In a not too distant future Japan has become the biggest weapon producer on the market and at the same time decided to completely isolate itself from the outside world. After ten years, an organization called S.W.O.R.D. receives a mysterious message to investigate a meeting held by Japanese weapon corporation Daiwa and it turns out that there's more to Daiwa than what initially meets the eye. Vexille, a member of S.W.O.R.D., is sent to infiltrate Japan along with her comrades to find out what's really going on and has to question herself what it really means to live and to be alive in the process, but most importantly what it means to be human.
I basically randomly downloaded Vexille based on one preview image that I thought looked fantastic and this is also most likely Vexille's most peculiar aspect - the art. Vexille uses a mix of CGI and pixel shading in order to create a movie that looks both very much anime but also 3D at the same time. The result is overall so-so. When Vexille looks great it really looks good but when it looks bad it feels incredibly outdated and it has certainly not aged well. At its worst Vexille looks like graphics produced for its time around five or more years ago, but at its best Vexille almost looks as if it could be produced today. Character design is generally speaking aimed to be realistic rather than overly anime-esque, while the design at the same time is also quite generic and were it not for haircuts it would be difficult to separate some people apart. This strangely seems to apply more to females than males where there is a greater variation in terms of facial features. For most of the part animation looks smooth and there is a lot of thought put into combat sequences, but sometimes movement looks very unrealistic as if people are not affected by physical laws and the overall feeling is that non-combat scenes are rushed and simply not as worked on as the combat scenes. I remember that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within suffered a similar fate.
The feeling of rushed is something that does not only affect physical movement in Vexille but also in terms of how the plot is laid out when I sometimes feel as if I've skipped 10 or more minutes of watching material. My impression is that the director for some reason was very trigger happy with the scissor in some places to the point where it was detrimental to the story. There is for instance little to no character development present and the drama that does take place often feels as it has no depth because there is no background to explain why it occurs and the relationship(s) between the people involved. Characters are in general most likely Vexille's greatest weakness as all characters are flat and poorly developed to a very large degree to the point where they are simply names with faces but nothing more. The only true exception to this rule is Maria that despite being a side character is quite well established and is the only character whose goals and motivations we, the watchers, actually get to know.
This is actually rather sad because Vexille does speak to me on many levels with the most obvious being its cyberpunk inspiration. At times it was quite reminiscient of Ghost in the Shell when at its best, putting a mysterious plot in a quite futuristic but not-too-distant setting and really pondering about the meaning of being human and delivering quite a few punchlines about the human condition. At its worst Vexille too easily falls into the plenty action movie tropes, one example being the corny one-liner delivered by the protagonist as she defeats the antagonist, and sometimes I feel that Vexille was perhaps a bit too much of style over substance despite the fact that Vexille actually has a lot of substance to deliver but it was all quite underdeveloped.
My biggest gripe with Vexille is that it therefore does not deliver where it should deliver. I think what Vexille truly and genuinely lacked was drama that could build some compelling characters in a story that would work much better if it was character-driven. In my mind I think Vexille had been much better off being produced as an OVA series rather than as a stand-alone movie where much more focus could have been spent on developing characters, creating a sense of mystery and build up drama - things that were sorely lacking and would've pushed Vexille from weak mediocre into great, maybe even one of the best anime movies I've seen in some time. This is definitely not the case, however.
Vexille had worked great as a mystery-suspense story with some action on the side, heavily influenced by similar cyberpunk stories such as Ghost in the Shell and even Ergo Proxy and learning from the strengths of the former and the weaknesses from the latter. The final result however is a product that feels underdeveloped and not as polished as it should have been, with perhaps a bit too much focus on style over substance even though the style is by today's no longer that great. My overall impression is thus a movie that greatly disappoints me despite its ability to lure me in with its many promises, but still ends up as mediocre instead of great that it should have been.
The story is interesting but not incredible. There is, of course, your standard "evil corporation is out for world domination" blah, blah, blah, but I must say the way they are getting there is quite original. There was not, however, anything more to the story than that. No REAL twists and turns (other than a few VERY obvious and easily guessable ones), and nothing beyond the resolution of the main story (again the only exception being one small not-quite side-plot involving the main male characters love interest(s). So nothing ground-breaking, heart-wrenching or awe inspiring enough to rate it any higher.
Im at quite an impasse about the animation. The visuals are GORGEOUS... as long as its still shots or combat. Very reminiscent of Appleseed, everything is 3D rendered and cell shaded, and as I said before, quite impressive, except for actual animation of the characters doing anything but combat. Everything from talking to kissing looked horrendously choppy and unnatural. Appleseed by comparison, had equally beautiful visuals with perfect animation to go with it.
Nothing stunning about the sound, but it did its job well. All the random robot moves, explosions, gunfire and such sound great. The English dub is passable (I dont have the Japanese dub so I cant comment on that). The music is lots and LOTS of techno (which I hate I might add). Not holding the techno score against it, I will, however, warn all you fellow techno haters out there.
Characters are likable but pretty run of the mill. Nothing special here: standard plucky heroine; standard stalwart, quiet male lover with troubled past; standard evil head of corporation bent on world domination etc, etc.
So I was kinda disappointed with this one, my friend had recommended it pretty highly (and he doesnt like anime), and at first glance it looks to be a darn good movie. I falls short of the mark of greatness though, and simply slides into mediocrity. Worth a rent but I wouldnt waste too much money on this one.