Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 2nd 2008
A few decades into the future, Japan has achieved a virtual monopoly on robotics development. In response to an international ban on android development, in 2067 Japan withdraws from the U.N. and uses its advanced technology to isolate itself from the rest of the world. Ten years later, a secret meeting with politicians organized by Japan's leading Daiwa Heavy Industries gets raided by S.W.O.R.D., an elite U.S. Navy task force of which Vexille and her lover Leon are members. The circumstances encountered during that raid convince S.W.O.R.D. to undertake a daring infiltration of Japan itself, and what Vexille discovers happening there could pose a threat to the future of all of humanity.
Any proper discussion of Vexille cannot take place without bringing up the more recent CG version of Appleseed, as the two have entirely too much in common to avoid comparison. Both projects feature pretty, young, athletic female action figures cut from the “Sigourney Weaver in Aliens” model: tough as nails when need be, yet also fully sensitive enough to get emotional or even shed a tear. Both use futuristic settings and stories heavily involving androids and advance combat armor, both use lots of spectacular action sequences, both have characters mixing professional and romantic relationships, and both involve humanity-reshaping plots on a grand scale. They even resemble each other in the way they have characters move, interact, and look within their CG constructions. In fact, the only real differences between the two are the specifics of the settings, story, and characters.
Such a comparison is not necessarily complimentary for Vexille, nor is it intended to be. Where Appleseed faltered, so does Vexille. Both share two main problems commonly seen in Japanese CG animation, one of which is a failure to create compelling characters or plots that step beyond hackneyed paint-by-the-numbers productions that rely too heavily on gimmicks and action elements. Granted, each CG production has its own unique twists – and the one found here, which Vexille discovers when she finally gets into Japan, is a real doozy – but on the whole they vary little in fundamental construction. The other main problem could be described as a pervasive sense of artificiality. While that may seem a strange description given that we are talking about sci-fi animation of a type which prides itself on looking more lifelike, the look and feel of these movies never escape the sterile impression of being purely manufactured. To put it another way, they have no heart or soul.
While it may be tempting to blame the format for these deficiencies, American CG productions like Toy Story, Shrek, and The Incredibles have proven that it is possible to infuse its characters with life, vigor, and sense of being. In all of those productions the movements and expressions of the characters are successfully used to convey their personality as much as the acting or scripting, and in all of those cases the series portray vivid, interesting characters doing interesting things in interesting settings without having to rely on action scenes as a crutch. The failure of Japanese CG productions to regularly achieve such development can be blamed on nothing more than substandard writing and production oversight. Anime fans regularly crow over how much better anime is than American animation when it comes to series, but in this aspect of animation the Japanese are still woefully deficient by comparison.
As lacking as it may be in characterizations, and as uninspired as it may be in ultimate plot execution, the visuals and action almost successfully compensate. While its artistry may not do a great job of portraying a sense of character, it still dazzles with its spectacular and often intense action scenes and still portrays a not-too-distant future full of exciting technology. The crowning glory of the visuals is unquestionably the design and execution of the Jags Vexille encounters in Japan, which cannot be described here without partly delving into spoilers but certainly offer an eye-popping wealth of incredible detail. It also offers a depth and complexity of animation almost never seen in normal 2D productions. Regardless of what its other faults may be, the movie does still look impressive.
The musical score is spotty in both effectiveness and presence, as long sections of the movie pass without any musical backing. A viewer can usually tell when the action scenes are about to start in earnest by the sudden reappearance of the music, usually in hyped-up techno or rock formats. Overall, it does little to enhance the content on the screen.
Funimation's English dub, headed by Colleen Clinkenbeard in the title role, does what it can to give weight and energy to the material, but they can only do so much with what they have to work with. The English dialogue is sometimes changed significantly from the original script, with the most drastic changes used to work around wording that could be considered inflammatory, insulting, or even racist. The DVD comes in a slipcover and includes some beautiful interior cover art of main cast members, but otherwise this release includes no Extras beyond trailers.
The writing in Vexille isn't all bad, as the epic plot twists involving what Japan has been hiding for the past ten years are as jarring as anything you will see in any anime title and it does, for a time, look like it might achieve more substance than titles like this normally do. Ultimately, though, it falls victim to its improbable premise, gaping plot holes, unexplained gimmicks, and general lack of verve. Watch it for the action and visuals if you like, as the movie offers little else.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : B-
+ Design and execution of the Jags, spectacular action scenes.
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