looking like dubtitles in terms of how similar they were to the dub) for those that care. I watched the movie twice since there were few natural breaks that would allow me to review it with any consistency trying both languages out. The Japanese track was the better of the two, sporting a wider range of intonation and inflection by the voice actors in almost all cases. The English language dub seemed to slightly alter the music and mixes a bit to favor the bass, especially in the battle sequences, but each was much alike outside of the vocal nuances. The front speakers got the majority of the separation except during the action sequences which were done nicely enough, some tweaks needed on the dub to engage a more realistic surround effect. The bitrate was 448 Kbps, substantially higher than usual, and I found the score by Paul Oakenfold to be a step ahead of most such projects in recent years.
Extras: The only extra was a few trailers to other productions, no way to skip them when first playing the disc.
Final Thoughts: Vexille was a lot different from many traditional anime offerings but it certainly paid a lot of tribute to all that went before it as well. The cyberpunk themes, the future as a decidedly mixed bag, and the political implications of some of the commentary missed the mark but still should appeal to a number of people that aren't "into" anime as a general rule of thumb so as a cross over title, Vexille is better than average even if the adult themes were more in line with a rating higher than the PG-13 it earned. While some of the story elements were not as strong as the visual appeal the movie offered, you might find this to be appealing on levels that few anime series have provided in recent times so give it a look. It might even give fans something to show to their friends to get them interested in some of the better titles on the market thanks to the heavy science and dark nature of humanity it displayed.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.