MATRIX MADNESS: ‘The Animatrix’ (2003)

A Sequential Cinema Event

The Animatrix is a total side quest of a film (but a good one). Yet, I had never seen it before and figured, “What the hell? Let’s review it with the rest of the series.”

Lana and Lily Wachowski were heavily inspired by anime for their series of films alongside other inspirations. When promoting the Matrix in Japan, the Wachowskis spent time meeting anime directors and visiting production studios. The duo thought it would be wonderful if these anime directors interpreted their source material for their own shorts. What followed was The Animatrix. This compilation of nine different shorts gives an even more visionary take on the world of The Matrix.

The studios included are:

  • Studio 4°C, known for the Magnetic Rose and Cannon Fodder segments in Memories by Katsuhiro Otomo and the film Mutafukaz.
  • Madhouse Productions, known for the anime series Trigun by Yasuhiro Nightow and the film Ninja Scroll by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Madhouse also produced all the feature film works of Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue to Paprika) as well as Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars.
  • DNA Productions, an American animation studio known for Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and the holiday special Olive, the Other Reindeer.
  • Square USA, a US-based subsidiary of Square, Co (aka SquareSoft) who are known for the role-playing video game series Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. They would merge with Enix, the owners of the Dragon Quest series, to become Square Enix.

Studio 4°C would handle five of the shorts with Madhouse coming in with two. DNA and Square would only contribute one story each.

This review is also going to be taking a look at each short film for mini-reviews. The scores for each will then be added for a cumulative score at the end for the piece as a whole. It makes things a bit easier and more concise. Also, I’ll be going in order as featured on HBOMax.

The Machine rides a mechanical horse into the fray. Also, a stellar nod to The Horse in Motion from 1878. Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Second Renaissance Part I and Part II
Produced by Studio 4°C
Directed and Written by Machiro Maeda | Story by the Wachowskis

These two shorts combined are shown via the Zion archive. The Interpreter (Julia Fletcher) narrates the history of how humans developed artificial intelligence androids. In 2090, an android named B1-66ER (in reference to Richard Wright’s Native Son) killed its owner’s family. While on trial, B1-66ER loses on the ground of not being considered a true citizen due to them being an android. The robots rise up in protest from their labor jobs. As the unease continues, the androids leave to establish their own society Zero One which goes on to be more technologically sound than the rest of the world.

They also become more financially stable, leading the rest of the world to face a global market crash. Two representatives of Zero One head to the UN to have peace during this crisis for trade, yet the UN rejects their plans. This leads to a war with the machines leading to decades of fighting and the machines’ rejection of humanity altogether. As the machines win, the humans surrender and become energy for the machines stuck in sedation in a virtual space known as The Matrix.

The Second Renaissance is a brutal and terrifying look into the machines’ takeover of man. Seeing the brutality of man and their oppression over the machines can be a hard watch at this current moment of politics. The android uprising does have real-world parallels to revolutions with graphic brutality. The animation is phenomenal, honing in on the aesthetics of the Matrix while giving a style all its own. The rise of the machines is understandable when looking at the struggles faced. There is sympathy to them until they take over the world completely. Yet, it serves to show that humanity created its own demise; something that seems to be the theme of life to this day.

Segment Score: 4 out of 5

Cis (Hedy Burress) goes up against Duo in a friendly spar.
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Produced by Madhouse
Directed and Written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Cis (Hedy Burress) is going through a simulation program that is reminiscent of Feudal Japan. She sees an ally she knows as Duo (Phil Lamarr) and the two spar in battle. Duo looks at her and says he is going to go back into the Matrix and wants her to come. Cis refuses and the two battle until a fatal end comes at the hand of Cis.

Program was one of the lesser shorts. It’s a minor tragic love story, but the ending felt like a cop-out. The animation is stellar with the mind behind Ninja Scroll behind it. It’s stunning to see something in the Matrix besides the cyberpunk aesthetic. The substance is mid, but the style is outstanding.

Segment Score: 3 out of 5

Dan Davis (Victor Williams) outruns two agents hot on his trail in the Matrix.
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

World Record
Produced by Madhouse
Directed by Takeshi Koike | Written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Dan Davis (Victor Williams) is a world-class runner that is aiming to break a record in the 100-meter sprint. While doing so, he achieves “self-substantiation” (freeing one’s self out of the Matrix without a Red Pill) from the Matrix into his pod for a moment in time. Agents are around in the stadium ready to ensure he does not break free from the simulated world. Yet, Davis feels he can break free from the world around him when he runs. This incident only proves that he can break from the reins of the world he knew to the reality he should know.

The most amazing art direction comes in this short. The designs and the animation are unlike anything else. Its use of curvature, angles, and colors helps it stand against the rest. The story also is a great metaphor for breaking free from what’s expected into the unexpected. He is strong enough to break free, even when stuck in a wheelchair after “self-substantiation.” One of the best shorts in the collection.

Segment Score: 4.5 out of 5

Kid (Clayton Watson) stares at his monitor waiting for something more than the life he is currently in.
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Kid’s Story
Produced by Studio 4°C

Directed and Written by Shinichirō Watanabe | Story by The Wachowskis

This acts as the origin of Kid, a supporting character introduced in The Matrix Reloaded. Here, this is a story of a successful “Self-substantiation.” Kid (Clayton Watson) is a slacker hacker (ha) known as Michael Popper in the Matrix. He tries to find some purpose in life after dreams of falling from the sky. He enters a chatroom and comes upon Neo (Keanu Reeves). After connecting with him, Popper heads to class as his phone rings. His teacher yells at him about the phone’s constant ringing until agents begin to move in. Neo guides him out in order for him to make a final leap into reality.

Of course, the creator of Cowboy Bebop Shinichirō Watanabe would have one of the best segments. There’s this element to the animation in Kid’s Story that is charming. The rough scratchy look to it reminds me of the 60s era of Disney animation (101 Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone). It adds to this distorted view of the world that kid already has that makes it seem unnatural. It also delivers an amazing foot chase sequence with stellar animation. The jump dreams also reminded me of Makoto when she leaps in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It’s a wonderful look at someone else’s journey into the Matrix without the need for Morpheus to guide them.

Segment Score: 4.5 out of 5

Yoko (Hedy Buress) stares at the dove slowly passing her face in the glitched area.
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Produced by Studio 4°C
Directed and Written by Kōji Morimoto

Yoko (Hedy Buress) is looking for her cat Yuki, yet stumbles upon some children who tell her of the haunted house near her apartment. Once there, Yoko discovers the house is corrupted by a glitch in the Matrix. The children she meets are falling, floating, and seeing doves vanish. This is much to the chagrin of the agents monitoring the area. They’re quick to put a stop to it with exterminators kicking everyone out to demolish the site to build a parking lot.

Beyond has some gorgeous animation that almost feels rotoscoped at times. It looks that way, but rather it’s an instance where it’s a blend of CGI and traditional animation. It’s remarkable to look at since that combination was not in wide use. The Magic Carpet in Aladdin is a blend of traditional and CGI together, but even that was limited. The short itself is a small little romp, but nothing much of note. It’s interesting to see the characters react to the glitch. Yet, there’s nothing of note beyond the animation to focus on here.

Segment Score: 3.5 out of 5

Detective Ash (James Arnold Taylor) lights a cigarette while pointing his gun at agents trying to get him. Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

A Detective Story
Produced by Studio 4°C

Directed and Written by Shinichirō Watanabe

Detective Ash (James Arnold Taylor) is a private investigator in the Matrix. He is working on cases trying to find cheating wives until one call in particular. The call is to find the hacker Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). Detective Ash begins his investigation to discover allusions to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. He communicates with Trinity using said allusions and finds her on the train. While there, agents surround the place (man, the bastards are everywhere). They open fire on Trinity and hit Detective Ash who lets Trinity run free as he dies during his last case.

A pulpy Matrix film is something I didn’t know I needed till I saw it. Thankfully, Wantanabe knocks it out of the park again. The fact that it deviates into a neo-noir is a brilliant choice. The washed-out black-and-white gives this short the legs to stand on its own. It’s an even more alternative than the Matrix that it’s akin to an elsewhere tale rather than seem in the same timeline. There should be more neo-noir sci-fi outside of Blade Runner. Seeing one in the universe of The Matrix feels like a tease.

Segment Score: 5 out of 5

Alexa (Melinda Clarke) appears before a machine in a Matrix of her own design.
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Produced by DNA Productions
Directed and Written by Peter Chung

Alexa (Melinda Clarke) is one of the rebels that helps to lure machines into a rebel base. Their goal is to turn the machines rogue to help Zion in the war against the machine. That and to protect themselves. To do so, Alexa and the rebels construct a Matrix of their own design to get the machine on their side. This involves mazes and corridors to help the machine become more empathetic. Yet, machines find the base and proceed to attack the base, killing the rebels. The machine breaks out of the MAtrix tempted to save Alexa in their Matrix, but she refuses and dies.

Peter Chung, the creator of MTV’s Æon Flux, directed this segment and it shows. The art style is in line with his previous outings there and complements his direction well. I am not the biggest fan of the art style, but it works here to show off Chung’s vision of this world. That vision delivers one heck of a trip of a segment that explodes in color and fascination. It’s abstract as a result of going for the fences in combining traditional and CGI with psychedelic imagery. It felt like I was watching the short Destino and the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor segment from Fantasia. This and the previous segment going the uncharted course away from what most know of The Matrix was a magnificent call.

Segment Score: 4 out of 5

Jue (Pamela Adlon) and Thadeus (Kevin Michael Richardson) have a playful swordfight in a simulation. Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Final Flight of the Osiris
Produced by Square USA
Directed and Written by Andy Jones | Story by The Wachowskis

Jue (Pamela Adlon) and her lover Thadeus (Kevin Michael Richardson) are running a simulation of swordplay. They are dueling and cutting off bits of clothing for a friendly and sexy session. This falters out as the crew is being hunted down and chased by Sentinels. To hide, they enter a pipe but find thousands of Sentinels near them. One of them is drilling down to Zion, the last human city. The crew, knowing this, tries to send a message to Zion. Jue enters the Matrix one last time before all aboard face their final fates.

I remember seeing the ads for this film and this being the main attraction. Square in 2003 had taken a hit due to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within bombing the year prior. This release was seen as groundbreaking CGI for the time and still holds up. It’s more fleshed out and rounded than that of The Spirits Within (I’m like one of 12 people to have seen it, I know). It is a marvel to still look at with the first fight sequence stellar in its presentation. It’s good to know that Square USA was the go-to for CGI research in their company at the time. The short is on par with the CGI openings of Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X prior. It’s impressive to see them come together. To see it on a big screen must have been remarkable. Shame it was before the dreadful as hell Dreamcatcher before being in The Animatrix.

Segment Score: 4 out of 5

Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) draws her gun at Detective Ash (James Arnold Taylor).
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Animatrix is an impressive anthology that shows what artists can do with their own spin on The Matrix. It could be an exposure to new styles one has never seen before. Or it could be a gateway in the realm of anime if one wishes to dive in with this collection. The Animatrix is more than side stories to The Matrix by being a great celebration of why The Matrix is so beloved.

Now let’s do some math! Take all the scores and add those up. Let’s divide that bad boy by 9, round to the nearest tenth, and voila!

The Animatrix: 4 out of 5
The Matrix Series 3 out of 5 Complete

Next week, the revolution is here with the end of the Matrix. At least until 2021.

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