Vexille (FUNimation Entertainment, PG-13)

 

If you’re given to conspiracy theories about governments, corporations, modern medicine, or nanotechnology, you’ll find your worst nightmares fulfilled in this story.

 

Imagine yourself in a future world where the science of robotics is so advanced that the United Nations bans further research and development: in an ethical dilemma similar to that posed by human cloning, public officials are afraid that the line between man and machine will become irrevocably blurred and the specific qualities which separate human beings from all other forms of life will be lost. Now imagine that a rogue nation refuses to honor the treaty, and instead withdraws from the UN, deports all foreigners, and constructs an energy field over itself which prevents any form of electronic surveillance or communication.

That’s the world of Vexille: the rogue nation is Japan, and the film begins in the year is 2067, not coincidentally 200 years (or 199, depending on which set of dates you use) since the end of Tokugawa Shogunate. Then jump ahead 10 years: the United States suspects the Japanese are cultivating banned technologies, and sends a commando force (with very nifty armored suits, which make them look like robots) to attempt to penetrate the Japanese blockade. Only two survive: Leon, who is captured by the Daiwa Corporation which is now the de facto government of Japan, and Vexille, who is rescued by Maria, leader of a band resisting Daiwa.

Vexille finds herself in a shantytown, which is all that’s left of the once glorious metropolis of Tokyo; outside of an area secured by a ceramic wall, life is constantly threatened by mechanical monsters known as Jags. It’s impossible to say much more without spoiling the fun, so I’ll leave it at this: if you’re given to conspiracy theories about governments, corporations, modern medicine, or nanotechnology, you’ll find your worst nightmares fulfilled in this story.

Although the premise of Vexille is interesting, the story is really not its strong point: it draws on a variety of ideas and conventions familiar from other films and novels, and becomes more disappointingly predictable as the movie wears on. But Vexille is worth seeing for the art alone, which is light-years more sophisticated than the jumpy animation usually seen in popular kid’s anime series. Vexille is directed by Fumihiko Sori, who produced Appleseed, directed the live-action Ping-Pong, and supervised visual effects on several other films. The variety of visual styles is amazing: otherwise conventional mecha battles are so glitteringly detailed that they seem extraordinary, dense cityscapes are realer than real, and some of the landscapes are breathtaking in their beauty. The human (and apparently human) characters are stylized, almost two-dimensional, but act in a three-dimensional world: devoting greater detail to inanimate than to animate elements further confuses the boundaries between man and machine.

I don’t often find the music in an anime film to be worthy of special mention, but Vexille is an exception: it’s an attractive blend of techno, trance, and related styles, and among the featured artists are Basement Jaxx, Asian Dub Foundation, M.I.A. and D.J. Shadow. The English dubbing is also of a much higher quality than you typically see in anime: most of the voices are provided by professional voice actors, including Colleen Clinkenbeard (Vexille), Christine Auten (Maria) and Travis Willingham (Leon)—all play their roles realistically and without the vocal clichés heard in many lower-quality anime dubs.

Although Vexille was released theatrically in the U.S., it has seen greater success as a DVD, and is now available in several versions, including conventional DVD and Blu-Ray. Further information, including preview clips, is available from http://www4.funimation.com/vexille/. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

 

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