Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 23rd 2012
DVD - Complete Series [Anime Classics]
The city of Lux is an underground nightmare. Ruled by the mafia alliance known as the Organo and kept alive for the sole purpose of mining Raffia, a miraculous moss that only grows beneath the city, it is a barely-controlled purgatory for what remains of the human race. Raffia has allowed scientists to replace human limbs with mechanical appendages, a process known as texhnolyzation, but only for those with money. Which is not most Luxites. Most Luxites must scramble in the filth at the bottom of the social ladder, looking for a rung up that never comes. Ichise is one of the scrabblers: a silent brute who makes his living gouging eyes in an underground ring. Until he punches the wrong person and loses an arm and a leg to a sword-swinging gangster. Through blood and mud and unspeakable hardship he emerges with two state-of-the-art mechanical limbs, a gift that raises him from the street into the ranks of the Organo. From which he bears witness to the final atrocities of humanity's waning years.
Texhnolyze is possibly the least enjoyable series ever. Not in a bad way. It very much intends to upset and alienate. That's clear from the first episode, which unfolds like a wordless poem of bleached-out despair. And it holds to that, presenting nothing in its twenty-two episodes that is happy or nice or emotionally enriching. It is one long, violent spiral into utter hopelessness. Ichise spends the first episodes dragging his mutilated body through the uncaring filth of Lux's streets, consumed by unspeakable suffering. When he's gifted with new mechanical limbs, life doesn't improve. He's horrified by his new mechanized body, drifting through the same streets, lifeless and directionless. He's an animal: a beast of flesh and metal; speechless, mindless, knowing nothing but rage and hunger and misery. He's beaten, taunted, dumped in a sewer to die. His only company is a stone-faced girl, a masked seer who stays by him without a word or reason—sometimes following, sometimes leading: a silent pigtailed Virgil accompanying a blank-eyed, half-machine Dante through the grimy hell of a mafia mining town.
And hell it is. A mysterious stranger from the surface is pressing to create a war between the mafia and a cult of anti-texhno>lyze fanatics, with some ambitious local punks thrown in for good measure, and much slow-boil mafia politicking and casual dismemberment later the streets erupt in death and destruction—which Ichise, wild animal that he is, throws himself into with gusto. He drifts through the war, alternately dealing death and dead to the world. Eventually, through luck and somnambulistic fatalism, he earns a place in the Organo. But it's no better than the street. It's a jungle of betrayal, murder, and greedy back-dealing. Trust is a liability, friendship a trap. And then things get bad. The Class—the untouchable aristocrats for whom Lux exists—intrude into the Organo's conflicts and from there it's a straight shot to the end of mankind. Every revelation is yet another sickening step towards an ending so bleak, so hopeless that it makes the zombie apocalypse look like a block party. An army of white robotic monsters are unleashed on Lux, killing with sanitary precision. And when things can't possibly get worse, the monsters' masks come off and we face the true, nauseating horror of what the Class has done. Ichise heads to the surface for help, but what waits is only cheerful desolation. And still the show descends, ever further into wretched gloom.
It deliberately leaves nothing to hold onto. Its characters are cold ciphers: Ichise is a feral dog, Ran the seer a flower-peddling ghost, Organo boss Ohnishi an emotionless technocrat. When they do soften, it's always a prelude to ruin. Voluptuous texhno>lyze whiz Doc only comes out from behind her curtain of scientific objectivity when she gives up utterly on living. Ichise slowly gains human dimensions, but they only bring him pain, ultimately leaving him broken and alone. When Ran reveals the toll her future visions take and bravely faces them down, well… the less said about that the better. In the end nothing is left. Nothing to redeem the darkness. No love, no friendship, no honor survives. Characters fall, hope dies; all that is good vanishes until nothing is left but the grey ashes of despair.
The end result should be thoroughly unwatchable. And yet there's something cruelly magnetic about it, a grim poetry that defies easy description. There's a terrible beauty to the series, both physically and narratively. Hiroshi Hamasaki directs as if there's no joy left in the world. Everything is faded and dirty and filtered through a dozen lenses of static. He moves the show with oozing reluctance, plot unfurling with doomed deliberation, camera pausing as mechanical fingers drum like heralds of dread, dead flowers float down destroyed walkways, and the living faces atop texhno>lyze statuary grimace and twitch. As Hajime Mizoguchi's noise-rock score grinds and mutters and Hamasaki spirals into the dead eyes of Yoshitoshi ABe's unmistakable characters and trawls trash-strewn alleys, documenting a litany of artfully stylized atrocities, events line up with a sort of cosmic inevitability—trudging forward with the same dogged inexorability as Ichise's soulless texhnolyzed stride. It draws you in, and once it has a hold, doesn't let go.
This is a re-release of Geneon's 2004 DVD releases, with little changed aside from the reduced disc count. It brings back Geneon's dub, which is so low-key that it's no-key, and most of Geneon's extras. That includes an invaluable interview with ABe and his habitual producer Yasuyuki Ueda, clean versions of the OP and ED (the former of which is bloody brilliant), and the outtake videos from all six original volumes. The outtakes in particular are essential—if ever a series needed some humorous puncturing, it's Texhnolyze. As for Geneon's dub, there's no need for Funimation to re-work it. No-key is exactly the right key for Texhnolyze: the dub cast's dead-fish delivery (punctuated by bouts of psychotic intensity) is exactly what the series needs.
Watching Texhnolyze is akin to being beaten with a gloom hammer for eight hours. The question of course is, why put yourself through that? In a word: intellect. Though he's only officially the original character designer, the notoriously brainy ABe's fingerprints are all over this. If, among ABe's “serious” works, Serial Experiments Lain is about the human mind and Haibane Renmei the human spirit, then Texhnolyze is about human flesh. Of necessity it's the least interesting of the three, but ABe and his compatriots still carve out a vision of the flesh's future that is grand in its intellectual scope and deeply disturbing in its implications. Their vision of human extinction, in which surface-dwellers have left behind their flesh to live as technological phantoms in an impossibly perfect world and sub-surface dwellers destroy themselves by embracing every animal urge of their flesh, combines evolutionary biology, biotechnology, and philosophy with a deep and disturbing streak of nihilism to create a future that is too intelligently presented to be dismissed and yet too horrible to contemplate. Agree with their ideas or not—and I defy their characterization of humanity with every fiber of my being—there's no denying the pleasure of having thoughts provoked. Very few will want to visit it twice, but it's worth the trip at least once—if only to do battle with it.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A
+ Makes you think.
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