It’s become something of a pocket tradition since 2012 for me to review each successive film in the Mardock Scramble animated trilogy. I went into the series absolutely blind and found something that while fairly dark was also oddly engrossing. Of course with this being the third consecutive summer, it means we’re now at the end of Kaze/Manga’s releases. Has it been worth the wait?
Both films thus far have ended right in the middle of a tense moment. Although the first ended part way through a dramatic action scene, the second ended on a more subdued but no less tense casino card counting scam. Having become comfortable with the enhanced abilities of her resurrected body, we return to Balot’s attempt to gain crucial evidence for her murder trial by winning access to the poker chips that contain the memories of the man who had murdered her. Quite a bit of The Second Combustion was given over to Balot, Oeufcoque, and Easter subtly using their advance science to win their way through the casino. That same focus and tone is kept as the plot chain continues, including Balot facing off with another seasoned and wise member of the casino staff. In hindsight I’ve come to change my mind on the extended presence of roulette dealer Bell Wing in the previous film and it’s welcome to see her back here briefly. But the male Black Jack dealer that stands as an obstacle this time around feels like unsuccessful repetition of the character. Attempting to debate Balot on ethics and morals as they play, the statements and character presence seem lacking in comparison to various other productions. This kind of character is hardly unique in cinema or anime for that matter; the not-quite antagonist who simply disagrees with or queries the lead, revealing a surprising depth that gives both the protagonist and audience pause. Here, the character and the views he espouses come off simply as filler.
This factor becomes an issue with the remainder of the film. By this point we’ve come to see Balot’s murderer, Shell, as pure scum. So it becomes awkward when the second half puts focus on trying to partly give him an understandable and sympathetic backstory to explain why he’s been performing the serial murders of young women. I should clarify that I don’t ask for black and white ‘goodies and baddies’ in fiction and repeat that much of my praise for Mardock Scramble thus far was how it plunged into messy, complicated truths of humanity. But at this stage, the attempt to partly absolve the arguable villain of the story feels ridiculous to me. This is a character who has systematically taken in abused young women, murdered and cremated them, and turned the remains into diamonds. I don’t really see any way to make such a character sympathetic, especially not at such a late point in the story.
As such as a whole the film feels muddled, as though the best ideas were used in the first two films (themselves respectful adaptations of a series of novels) and nothing was really left for the final leg of the story. I wouldn’t go so far as to label it a train wreck but it’s a shame to see the author fizzle out in the final lap.
One area that thankfully does remain consistent is the visuals. I’ve been struck by the visual style of Mardock since moments into the first installment and it continues here to the very end. The lush colours and detailed drawings create a world you simply want to drink into.
The film is presented in a choice of subtitled Japanese or English dub. Similar to the previous release the highlighted extra is the theatrical release version, with the Director’s Cut taking prominence on the main menu. There’s also an extended promotional video for the film, which I believe might well be the extended preview seen on the previous release. A wider range of extras is present on the Blu-ray version release.
Mardock Scramble: The Third Exhaust sadly isn’t quite the stellar closing I was hoping for. Although there are good elements to be had it simply doesn’t seem to have the source creativity behind it that the previous two entries did. If you’ve been following the trilogy I’d recommend seeing it yourself to finish up the story, but don’t expect too much I’m afraid.