There are numerous cyberpunk anime around, with the Ghost in the Shell movie and TV shows being some of the most well-known examples. Perhaps even more breathtaking and experimental than that franchise, however, is the Mardock Scramble movie trilogy. Based on a series of novels, these movies are easily some of the most artistic cyberpunk anime movies out there.
Featuring a desperate young lady who is turned into a cyborg following a harrowing altercation, Mardock Scramble combines strong characterization, a deliberate, intimate pace and absolutely astounding art. The final movie in the series came out a decade ago, making it more appropriate than ever to reflect on this overlooked but beautiful revenge trilogy.
What Was Mardock Scramble?
Mardock scramble began as a series of novels written by Tow Ubukata, with the first book coming out in 2003. It would later be adapted into a manga and an anime movie trilogy, with more novels coming out afterward. The story is based around Rune Balot, a former lady of the night in Mardock City who unfortunately became a victim of the gambling addict Shell Septinos. Left for dead after an explosion caused by Shell, Rune is taken in by Dr. Easter. Turning her into a cyborg like himself, Rune is gifted with her new assistant Œufcoque — an AI that usually takes the form of a mouse. Now far advanced beyond mere humanity, Rune seeks to avoid Shell’s machinations long enough to testify against him.
The planned adaptation of the novel series was going to be an OVA produced by Gonzo, though this was eventually canceled. A movie trilogy was announced in 2010, with GoHands animating the films and Aniplex, who had worked on franchises such as Full Metal Alchemist and isekai anime like Sword Art Online, producing them. Written by Ubukata himself, these movies are all around 70 minutes each. This time length speaks to how interesting the movies are and why they’re worth the time for any cyberpunk fan.
As mentioned, each Mardock movie is barely over an hour, which is part of what makes them so unique. each movie (The First Compression, The Second Combustion and The Third Exhaust) segue right into each other, and none of them can be considered a full movie/story separately. This allows viewers to watch all of them together to get a whole story, but re-watching won’t be a simple matter of plowing through them.
The artistry of the Mardock trilogy stems from how they’re shot, with every scene feeling very uneasy, intentional and introspective. This develops the characters and the plot in quiet, sometimes almost unnoticeable ways. Scenes have to be carefully paid attention to, least vital information that will pay off in a later film go ignored. The focus on character and subtle development elevates what could easily become a generic revenge flick — a sort of Kill Bill redux wearing a Ghost in the Shell skin.
on this note, Mardock Scramble is just as revolutionary in the art department as Ghost in the Shell was before it. Scenes and characters feel framed in the movie’s uncanny use of lighting, giving everything an almost claustrophobic neo-noir aesthetic. The miasma of colors coincides nicely with how quiet everything else seems at times, making the trilogy an experience unlike any other cyberpunk anime. Sadly, the series isn’t currently on streaming sites such as Crunchyroll, but Amazon is one way to purchase Blu-rays of each movie.