Reviewby James Beckett,
The megacity of Metropolis is impossibly huge, a world unto itself that bustles with millions of people and the robots who serve them. The most prominent politician in town, Duke Red, has just completed the greatest marvel the city has to offer, a tower called the Ziggurat, and he's gone so far as to build himself an artificial daughter to take the tower's throne and rule the world with the impartial efficiency of a machine. Duke Red's adopted son Rock is a technophobe who's none too happy to see his father's affection being usurped by a robot, so he takes matters into his own hands to see that Tima is destroyed.
Enter Detective Shinsaku Ban and his young nephew, Kenichi. While investigating Metropolis' corrupt underbelly, Kenichi stumbles upon Tima and the pair end up tangled in Rock's vengeance plot, Duke Red's sinister machinations, and the cries of revolution stirring among the city's most destitute citizens. As Kenichi and Tima grow closer, their choices will end up shaping the fate of every man and machine in Metropolis.
Osamu Tezuka's manga adaptation of Metropolis is an infamously loose interpretation of Fritz Lang's silent film; according to Tezuka himself, he'd only seen a single promotional image for Lang's movie when he sat down to draft his comic in 1949. When director Rintaro took up the big-screen adaptation of Tezuka's work a half-century later, he ended up hewing much closer to Lang's original story. An idealistic young man meets a robot girl in the retro-futuristic city of Metropolis, and their adventures end up being intrinsically tied to the revolutionary uprising that threatens to tear the city apart. In this way, it's more of an animated remake of the original silent film that just so happens to borrow the basic plot elements and character designs contributed by Tezuka's take on the material.
I have a very nostalgic connection to Metropolis—not only did I buy two copies of the movie's original DVD release, I also saved up to buy a UMD copy to share with my friends at school—so I was both eager and nervous to revisit the film once Mill Creek announced that they were finally giving it a proper physical re-release on Blu-Ray and DVD. I'm happy to report that the movie (mostly) holds up well after all these years. If nothing else, the film is a visual feast; Rintaro and his crew at Madhouse put an absurd amount of time and effort into making nearly every frame of Metropolis a morsel of cinematic indulgence. The city feels both timeless and yet specific to the art-deco vision of the future that made Lang's movie so iconic in 1927. The characters are all given little idiosyncrasies that bring their Tezuka-informed designs to life, and the detailed backgrounds and lush colors give life to a city that easily could have felt like an empty spectacle.
Even more impressive is the music by Toshiyuki Honda, which stands as one of my favorite cinematic soundscapes. This jazzy score perfectly captures the atmosphere that the city of Metropolis is meant to evoke, and to this day bits of the movie's music pop into my head without warning, as if I were hearing them for the first time all over again. Ray Charles even pops up in a key scene, when the movie makes the use of his 1962 rendition of “I Can't Stop Loving You”, marking one of the best uses of licensed music I've encountered in a movie.
If the film has any major weaknesses, they would undoubtedly lie with the plot, which is much simpler than you might expect given the complexity of the movie's aesthetic production. Kenichi and Tima are likable heroes but very basic archetypes, serving as the stalwart hero and the maiden who embodies purity and love. Tima's artificial origin is mostly an excuse to make her the kind of amnesiac waif that a good boy like Kenichi can't help but protect, and the attempts to complicate Tima's arc in the movie's final third come too little and too late. Rock and Duke Red fare better as the more nuanced villains of the story, but their characterization isn't particularly genre-defying either. Metropolis is less about its plot and characters and more about the feeling that its simple narrative can evoke when paired with its gorgeous imagery. It works as a kind of techno-punk spin on an old fairytale, but that might not satisfy viewers looking for a story with more meat on its bones.
I'm less enthusiastic about the Blu Ray/DVD release itself. While transfers on both the new DVD and the Blu-Ray seem to be improvements over Tri-Star's original DVD, both the BD and the DVD contain compression artifacts, washed out colors, and a thick enough layer of film-grain to be distracting. The clarity of the Blu-Ray is definitely sharper than the DVD, but it isn't great. I'm not sure how much of this should be attributed to poor upscaling or a poor transfer, but it's a shame that one of anime's most visually splendid productions has yet to receive the restoration job it deserves. The audio on the Blu-Ray is markedly better, which I'm thankful for considering how important sound is to Metropolis' storytelling. I haven't been able to get my hands on the UK Blu-Ray from Eureka Entertainment, so I can't speak to any potential differences of quality in that release.
The extras on this release are also wanting. Outside of the admittedly stylish steel-book and translucent slip-case, the only other features present are the standard definition featurette and concept art galleries found on the Tri-Star DVD, though a couple of bios for Osamu Tezuka and Rintaro don't seem to have made the jump to the new set. The bonus features are also exclusive to the DVD; the Blu-Ray only has the film, along with the Japanese and English audio tracks. Curiously, neither of the discs even feature a chapter select function, which smacks of further evidence that these were produced on the cheap.
The English dub is pretty solid for having been produced in the early 2000s. All of the actors take their roles seriously and strike the right balance of dramatic integrity and theatrical cheese. Rebecca Forstadt does an especially good job of imbuing Tima with a robotic precociousness that could have easily become grating in the hands of a lesser actress. The translation can be quite loose at times though, and the dub occasionally adds in lines and reaction sounds that aren't present in the original script, so purists will want to stick to the native Japanese.
Despite the lackluster Blu-Ray presentation, I'm happy that Metropolis has finally gotten a more accessible HD release. Rintaro and Madhouse may not have made a faithful adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's manga, but they produced one hell of science-fiction smorgasbord all the same. It's gorgeous to behold and filled to the brim with passion and expert craftsmanship. If you haven't seen Metropolis, do yourself a favor and pick this release up; it may not be perfect, but it's currently the best way to experience a true anime classic.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A+
+ Exquisite visual spectacle, excellent world-building, near-perfect soundtrack
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