Having an introspective story and stunning animation, Metropolis is a film with much ambition. Unfortunately, it only has one hundred minutes to fulfill its goals; hence, the movie comes off as hurried and remote. Contrary to appearances, this is not a character piece; Tima and Ken-ichi are used here as pawns to carry out the basis of the plot. As great as it could have been, there's much to be said that Metropolis leaves only a blue print of its potential.
There are two primary approaches a robot anime can take: the machines may occasionally clash with humans, but on the most part their existence is appreciated (i.e., Saber Marionette J, Chobits) or the machines are resented and feared (i.e., Armitage III). Metropolis takes the latter approach; it was fairly interesting to see men complaining that robots are taking their jobs. What Metropolis does different from the aforementioned anime is that the robots really do not have the upper hand. Indeed, it was a refreshing touch to see that the machines have to follow certain rules and are sometimes cruelly punished if they step out of bounds. To take the idea further, someone decided to get creative...the robots bleed. Unfortunately, this really isn't grounds for sympathy but it's something to take note of.
...the movie begins slowly. It wasn't until twenty minutes have passed that I was even remotely interested in what was going on. Metropolis definitely suffers from pacing issues and this is only exacerbated by the fact that the point of view shifts too often. One minute the focus is on the uncle. The next on Rock. Then the camera's on Duke Red. Ah, now it's time to spend time on Tima and Ken-ichi! Considering the premise of the movie, it would have been best to spend a good deal of time on Tima and Ken-ichi, but to my surprise, their screen time is minimal. The pair really only have two good scenes together and nothing memorable happens when the two are by themselves. The pacing picks up in the last fifteen minutes or so. This is the part where the average viewer will stop snoring and snap to attention. The climax and ending are worth the journey.
Metropolis's animation is a paradox: It's excellent, but although made only four years ago, it has a retro polish that makes it appear older than it actually is. The characters often move a bit too slowly; their movements are certainly not fluid at all. I think this was intentional because (being a Tezuka work) the creators were trying to get an "old school" feel of the show. Last but certainly not least, the Cgi blends seamlessly with the surroundings save for a few close-up shots (i.e., the close up of a gigantic fish in a tank). I have a few issues with the character designs: Why does Duke Red have a nose like a vulture?
The background music is full of jazzy instrumental tunes. The song that plays near the end sounds like a Christmas carol and didn't match what was going on at the time. Voice acting gets the job done, but I take issue with Rock's voice. He looks like a young boy; as a result, it was very strange to hear that deep voice coming from such a scrawny ...
Because the story is worthwhile, I was able to somewhat ignore the mediocre characterization. There were some minor characters that were fun to watch (Ken-ichi's uncle), but Rock is probably the best. Although his "true" motivations (I refuse to believe that's all there is to it) are never revealed; viewers are given enough to fill in the holes themselves. He seems to have a sick obsession with "the man he calls father" and refuses to believe that this man could let a robot become the world's leader. His misguided love is very clearly one-sided and one could probably draw the conclusion that he's just hurt that he was passed up for the throne. But this is only mere speculation and there's really nothing in the film that says we shouldn't take Rock's actions at face value.
In other anime where technology goes head to head with mankind, humans are almost always the victor. The trick is that the anime succeeds in humanizing their robots so when the end is near we can find it in ourselves to shed a tear or two. Considering this, then, it's probably not very commendable that the movie's villain outshines everyone. The unspoken rule says that Tima is supposed to be the one to look out for and Metropolis sadly breaks that rule. Tima is a robot and this movie made sure I didn't forget it. She learns nothing (save that her name is not "who") and expresses very little emotion save for the requisite clinging to the first person she laid eyes on. Gee, I've seen this somewhere else very recently, but that other show will remain nameless. In the same way I feel no personal affection for my computer, I couldn't have cared less about Tima. Even when insisting she's human, she does so without passion. A robot can never be civilized without interaction with humans so of course Ken-ichi must take a few minutes to fulfill his role. Admittedly he's hard not to like, but this is solely because of his lovable and endearing character design.
Metropolis is definitely one of the better anime movies and it gets my recommendation. It's full of style and has the substance to back it up. It's also one of those movies that may get better with subsequent viewings. I watched it twice because I fell asleep for about twenty minutes the first time (which is why I held out the review for so long). The second time I didn't clonk out until near the climax which I saw on the first go anyway. If I were to watch it a third time, maybe I wouldn't snooze at all!
Metropolis is a grand high-tech city-state populated by humans and robots alike. It is in these streets that Detective Shunsaku Ban and his sidekick Kenichi search for the rebel scientist Dr. Laughton who unbenounced to them, is developing a super android named Tima as a tool for the Duke of Metropolis. What starts out as a normal case turns into mayhem as the scientist is murdered, and the true plans of the Duke are finally revealed...