The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Mardock Scramble: The First Compression

Title: Mardock Scramble: The First Compression
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: GoHands
Format: Movie; 70 minutes.
Date: 6 Nov 2010

Synopsis: Rune Balot is a 15-year old hooker who is taken in by Shell-Septinos, a gambler/casino manager working under a powerful conglomerate called October Corp. When Shell tried to kill Rune in a premeditated murder, she was rescued and revived as a cyborg by Dr. Easter, who is pursuing Shell for secretly engaging in criminal activities. With an A.I. in the form of a mouse named Œufcoque at her side, she decides to help the doctor as a critical litigant against her murderer and the October Corp., even if it means putting her life in grave danger.

The Highlights
Identity: A Ghost in the Shell breed with less emphasis on the technobabble.
Production values: On par with Production I.G‘s standards; uniquely grainy visuals.
Narrative: Plot-driven storyline, which is synonymous with cyberpunk.
Ambiance: Grim, bleak, disturbing… and therefore immersive.
What this show needs: More emphasis on character development and exploration of the Mardock universe.

First Compression is what I consider a hidden gem: it’s a highly entertaining short movie, yet not many people know about it, let alone discuss it. A title that somewhat flew under the anime community’s radar, it is the latest addition to the cyberpunk family that oozes style in its action sequences and boasts amazing production values. Many people would name Ghost in the Shell as a primary example when it comes to cyberpunk, and First Compression does bear numerous evident similarities with the 1995 movie based on Shirow Masamune‘s influential brainchild; despite distinguishing itself with traits both good and bad. With a riveting story yet to be done, I would be lying if I say that I’m not interested to know what happens next.

Apart from being of the same genre, one strong parallel that First Compression draws with Ghost in the Shell relates to the creation of a futuristic and surreal society. A hellhole rife with vice and immorality, Mardock City is a neo-urban jungle that paints a world where good is overwhelmed by evil and extreme measures must be taken in order for justice to prevail. Viewers will be absorbed into the atmosphere almost instantly, and it is coupled with an engaging, morbid storyline that involves adult activities and depraved fetishes. The only problem though is how so little is explained about the world of Mardock, such as the nature of the Scramble 09 and the crimes that the October Corp engages in.

Another similarity shared between First Compression and Ghost in the Shell is the characterization. A classic example of a girl from a broken household and a victim of domestic violence, protagonist Rune is a figure with a riveting and vivid background story. However, in terms of her character, she is nothing more than a puppet to the plot and this is a pet issue I have with cyberpunk. In titles of this genre, plot development tends to take precedence over character development, and while such a narrative style is good at propelling the story forward, the cast ends up being shallow and lacking emotional dimensions. The only emotional aspect in the storyline comes from the interactions between Rune and Œufcoque, of which the former and latter’s respective emotional and intellectual views on their relationship strike the viewer as both quirky and genuine.

As I have learned to anticipate from most cyberpunk titles, First Compression does not disappoint with the aesthetics. From the camera-panning of the speeding bullets to the slow-motion smashing of stained glass, the movie is a visual spectacle from start to finish. But what’s unique about the visuals is the video-like graininess, which gives the movie a nostalgic feel as though it was produced in the early 1990s. Another noteworthy aspect — which came as a surprise to me — is that the ending song is a Japanese-English rendition of “Amazing Grace”, perhaps the most well-known Christian hymn in the English-speaking world.

If someone comes up to me and says that First Compression is a copycat of Ghost in the Shell, I would understand where his stance comes from. The former has a stark resemblance to the latter, and perhaps that’s where it draws much of its inspiration from. But I personally see it more as a contribution to cyberpunk, which I have had a soft spot for ever since I began watching anime as a hobby. The first installment is a thrilling ride, and I reckon that there is plenty more from where it came from. I’ll be mostly looking forward to the developments of the storyline in the next two upcoming movies, but I still remain hopeful that the cast will be fleshed out more; for example, it would be cool if the viewer learned about how Boiled and Oeufoque were originally affiliated, or the main antagonist’s view of the world. For now, I’m glad that I have come across an underrated title that deserves to be mentioned and watched by others.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: AC

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