Saturday, December 29, 2007


You Shall Not Pass!

This year had perhaps seen a bumper crop of anime movies making it to the theatres, with the likes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Paprika, Brave Story, Doraemon, and now, a science fiction mecha genre anime by the producer of Appleseed, Fumihiko Sori.

Set in the middle of the 21st century, the world has become like that in Isaac Asimov novels, with robots having the intelligence finally to assist mankind in various tasks, which doesn't discount the fact that they'll be used in warfare too, with creations resembling those seen in Clone Wars. Coming from the largest factory in the world, Japan, for their technological genius, the world soon frowns upon their quest to fuse robots and humans (much like the brouhaha on potential abuse of stem cell technology), and Japan, being pissed, decides to shut itself off from the rest of the world.

Naturally, US foreign policy dictates that they are curious as to what's going on behind the iron curtain, so they send their crack paramilitary unit called SWORD to infiltrate Japan. They are afraid of the potential threat the robots give to humankind, and more so are suspicious of the largest conglomerate and robot producer Daiwa Heavy Industries, who are dabbling into questionable robotic research. Led by Leon (voiced by Shosuke Tanihara), it goes without saying that titular character Vexille (Meisa Kuroki) will get to save the day (hey, it's her name on the billboard). Interestingly enough though, this movie has its weight put on the strength of its female characters, Vexille, and rebel fighter Maria (Yasuko Matsuyuki)

There are many familiar elements in Vexille both character and plot wise, but that doesn't detract from the fact that there still are a number of plus points leading to the enjoyment of this movie. The designs of the mecha used by SWORD units, which is like an exoskeleton suit designed for middleweight, individual battles, are crafted to look like they just walked out of any generic Hollywood science fiction movie, as do the enemy's guard droids which look like they were heavily influenced by Robocop's ED209.

And with the many ships and transporters, can someone say Star Wars too? But the one that takes the cake, is the post-apocalyptic look at Japan, making it seem like the planet of Arakis from Frank Herbert's Dune, complete with their version of the Fremen with their tinkering prowess, and those monstrous, lethal sandworms too, which take on a mechanical facade over here, known as Jags. Even the inevitable finale seemed to have taken a leaf from Herbert's literary masterpiece.

As with any mecha-related stories, there's always a tussle between what it means to be a human and android (erm, Blade Runner?), and the hopes and dreams to preserve their way of life against a megalomaniac industrialist, who shares six degrees of separation with everyone involved. But we're not really here for rehashed cyberpunk stories involving the first 2 installments of the Animatrix, are we?

We're here for the action pieces, and boy, they don't disappoint. From the get go we're treated to a full scale assault and brought to see what SWORD can do, and it played out to John Woo-ish distinction with plenty of violence set to slow motion, with numerous guns blazing that would even make the master proud. Credit goes to designing the well crafted action sequences so they are vastly different from one another, and the best has got to be the massive chase/race sequence in the later half of the movie. And a bonus here is the music, contributed no doubt by the genius of Paul Oakenfold. This one delivered perfectly, adding a huge dash of pulsating zing to complement the action, though I thought I heard a few bars off his Ready Steady Go!

The animation is in no doubt stunning with its photo-realism, and for a predominantly 2D movie, I thought it even beat Beowulf in the graphics, and intensity of the storyline. Vexille comes across as a recommended movie to catch before the dawn of the new year. Go see!

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