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Blu-ray Review: Vexille

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Vexille is the 2007 CGI animated film from Japanese director Fumihiko Sori. The film comes to high definition packed with a ton of special features, but what is the film like?

The plot is interesting and is clearly influenced by Sori’s work on Appleseed. It takes place in 2077 where incredible advancements in robotics have brought about a new age of prosperity. Japan, and specifically the Daiwa Heavy Industries Corporation, leads the way in robotic development. While Japan is the leading developer of robotics they have implemented an ultra-isolationist policy that sees them cut off from the rest of the world through the R.A.C.E network, which has seen Japan effectively vanish from the world. The extreme measure is implemented in response to the UN’s ruling that continual cybernetics advancement is a danger to humanity.

After an incident on American soil involving a Daiwa executive, Vexille and her team of SWORD operatives, elite technologically aided soldiers, undertake a daring mission — infiltrate and expose the real Japan. As you can see, Vexille and Appleseed tread a similar path as they question what it is to be human, what defines us as a species, and also both have a bit of a God complex surrounding the use of technology to improve the human body.

The story is filled with twists and turns, some predictable, along with a few loose ends. The realization of what’s happened to Japan after 10 years of isolation is certainly an eye-opener and it’s enough of a depressing outcome that you are actually rooting for the hero to succeed as you don’t wish for this to happen anywhere else. Further explanation would ruin it for those of you who haven’t seen it as it’s a chilling moment. Once Japan’s true identity has been discovered the inevitable uprising is also discovered. It was sad that the story spoiled the uprising’s end by revealing the extent to which Daiwa controls Japan. The rebels have a plan which will destroy Daiwa and prevent them from unleashing their twisted robotics on other countries. Japan’s countryside is dominated by ‘Jags,' huge Dune-like robotic worms, which devour any metal they find.

The rebels plan to turn the Jags loose on Daiwa in a daring raid. Before the rebels undertake their mission the local Chairman, Itakaru, tries to convince them otherwise. Prior to this, the head of Daiwa, Kisaragi, mentions talking to the Chairman so you know they’ve been sold out. Also a lot of the characters are interconnected but for no real apparent reason. The head of the rebellion, Maria, knows Kisaragi and there’s a flashback scene which adds nothing to the story. Finally the ending has some unresolved elements. A series of politicians from around the world have been replaced with Daiwa creations as part of their plan. While Vexille discovers this she isn’t given the opportunity to tell anyone so technically these politicians are still active; what happens to them? Why include them if you aren’t going to resolve their plot line?

The film is presented in 1080p 16:9 widescreen. It uses 3D CGI animation along with cell shading to give it a distinct visual look. While the backgrounds, robot designs, and cityscapes look fantastic in CGI the character designs do not impress. The hair is freaky the way it mimics traditional anime hairstyles and has a clumped-together appearance. There aren’t the wispy single strands of hair, like in Final Fantasy; instead, huge clumps of hair bob up and down. There's also some odd looking facial hair that looks like it has been glued on. Personally, the way CGI animated anime films strive for a sense of realism turns me off. I couldn’t relate to the characters in Vexille; I didn’t feel anything for them because they feel fake and unnatural and part of that is due to their design and animation. At times they appear to walk and move very strangely — for instance, when the bald politician exits the car at the start his legs don’t move properly and when Maria smokes, her movements seem so methodical and thought out that they seem mechanical.

There are also times when there's a layering effect in the animation. Characters pick things up, for instance an apple, and if you look closely there's an invisible layer between the hand and the apple. By not feeling any connection to the characters, certain elements, which would have been quite powerful otherwise, had no affect on me, like the shooting of one of the rebels. Also Vexille is really annoying. She is a trained operative who can probably kill in god knows how many ways but she appears weak and out of it for majority of the movie. There's none of that soldierly professionalism and calm under pressure or even a desire for revenge.

What I did like was the beautiful colors they use in the skies. They are quite impressive in HD with a sunset casting off a beautiful collection of pinks, purples, and subtle oranges and yellows to create a mesmerizing image. The CGI style is also well suited to the robotic combat that takes place. They are visually quite stunning with a few high speed chase scenes really catching the eye. They zoom along at a great pace and keep up a high degree of detail in the image. Unfortunately, one of the chase scenes is a flashback so you know the two SWORD agents would survive, taking away some of the excitement.

The sound is presented in Dolby TrueHD English and Japanese 5.1. It features a soundtrack from Paul Oakenfold which complements the film superbly. Songs are often used during action or chase scenes or in the lead-up to them and the choice of song (electro, techno, and trance music) really complements the setting and the moment in the film (especially the chase scenes). Apart from the soundtrack there are a few impressive sounds like the horrible screeching sound of the Jags. They rotate as they drill and the sound of the rotating metal is great. Also there are a few chilling moments where a rebel’s death is heard over a radio and the yells and screams are quite powerful. Guns aren’t used that much but the few times a pistol is used it lacks any kick in the sound. The shot doesn't seem to ring out and consequently sounds flat.  Apart from Kisaragi none of the voice acting stands out. He has a real sense of evil in his dialogue and you can tell he's a true "by whatever means necessary, damn the collateral damage" psychopath who actually thinks he's playing God.

The Blu-ray comes packed with special features (115 minutes worth). There are behind-the-scenes features that showcase the voice acting, the animation process, and a whole bunch of other processes that went into making the movie. It also explores the world created in Vexille and the philosophy behind it in an interview with the director and a special on the secrets of Vexille, enough to keep any fan of the movie going for a while.

Overall Vexille is the type of film I’d recommend to anyone who liked the Appleseed movies. There is a lot here that you'll recognize and hopefully like. I’m personally not a fan of CGI animation but for fans, the film implements it well with visually impressive action scenes and beautiful backgrounds.

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