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21st Dec 08
Decades after refusing to abide by international law dictating limitations on robotic development, Japan has become a nation shrouded in secrecy. The Chinese authorities then discover an extremely advanced android body part of Japanese origin after a police raid, and they're forced to send a crack team in to Japan to investigate.
From the second you put the Vexille disc in to your DVD player and hit play, the visuals are mesmerizing. It's the first thing you notice. Cast your mind back to when you first saw anime like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, which were essentially all about the hand drawn anime visual style. They looked amazing and were totally involving, but that was last decade. Ghost in the Shell 2: Age of Innocence freely used digitally rendered 3D backgrounds and did in fact look very beautiful, but there was something missing - the hand drawn characters walking through wonderful 3D environments just didn't look right, it looked disparate, in fact. It kind of tarnished the impact that film would have had, which is why commercially the Stand Alone Complex spin-off TV series has been much more successful, as it eschewed all those clever shenanigans for a simply drawn, easy to watch, action anime style. Vexille, you'll be glad to know, has no mismatch as it goes the other way and, like the Appleseed remake before it, is completely fully 3D rendered. And since it's aimed squarely at the hi-def generation, you'd better believe the quality of the animation.
The opening encounter, with the Appleseed style battle armoured police raiding a secret mansion terrorist meeting, is breathtaking and is a wonderful action opener to this high budget anime blockbuster. If battle suits versus heavily armed ‘ED-209’ sentry droids is your thing, with troopers smashing through windows guns blazing in slow-motion with bullets flying and cameras spinning - Matrix style - you'll be in seventh heaven here. And then when you witness a guy leap up on to a passing plane, and the battle suited Vexillestill gives chase, your jaw might just hit the floor. A bit like mine did.
From there the film adopts the Hollywood action formula (established by Lucas and Spielberg a long time ago now) of giving us a handful of beautifully staged massive set pieces, inter-cut with liberal sprinklings of talky bits which explain the elaborate plot to you. Vexille is set in the near future where international law has put strict limitations on the field of robotic development. Japan refuses to play ball though, and has become a very secretive nation indeed, closing all boarders and sealing some kind of electronic shield all over it, blocking out all satellites. Vexille is the name of a member of the special police unit who battles the terrorist droids in the intro, and, like I was telling you, leaps after one escaping terrorist who grabs a nearby low flying plane. His leg gets ripped off in the ensuing scuffle and, after analysis in the lab, they soon discover it’s actually a highly advance robot leg – yes, the banned kind and – yes, it’s from Japan. So soon enough Vexille is leading a sortie onto Japanese soil for the first time in decades to discover what’s been happening there, and that’s where the brunt of this story takes place.
But how good is all this? Well, the film’s 4 or 5 set pieces are wonderful, and showcase the kind of spectacular animation we’ve got to look forward to as this full 3D method becomes more advanced (already this is a big step up from what we saw in Appleseed in 2004). And the idea of what’s been happening inside Japan is also strong, giving us a cautionary future shock tale of what can go wrong when humanity is not kept in check. The only thing letting Vexille down though – and liking this movie as I do I almost hate to admit it – is that the character of Vexille is actually quite weak. That is a major issue. Think back to all the hit animes of the past few decades and they all have strong, usually female, leads. Think about Ghost in the Shell’s Major, or Deunan from Appleseed, and instantly you warm to the story, you’re dragged in, you want them to do well, to win the fight, etc. The trouble with Vexille is, for all its beauty, you’ll find yourself not really bothered about the lead character. And what’s worse is when you meet her boyfriend’s ex, about halfway through the movie, you’ll wish the film was named after her.
Still, Vexille is awesome eye candy, and despite being indifferent towards the hero’s plight, those spectacular action set pieces more than carry you to the end of the flick (and another spectacular set piece). This does bode extremely well for the future – the quality of the 3D animation, with both the convoluted action scenes and the slower, human moments, is inspiring. As soon as the quality of story telling catches up with the artistic vision we’ll have a truly special emerging sub-genre here, in the meantime we’ll have to just settle for something really quite good.
Versions Available in R1 and R2, although for some reason the UK R2 version doesn’t come with an English language track, even though the US R1 version does. That seems like an outrageous oversight and, although I know as a purest you should watch films in their native tongue and read those pesky subs, with anime they often come thick and fast so it’s excusable to go for the English audio. If that’s you, import the US version.