by Mel Valentin
Co-written and directed by Fumihiko Sori ("Ping Pong"), "Vexille" is a science fiction/adventure anime that relies on well-worn science fiction tropes, a storyline involving science run amok (again), amoral multinational corporations, nationalism, a supposedly strong female character and (presumably) state-of-the-art computer animation and motion capture technology (e.g., "Appleseed: Ex Machina," "Appleseed," "Beowulf," "The Polar Express"). Unfortunately, itís all for naught. Under Soriís direction, the storyline is flat and uninvolving, the characters dull and unengaging, and the computer animation soulless and inexpressive. In other words, "Vexille" isnít going to play well with anyone who isnít already a fan of the "Appleseed" films (who, incidentally produced "Vexille") or Masamune Shirow and Mamoru Oshiiís "Ghost in the Shell" (manga and animated adaptation, respectively).2067 C.E. Overcome by a wave of nationalistic fervor in response to an international ban on android technology, the Japanese government seals off Japan from the rest of the world, erecting physical and electronic barriers in the process. An electromagnetic net called R.A.C.E. covers Japan, making it impenetrable to satellite surveillance. Daiwa Heavy Industries, the international leader in robotics (and android technology) and thus, a heavy influence on government policy, trades with the outside world through a fortified island. The United Nations, more powerful in 2067 than it is now, presumes that Japanís newfound isolation poses a danger to the international order, but without proof, other governments are forced to sit idly by and do nothing.
"Yet another forgettable, unengaging CGI-fest from Japan."
A break occurs when an international rapid-response team, SWORD, suited up in super-advanced mechas (e.g., powered armor), stages a raid on a secret meeting between a representative of the Daiwa Corporation, Saito (Akio ‘tsuka), and a half-dozen government and business leaders at an isolated retreat in California. After a bloody confrontation, Saito escapes. Three members of the SWORD team, Zack (Takaya Kuroda), Leon (Shosuke Tanihara), and Vexille (voiced by Meisa Kuroki), survive the battle relatively unscathed. Teammates and lovers, Leon and Vexille are sent to Japan as part of a reconnaissance mission to infiltrate Japanese territory and set a communications device to break through the electronic net surrounding Japan. Nothing, of course, goes as planned, with Leon and Vexille separated and Vexille forced to seek the help of a rebel leader, Maria (Yasuko Matsuyuki), who also happens to be Leonís ex-lover, against the CEO and chief scientist for Daiwa Heavy Industries.
Unfortunately, Vexille covers well-trod ground, with the usual themes about science run amok (itís bad, in case youíre wondering), corporate ethics (an oxymoron), unregulated multinational corporations (evil, really, really evil), questions about what it means to be human (touched upon, but only superficially), and Japanese nationalism (a negative, any way you look at it). On the character side, we have a romantic couple who work together (stretching credulity well past the breaking point), a kick-ass heroine (literally, but only when sheís inside a mecha, otherwise sheís a passive, romance-obsessed drip who can barely notice the world falling down around her), flaccid, clichťd characterizations (with the exception of the credibly motivated rebel leader, Maria), run-of-the-anime-mill villains motivated by avarice and/or a god complex, and the obligatory cute kid whoís as annoying as he is superfluous.Animation wise, "Vexille" fairs better, but only when weíre not talking about the flat, expressionless characters or their awkward movements. While the animation is better here than in previous CG films that use motion capture, itís still distracting for its lack of verisimilitude. Not surprisingly, "Vexille" is easier on the eyes when the focus is less on the characters than on the backgrounds, landscapes, and the action set pieces that come at regularly timed intervals. Sori and his animatorsí greatest achievement, however, are the giant, metal-eating sandworms inspired by Frank Herbertís "Dune" series. Too bad Sori and his animatorsí inspiration didnít stretch beyond the surface visuals to the underwritten, undermotivated characters or the undernourished storyline that could have used a massive dose of originality. As it is, "Vexille" is just one more example to throw on the heap of frustrating CG films that look like video games you can only watch but canít play. And if thatís not the worst of both films, itís hard to know what it is.
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originally posted: 05/25/08 16:00:00