Neo: There is some fiction in your truth, and some truth in your fiction. To know the truth, you must risk everything.
Genre: Science Fiction
Creators: The Wachowskis, Andy Jones, Mahiro Maeda, Shinichirō Watanabe, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Takeshi Koeke, Koji Morimoto, Peter Chung
Studios: Studio 4°C, Madhouse, DNA, Square Pictures
Length: 8 short films, 101 minutes total
Highlights: What The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions should have been.
When a studio commissions an anime series, most commonly its writers and artists adapt it from an already-existing manga work. Less frequently, they make an original series (which in turn often inspires manga of its own). Rarely, an anime work is adapted from a foreign franchise. One example of this is an anthology of short films called The Animatrix. It is based on The Matrix trilogy of films by the Wachowskis; created by a collection of studios, writers, and directors; takes place within and outside the Matrix; and shows stories and people the films never get a chance to. In my opinion, it is better than both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.
The first film, Final Flight of the Osiris, details the crew of the ship Osiris as they race to warn Zion, the last bastion of humanity in the Machine-controlled world, of a threat that could wipe out the last trace of free humanity. The Second Renaissance takes the form of a historical archive in the Zion mainframe, telling the story of man’s creation of the Machines, their subsequent enslavement, and eventual revolt against their human masters. Kid’s Story shows how Kid (a character from The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions) came to free himself from the Matrix. Program is set in the training session of a rebel named Cis, who discovers that her sparring partner Duo wants to return to the Matrix. World Record is about an Olympic athlete named Dan, who runs so fast that he literally breaks the Matrix. Within the Matrix, a young girl named Yoko comes across a “haunted” house full of glitches in the system in Beyond. Our old friend Shinichirō Watanabe is at his genre-mashing ways again with A Detective Story, a black and white film noir-influenced piece about a private investigator named Ash who is hired to track down the elusive hacker Trinity. Finally, Matriculated is a bizarre psychedelic trip concerning the nature of free will from the perspective of a Machine.
What is so interesting about The Animatrix is the variety and contrast of each of the shorts. Final Flight of the Osiris is an action packed piece highly reminiscent of the original movie, complete with murderous machines, a race against time, and lots of slow-motion action. Beyond is a slice-of-life short about a girl living an ordinary life in the Matrix and how she reacts when presented with evidence that there is something wrong with her world. A Detective Story is both an homage to and a unique twist on old private eye films, depicting a world which looks like the cyberpunk tendencies of The Matrix series were transplanted to 1940s New York. The shorts are also visually highly distinct. Although this is expected when multiple studios, animators, and directors collaborate on the same work, the diversity of The Animatrix is simply remarkable. On the one hand, Beyond and The Second Renaissance use pretty normal anime art styles. Final Flight of the Osiris, by contrast, is fully CGI; it was made by Square Pictures, the now-defunct subsidiary of Square Enix responsible for the cut-scenes of their Final Fantasy games. Shinichirō Watanabe’s two shorts, Kid’s Story and A Detective Story, are both highly unusual; the former animated in a manner meant to evoke pencil sketches and the latter being black and white and extremely influenced by film noir. Matriculated was created by Korean animator Peter Chung, and looks like it was fueled by a lot of LSD. It is also very similar in both tone and bizarre visual style to his influential animated series Æon Flux.
But possibly the greatest thing about The Animatrix is how true it stays to the original film. I was personally very disappointed in both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions; the former because its focus on action above all else hurt the plot and character development (even if the action was really good), and the latter for being an anticlimactic ending to an epic series. The Animatrix possesses the ideal balance of plot, action, and visual appeal that both the second and third entries in the trilogy lack. It is exciting, but not overly focused on bloodshed. It is unique, but not pretentious. It is frequently ambiguous, but never totally incomprehensible. In short, the Wachowskis and all of their collaborators on this project achieved the balance they were unable to in Reloaded and Revolutions.
The Animatrix was what those movies should have been, but, in a way, almost better. Its nature as an anthology provides it with a diversity that any single film could never possess. The inclusion of many disparate talents in its production helped create something that could never exist otherwise. And considering that The Matrix was heavily inspired by anime (most specifically the cyberpunk film Ghost in the Shell), it is only fitting that it should receive an anime adaption. The Animatrix would go on to inspire several similar anthologies (which may be covered in the future by this series) and remains one of the foremost examples of an anime adaption of a Western franchise.
By the way, would you prefer the red pill or the blue pill?