Anime is a medium encompassing many types of productions. From the classic cyberpunk Akira to the whimsical and beautiful films of Studio Ghibli, it’s a difficult description to pin down. What is certain is that it was instrumental in inspiring the Wachowski sisters to create their iconic, cinema-changing action classic The Matrix. So it is perhaps no surprise that, when visiting Japan to promote the first installment of what has become a quadrilogy, they made contact with many of its greatest animation studios. From this was born The Animatrix, an anthology of short films which place within the world of The Matrix. From origin stories to depictions of life in the hellscape left behind by war come 9 stories that can be watched separately or back-to-back.
Final Flight of The Osiris is a beautiful tragedy of great importance. As the titular craft, Osiris is overcome by Sentinels, the crew attempt to survive long enough to deliver a package inside The Matrix. With fluid CG animation worthy of a PS3, the character emotions come across wonderfully. It also contains the classic, lovable Matrix score and colour palette, making it feel connected to the larger universe. The story itself is a prequel to Enter the Matrix – a 2003 videogame whose events run concurrently with Matrix Reloaded. It’s this kind of world-building and cross-media involvement that makes this franchise so special.
The Second Renaissance Parts 1 and 2 demonstrate that destruction only brings more destruction. The war between man and machine is presented almost like a documentary and, with stunning manga-esque animation, the machines are initially shown as defensive rather than viscous. They want to exist in partnership with humanity but humanity is unwilling to accept them and thus the machines are to be pitied. This changes with their vicious revenge after they are attacked by nuclear weapons and the sun is blocked out. They are unstoppable. No longer to be pitied as victims but feared as an inevitable reckoning. Gone is their romanticisation from Part 1, replaced with grisly deaths and utter despair. The machines were almost to be rooted for but Part 2 shows them as the emotionally devoid demons they became.
Kid’s Story focuses on a familiar and friendly face. The Kid from Matrix Revolutions previously lived in The Matrix as Micheal Popper who, after questioning his reality, is chased through his school by Agents before taking a literal leap of faith from atop the roof. He is not the first to see Neo as The Chosen one but he is the first, as far as we’re aware, to bet his life on that belief. But that isn’t what makes him special. He believes Neo is responsible for freeing him but, as the person who acted on that faith, he really saved himself.
Program demonstrates a remarkable test of self-will. Set within a training program with a Feudal Japan aesthetic, a young woman (whose name is Cis) is offered by a man she identifies as Duo to return to take the blue pill and return to The Matrix. The visuals of the program are stunning, using the aesthetic as a reason to soak itself with a red colour palette, but this story really shines with its moral quandary. Whether an individual takes the red or blue pill is a discussion as old as the franchise itself but so is whether they would return to their unknowing life after taking the red pill. The primary example is Cypher but Cis and Duo are equally compelling characters which is a remarkable achievement given their lack of screen-time.
World Record is a fascinating look at a rare case. Track athlete Dan Daris is attempting to beat his 8.99-second world record in the 100m sprint despite being informed that he could severely damage himself if he runs. Through sheer determination, Dan pushes himself beyond the edge of the simulation and out of The Matrix. It tends to be that people require help from an outside source to escape but exceptions like this make for some of the most intriguing stories. It is matched superbly by its fluid animation.
Beyond shows that the Matrix is not a perfect simulation. It may come across that way but anything built by code can glitch. This is the discovery made by a teenage girl searching for her cat at a derelict house. She is led by children who are amazed at the lack of gravity in the area and mainly use it as a safety barrier to jump from great heights. It perfectly demonstrates the different mindsets when encountering a peculiarity. The children accept it and build their games around it whilst the teen has her worldview shattered by it. This feels like a meta-commentary on the release of The Matrix which is either an action flick or a mindblowing experience.
A Detective Story is as cool as any detective story. This classic crime noir sees a Private Investigator hired to track down the mysterious hacker Trinity. It’s nostalgically old-school down to the Alice in Wonderland references and assumptions that Trinity is a man. It does a remarkable job of building lore in a short amount of time, showcasing how long The Agents have been hunting Trinity and what they’re willing to do to succeed. This is the closest any of these stories come to featuring one of the main Matrix characters but the lack of colour makes it stand out from the crowd.
Matriculated is a visual masterpiece. Rebels living above ground are capturing machines and attempting to teach them humanity through a Matrix of their own design. It demonstrates the best of human nature, the desire to help and to educate. It would be easy to destroy the machines while they are incapacitated as their ancestors did, but the rebels seek co-existence. Once inside their Matrix, the animation makes full use of CGI providing visuals akin to a stereotypical drug trip. This is the kind of exploration that a franchise like this is made for but as with many stories, this one ends in death.
What’s so wonderful about The Animatrix, aside from the visuals, sound, and storytelling, is that it isn’t required viewing to understand the Matrix films. Yet if you witness these tales, you will have a greater understanding of the universe as it’s presented in those films. Morpheus’ initial speech to Neo about the fall of mankind carries more weight, the beginning of Reloaded has a little more context and The Kid is a more endearing character (although not by much). The Matrix has always been an interesting world but The Animatrix fully realises all that it could be.
Until Next Time…