Review: "Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion (UK Edition)" - That Difficult Second Act
The first Mardock Scramble movie went to very dark places, ending with resurrected teenage prostitute Rune Balot at the mercy of enemy agent Boiled after having abused the trust of her living weapon partner Oeufcoque. The second film continues directly on from this point as the terrified Balot attempts to escape. Admittedly her means of escape were easy to guess even as the first film drew to its dramatic close but it’s still an effective way to end that film and begin this one.
Balot soon finds herself spirited away to Paradise, the scientific settlement that is home to the technology which brought her back to life. There was a lot of body horror and weirdness to be found in The First Compression and it continues here. There’s a subtle but clear sinister edge projected by the residents of Paradise who seem detached from the world outside their forest walls. Although the associated characters are presented as spiritual siblings to Balot things like a teenage boy in a homosexual relationship with a genetically enhanced dolphin are just mind bogglingly bizarre. After the body snatcher perverts from the previous film I thought I was prepared for anything. Well played, Second Combustion.
The actual Paradise segment of the film serves little purpose beyond such shock tactics. At best it allows the audience a breather and for Balot to reassess her strategy for her case as she uses the enhanced abilities of her second body to hack info instead of kill people. To be fair, said breather is welcome in the face of the tense second half where the main trio take to the casino that holds antagonist Shell’s excised memories in an attempt to win their way to the VIP lounge in order to play for the chips which store said memories. Body horror and violence give way to subterfuge and plotting in the same vein as classic James Bond standoffs. An extended sequence sees Balot bond with a female roulette dealer. This sequence is kind of odd as Balot seems fascinated with the dealer for reasons that don’t quite seem to translate to the audience. Although the dealer is a well developed character and helps to in turn add some depth to the overall setting it’s a long diversion that doesn’t really add much to the overall story (though based on one extra looks to pay off in the final installment). The actual end is unfortunately lacking, more of a chapter break than a cliffhanger.
Given Balot’s betrayal of Oeufcoque in the previous film’s finale, much of her screen time is spent carrying guilt for this and exploring just how deep her feelings for him go. I commented last time that it was telling that her very first line was “I want to die;” in this second installment she declares instead “I want to live.” That says a lot for the development her character has undergone thus far. Although the previous film saw her carrying the spectre of the sexual abuse she had undergone we now see more of a personality and resolve emerging.
Someone else who shows deeper facets is Boiled. It was revealed last time that in the past he and Oeufcoque had been partners with a general suggestion that Boiled had crossed a line and destroyed their partnership. This time we get a few glances at the fact he is tortured in his own right and that his threatening nature may be due to factors beyond his control. This also continues to run as a comparison to Balot herself, as Boiled questions why Oeufcoque is prepared to forgive her darker impulses and abuse over his. Sadly Oeufcoque himself doesn’t really develop and instead quickly resumes his role as a guardian.
The key settings of Paradise and the casino result in the movie carrying a strong pastel/neon rainbow colour scheme. This gives the former an alien, heavenly quality and helps sell the latter with the intoxicating, distracting sensory overload real gambling halls take advantage of. The animation for both is stunning and indeed a real proponent for the merits of the medium, as I struggle to imagine such visuals being pulled off effectively in live action.
As with the previous release, the Director’s Cut of the film is included, but this time is given prominence as the theatrical cut is relegated to the extras. I can see logic for doing it both ways but done like this, the original cut comes off as kind of pointless, especially as the extended version only adds a few extra minutes. Other extras consist of a promotional video for the movie, an extended look at the next one and brief feature on the promotional events for the film. The first two seem to be siblings, suggesting the promotional video may originally have been intended as a preview on the previous release. These videos actually show quite a bit of footage, enough to seemingly get a rather good understanding of what’s going to happen in each successive installment. As such I think it might be best suggesting people skip this; I went in hoping to whet my appetite for the final entry and got a few too many spoilers.
The event feature is the well worn promo tour you’ll find on any anime movie release, with staff and cast requesting audiences support the movie and merchandise. The best I can say is there’s some brief nuggets about why specific actors were cast.
The Second Combustion doesn’t stand up quite as well for me as the first film. The story definitely continues but like most middle entries in a trilogy it’s mostly about developing the cast that little bit more and positioning them for the endgame. Not that character development is bad, just that here it seems to get lost a bit in trying to give the audience pause with some of the more outlandish ideas. It does however continue the well established dark atmosphere and the private investigator motif works well, feeling like the natural tone for the story rather than the tick-box pastiche other sci-fi attempts have been. A continued recommendation.