(Pioneer Animation is releasing four DVD versions of "Armitage: Dual-Matrix". There is a movie-only DVD, a Special Edition DVD, a "Poly-Matrix"/"Dual-Matrix" 2-disc set that includes the SE of "Dual-Matrix", and a limited edition lunch box that includes the SE of "Dual-Matrix" along with a miniature version of the Armitage figurine created by Todd McFarlane. My review discusses the SE DVD only.)
"Armitage: Dual-Matrix" is a sequel to "Armitage III: Poly-Matrix". Originally, "Armitage III: Poly-Matrix" was created as a series of 4 OVA (original video animation, analogous to direct-to-video productions here in the U.S.) episodes. Later, these episodes were combined into one movie, with some scenes cut and new ones created to "flow" the new movie. At any rate, the sexy character design for Naomi Armitage has lead to a noticeable number of fans coming out of the woodworks, and "Dual-Matrix" follows Armitage from Mars to Earth in her latest adventures.
In "Dual-Matrix", Armitage and Ross Sylibus, now with pseudonyms, still live on Mars, and they're parents of a little girl named Yoko. One night, an assault on a factory run by a robot staff compels Armitage to don her old, Jean-Paul-Gaultier-inspired combat uniform in order to hunt those who hate robots. Not long into the movie, Armitage finds herself in a hailstorm of bullets while she dishes out a few shots of her own.
Meanwhile, Ross heads to Earth in order to vote at a conference that will determine whether or not humans will give robots a "bill of rights". Armitage follows her main nemesis, a fellow named Demetrio, to Earth, and she must battle Demetrio in order to save her daughter's life. In the end, she must face replicas of herself designed for one thing only--combat.
Most of the 90-minute film plays as an extended video game. Characters utter a few lines to pay lip service to "the plot" before engaging in gun battles, car chases, or hand-to-hand combat. Using a blend of traditional and computer animation, the makers of "Dual-Matrix" created a visually interesting but ultimately soul-less product. Watching fight after fight after fight wore me down. While slugging through "Dual-Matrix", I often wondered if Michael Bay had a hand in directing it. After all, despite his copious use of quick edits, Bay's movies always feel like they're dragging their feet on the ground rather than nimbly dancing across the stage.
Unfortunately for neophytes, "Dual-Matrix" assumes that you've already seen "Armitage III: Poly-Matrix" in either its OVA series or its movie-edition guise. The movie jumps straight into a new story without much background information. Characters from "Poly-Matrix" appear without many context clues to explain their existence, and terms like "Second" or "Third" and references to complicated concepts may confuse the heck out of anyone jumping into "Dual-Matrix" with cold feet.
(Note: "Dual-Matrix" offers much more nudity and overt violence than "Armitage III: Poly-Matrix". You may want to think carefully about letting young viewers watch it.)
The 1.33:1 (full-frame on 4:3 monitors) video image looks very impressive. The colors of the film's future-worlds gleam vibrantly, and shadow detail is excellent. Most of the film's second half takes place at night, and imaging remains clear and stable during these night-time sequences. On the other hand, light sourcing seems rather harsh sometimes, and a thin layer of "film" seems to cover some shots. Also, perhaps I've been spoiled by "Shrek", "Final Fantasy", and "Toy Story 2", but "Dual-Matrix" simply does not look as "wow-y" as those movies do on DVD.
Paying attention to the audio tracks was the best thing about my experience with "Dual-Matrix". The aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese offers a lot of punchy bass, plenty of directional effects, and many moments of enveloping surround sound. The rear surround speakers have something to do about 75% of the time, and the sound mix spreads itself very wide across the front soundstage.
There are two English dubs available on the DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 and DD 2.0 surround English. The English 5.1 track sounds comparable to the Japanese one, and the 2.0 track is much weaker than the 5.1 mixes (as to be expected). In the English dubs, Ahmed Best, who played/voiced Jar-Jar Binks in "Star Wars: Episode 1", gives life to a character named Mouse. Why Mr. Best chooses to re-use his annoying Binks persona is beyond me.
English subtitles support the audio.
What did Pioneer put on the Special Edition DVD of "Armitage: Dual-Matrix"? Well, there's the "Assembling Armitage" featurette that provides a brief glimpse of the making of the film. You'll come across interviews with the director, the music score composer, and Juliette Lewis, who provides Armitage's voice for the English dub. This featurette is rather disposable since the main feature basically speaks for itself.
The best extra on the DVD is the "5.1 Music Player". Basically, the DVD offers three music selections ("Armitage's Theme", "Orchestral Theme", "Red Planet") in full Dolby Digital 5.1 glory. The music has been encoded as a 16-bit/48 kHz/448 bkps stream, and it sounds aggressively, wonderful overpowering. Since the music has not been equalized to balance with dialogue and sound effects, I had to dial down the volume in order to avoid creating noise pollution in my neighborhood! Those of you who have yet to experience multi-channel digital music will get a taste of how "opening" and "enveloping" true surround music can be.
60 pages of sketches appear in the Character Design Gallery. Finally, there is a trailer for "Dual-Matrix", and you'll also find previews of other Pioneer Animation releases on this DVD.
A nice-looking, 14-page glossy booklet provides chapter listings, a brief introduction to Armitage's world, character profiles, a "character tree", a visual glossary, and film production credits.
Of special note is the DVD cover art. A keepcase houses the DVD, and the cover art has been printed on a special "raised" metallic foil. It's very eye-catching.
Simply speaking, "Armitage: Dual-Matrix" is an exercise in brutality. The action may be animated, but what appears onscreen will make your stomach churn. While I have no doubt that the future envisioned by the filmmakers necessitates the violence on display, I have deep personal reservations about a movie that shows violence for violence's sake only. The characters in "Dual-Matrix" inflict so much pain upon each other that the whole enterprise becomes a contest of "who can take more?" proportions. Think of this as the anime version of "Fight Club". Admittedly, the production displays a slick, high-tech sheen that seduces the eye, but references to a "bill of rights" for robots sound like half-hearted attempts to give the movie a storyline.
I ask the makers of "Armitage: Dual-Matrix"--if there is neither joy nor something edificatory about doing a project, why bother ever starting it?