I went into this movie with no expectations whatsoever, and came out blown away. If you see only a single movie this year, make it this one.
Mardock Scramble begins brutally, with the rape and murder of a young girl, Balot. I thought at first that Balot would just be a throwaway character to introduce our heroic detective and evil villain, who would be the lead characters in a fast-paced action show. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Mardock scramble turned out to be a deeply introspective film examining Balot’s past.
Balot is one of the most interesting characters I’ve seen in a while. Her first line in the film is “I wish I were dead.” When she is brought back to life, she is asked to visualize what she most wants, and a gun appears in her hand. The doctor assumes that Balot wants revenge against her murderer. But then Balot sets the barrel to her own cheek and pulls the trigger.
Suffice to say that Balot is a very broken person. Half of the movie takes the form of a walk around town with Oeufcoque, an AI who helps reveal her past, with interspersed gun fights and car chases. Initially, Balot is afraid to go to court because her past and her shame will be revealed to the world.
But her budding relationship with Oeufcoque changes her mind. Balot attempts to construct her relationship with Oeufcoque based on what she’s used to. She tells him she wants him to love her, and in exchange she’ll do whatever he wants. Oeufcoque tries to tell her that he isn’t a man and that she should do as she wishes regardless, but Balot has the impression that he wants her to go to court, and does so.
The court scene was my favorite part of the movie. Balot, since she can’t speak, is given three buttons to answer questions with: yes, no, and silence, along with a jeopardy-style writing stylus. The film managed to convey an incredible amount of information and emotion through these three buttons and a skillful use of flashbacks.
“When you were younger, did you engage in sexual relations with your own father?” Yes.
“Why didn’t you offer resistance?” I loved my dad.
“You loved him as a man?” No.
“Your brother offered violent resistance to your father when he learned of your relationship. Do you know why?” He loved me.
“As a woman?” No.
“Do you still love your father?” Silence.
“Do you love your father as a man?” I don’t know how to love my family anymore.
“Do you believe you are to blame for what happened to your family?” *hesitation* Yes.
Now this is a great way to tell the story of someone’s past: through flashbacks which are firmly grounded in the present, both emotionally and cinematically.
The Cycle of Abuse
By the end of the movie, the chain comes full circle, and Balot begins to abuse Oeufcocque, using him against his will to murder the villains. Oeufcocque has also been abused in the past, by the man Balot is fighting, and a built-in reaction makes him reject Balot. But Oeufcocque decides to accept Balot regardless, and fights against the reaction in response to Balot’s tearful apology. Balot is forgiven and cracks are formed in the cycle of abuse. At this point, the film ends on a cliffhanger with bullets approaching Balot. The credits roll and we go into a fitting rendition of Amazing Grace.
I’ve noticed that grace and forgiveness do not seem to factor into anime as much as western media. The focus instead seems to be on building trust in relationships. The only show that immediately comes to mind with a focus on forgiveness is Sola; does anyone else have thoughts on this?
Mardock Scramble does not pull its punches. It’s a very graphic film. We have some of the more complete depictions of rape in anime, exploding body pieces, and some utterly grotesque villains such as Welldone the Pussyhand. I thought this was a good thing, but be warned.
The world of Mardock Scramble is interesting and unique, but the main thing the film does so well is avoid getting bogged down in the details. The show doesn’t even bother trying to explain most of its sci-fi components. The film makes the spectacular seem mundane, because in Balot’s world, it is.
Balot’s characterization blew me away. The setting is fascinating and there’s just the right mix of well-scripted dialogue and action. My main complaint is that we have to wait now for the next two movies in the trilogy.
- Plot / Script – 9 / 10 – Great script, especially that courtroom scene.
- Characters – 10 / 10 – Ten points here just for Balot. I didn’t even mention the villains, but they’re also quite fascinating (aside from the body parts gang).
- Production – 10 / 10 – A beautifully rendered world. Balot’s voice actor did an especially great job.
- Overall – A-
Recommendations – Ghost in the Shell (for a similar world, if little else), Phantom