Reviewby Theron Martin,
Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion
Picking up right where the first movie left off, Rune Balot and Oefcoque's desperate struggle to fight off Boiled ends when Dr. Easter's arrival with a flying ship allows them to throw off Boiled and flee. With Oefocque and Rune both in bad shape, Dr. Easter takes them to Paradise, a secret installation which is the foundation of the advanced tech developed by him and his allies. There Rune encounters Tweedledee and his homosexual dolphin lover (yes, you read that right) Tweedledum, who are fellow cyborgs and who help Rune find the information she seeks about Shell's lost memories. That revelation leads Dr. Easter, Rune, and Oefcoque to an undercover infiltration of one of Shell's casinos, where they must win four million-dollar chips without arousing suspicion in order to collect what they seek. Boiled didn't give up after his first attempt failed, however, which can only lead to more blood.
The first movie of the Mardock Scramble trilogy started low-key before ramping up dramatically into a spectacle of gory violence and twisted characters in its last third. The second movie, which also clocks in at around 60 minutes, goes almost in the opposite direction: it starts with the bloody conclusion to the first movie's climax and, aside from a comparatively brief gory spurt in the middle, tones down for the rest of the movie. While that does not necessarily make this movie tamer, as the casino sequence which composes most of the last third has its own tension, it does result in a somewhat different approach to the ongoing story about a girl from society's refuse heap who has been reborn as a technological marvel and must use every ounce of it just to survive.
And for all of the graphic content in the movie's first two-thirds – the nudity, the gory violence, the drug use, the freakishly modified humans – and for all of the neat technology being tossed about, any evaluation of the movie must inevitably comes back to its heroine. Petite, sexy, fragile Rune Balot is one of the ultimate anime eye candies, a girl with fearsome physical and “snarking” abilities and an attractive figure that the movie gives her ample opportunities to show off, but most appealing is the sense of vulnerability she radiates. For all that she can do, she is still a teen girl both awed and frightened by the wonder and danger of the world around her and desperate to find a way to fit into the world, any way she can. That, combined with her continuing desire to make the kind of lasting, trusting connection with Oefcoque that she has never really had before with anyone else, helps make her endearing in a moe way, though this is not the ordinary kind of focused, highly-manufactured moe commonly found in anime series these days. Taken together, her characterization is enough to carry the movie through the slower parts.
Unfortunately, one of those slower parts also composes the bulk of the movie's second half: the infiltration of the casino. The movie does a great job at giving a suitable feel for the environment and delving only just enough into the finer aspects of manipulating the games, and Rune does have a somewhat interesting interaction with the roulette table operator Bell Wing, but the lighter pacing and lack of meaningful physical action hinder the thrill factor which so thoroughly sold the first movie. Good execution can only account for so much in this case. A late scene which provides insight into Boiled's background and Oefcoque's past with him does spruce things up a bit, even coming close to making Boiled a sympathetic character – but only close.
Whereas the first movie emphasized a darker, grittier look, this one takes advantage of some spectacular and elaborate coloring and lighting schemes. The casino is a visual joy to explore, while the interior of Paradise sometimes almost gives the feel of walking through an acid trip. Designs for new characters are varied, distinct, and interesting, too, as are the outfits; as sharp as Rune looked in the dress she wore for the trial in the first movie, she may look even sharper in her casino dress (and accompanying Oefcoque accoutrement). Of course, the movie still lovingly renders its blood, gore, and nudity, and its animation is still plenty good enough to make the few action sequences into spectacles.
Although the second movie maintains some of the themes from the first movie, it puts new twists on them and uses them in different ways. A greater emphasis on quick, nimble piano and instrumental numbers keeps the soundtrack mostly low-key even while giving it a distinctive sound. Closing the credits out with “Ave Maria” is, once again, an interesting musical selection, although in this case it feels rather pointless.
All of Sentai Filmworks' English dub actors from the first movie return for the second and continue to do great work. They are supplemented by some superb fits and efforts in new roles, especially Carl Masterson as Professor Faceman (he was also the male version of Lascall Othello in The Book of Bantorra). Mark X Laskowski brings a significantly different vocal style to the role of the dolphin Tweedledim, but it works well for the part. As with the first movie, the script remains very faithful, almost to a fault at times.
Sentai's Blu-Ray release includes both the Theatrical and Director's Cut versions of the movie. The latter has four additional scenes totaling about four minutes, which each have been placed in their own chapters for those who want to hunt them down; one involves Rune meeting some other people in Paradise, a second involves Boiled popping some bullets out of his body in a bathtub, the third shows Boiled and his psycho minion arriving outside Paradise, and the fourth involves a bit more explanation about what Dr. Easter and Oefcoque are plotting concerning the casino. While these scenes are enhancements, none of them are strictly necessary. The Blu-Ray has no other Extras, but it does deliver some reasonably good sound quality and sharply brings to life the movie's vivid color schemes.
The Second Combustion is not the thrill ride that the first movie proved to be (and certainly comes to a far less powerful ending), but it should do enough to hold the interest of those who became enthralled with the first part. The third part debuted in Japan in the fall of 2012, so it should show up in the States late in 2013.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Lots of excellent designs and visual effects, compelling heroine, some great action.
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