Judge Brett Cullum is still congratulating himself for finding a way to yoke together Blade Runner and Thunderbirds in a single review.
I am doll and I will give you a kiss…
Malice@Doll was ignored when Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within stole its CGI thunder, but anime fans will find it deliciously twisted and striking to look at, and the extras round out the feature nicely. It's not quite shocking or sordid enough to fit in the hentai tradition, and its visual style is a far cry from traditional anime. ArtsMagicDVD has released this 2000 art house anime curiosity on a well-put-together DVD.
Facts of the Case
Malice is a doll, a robot prostitute who is breaking down. She lives in a world where the humans have vanished, and she and her mechanical hooker friends are reduced to aimlessly wandering a boardwalk without any real mission to fulfill. The buildings around them have robots who clean or repair anything and everything, and there is a central figure who controls everything called Admin Joe. Malice goes in for some repairs because she is leaking coolant from her eyes, and she follows a ghostly image of a blonde girl to a mysterious half-machine, half-organic shrine that unleashes tentacles that rape her and seemingly tear her apart. But she wakes up the next morning to discover she's suddenly human. This throws all of her mechanical friends for a loop, since now she is "godlike": She can kiss them and turn them into frightening biomechanical monsters who don't need oil or repairs. The problem is, they also start dying, and that's something unknown to the robots. Also, they aren't too sure what emotion and pain are, and they don't seem to fond to find out. Malice has to find some way to reverse all this, or else she must watch as her world is completely destroyed. She has unleashed life and death—chaos, in fact—into a world that has never known them.
Malice@Doll is a blend of CGI and traditional cel animation. Bubblegum Crisis and Armitage Three screenwriter Chiaki Konaka envisioned this piece as a puppet show in the style of Thunderbirds. He knew there would be limitations to CGI and created a story that revolved around robotic dolls. They are easier to replicate in CGI because of limited motions and facial expressions. Director Keitaro Motonaga had a small budget to work with, so he relied on CGI for the basis of the visuals and resorted to hand-drawn enhancements as reinforcement. It's something you've never seen before, and definitely speaks highly of their innovation and creativity.
The transfer is pristine in most parts because a digital source was used. Yet every now and then grain galore crops up, and it is startling to see on an otherwise perfect print. This may be directorial choice, but it's odd. The presentation is a full-frame 4:3 aspect ratio, although the original aspect ratio was 1.77:1. Yukie Yamada provides the voice for Malice in the Japanese track, and I have to recommend her take on the character as opposed to the strangely ineffective English track. The Japanese actors go for broke, and their English counterparts sound like they just sat on couches and read the script aloud once. Subtitles are provided in English. Special features are surprisingly robust for anime: There is a 31-minute lecture on the history of CGI given by a British author in front of a lecture hall. There is also a 26-minute interview conducted by lead actress Yukie Yamada (Malice) with director Keitaro Motonaga and writer Chikai Konaka. It goes into great depth, but it has a maniacal camera operator who cannot stand still. There are character models to browse, other trailers, and bios for everyone.
Malice@Doll is hypnotic thanks to the stunning clash of old and new technology. It strives to be a mix of horror, sexual degradation, and deep spirituality. These qualities are felt more than expressed clearly. I've never seen anything like it before, and never will again now that new technology has eclipsed Malice@Doll, making it a step on the evolutionary chart that is CGI anime. A racial struggle always comes to the foreground in anime productions, and in this film that element is embodied by Doris, another doll in the story. Doris is traditional Japanese—flowing straight black hair and white kimono. She resists Malice's change and clings to tradition. It's a nice metaphor for what is happening with the movie and the industry. CGI and traditional cel art are clashing, and the movie is caught in the last gasp of the old ways.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some people are going to find the graphics off-putting. At times I wondered if my Nintendo Gamecube had taken over my DVD player. The film was conceived as a puppet play, but it's not quite 3-D. The animators have relied a lot on holding on still shots—a trick used to save money in animation—and sometimes this gets annoying. The sound mix used all five speakers, but I felt each speaker was transmitting the same information most of the time.
The story is a little remote and icy. You always have that danger when robots take over a movie, but this feature seems to become mechanical and cold. The spirituality in the film seems a little base, and several aspects of it are not examined with the depth they should be. Makers of Ghost in the Shell can rest on their laurels for a little while longer as the kings of robot anime.
Wild visuals and a pretty unusual story make Malice@Doll a worthy experience. It's mechanical prostitutes trapped in a surreal biotech nightmare, Valley of the Dolls put in a blender with Blade Runner. Think of a fully sexualized Pinocchio wandering around on a Blade Runner set, and you'll be pretty close to the movie. The plot is hallucinatory and fragmented, and it takes some strange twists, which seems to be typical of most modern anime. Some of the images are so startlingly surreal and beautiful you'll wish you could dream them over and over, and others might make you pick up your video game controller and try to get to the next level. In the end the stronger ones win!
ArtsMagicDVD may be one U.K. company to keep your eye on. If this release is any indication, they definitely have a passion for the art of anime. This is a curiosity well worth checking out.
Malice@Doll is free to go, but the court issues a warning for prostitution and sometimes unclear storyline. Malice is welcome in my home any time, but she must bring those nifty cleaning robots with her.
ArtsMagicDVD receive a special commendation from the court for caring about anime. This is a strong presentation of a magical piece.
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Scales of Justice
• "Final Fantasies": A History of CGI Animation
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