Armitage III, a very important anime in the cyberpunk genre. As usual deal we get androids, a little hacking here a tiny bit of gore there but what makes this one important is while it introduces new issues to the cyberpunk genre, it still manages to keep things simple unlike Ghost in the Shell or Texhnolyze.
We are watching Armitage, our little sexy chick trying to solve murders of type third androids with her sidekick Ross Sylibus, on newly colonized environment of Mars. Things of course will get much more interesting when our heroes learn why the type III androids were built and their full capacity. As I said in the introduction part this one still deals with philosophical and technical issues like other cyberpunk anime's but keeps it simple, not implying it is a bad thing in my opinion Armitage can help one heat up before watching GITS for example so it is a nice job. The story is well crafted, has a faster pace than many other anime in the genre.
To sum things up: Simple, original, weighs heavily on action. Armitage can be a good anime both for cyberpunk lovers and owing to its simplicity, a good choise for people who want a simpler entry to the genre.
Armitage III Review
The following review is for the anime Armitage III, which is an OVA series released back in 1995, along with a compilation film in 1997, and a sequel film in 2003. It was animated by Studio AIC; the same studio that made a lot of more renowned classic hits from the 1990s and early 2000s. In AIC’s extensive anime catalogue are titles such as Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, Blue Gender, Megazone 23, Now and Then Here and There, Tenchi Muyo! and Record of the Lodoss War. The OVA episodes and compilation film were directed by a fellow named Hiroyuki Ochi, who hasn’t really done anything worth mentioning before or since. More notable are the two main writers involved, both Chiaki J. Konaka and Akinori Endo each have recognizable writing credits to their names. Akinori Endo was the main writer involved in Battle Angel and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ. Chiaki J. Konaka, meanwhile, was involved in hits such as Serial Experiments Lain, Ghost Hound, and even Digimon Tamers. The sequel film, Dual-Matrix had a competely new writer-director tandem, but neither the director nor the writer have really done anything significant that their names warrant mentioning, though they still did a competent job with Dual-Matrix.
There are three anime entries included in this review, the original four-episode OVA simply called Armitage III, the compilation film Poly-Matrix that literally rehashes the four OVA episodes as a single film, and the sequel film Dual-Matrix. All three titles were collected and released by Funimation on their Classics anime line with a beautiful DVD release that sits nicely on my shelf. I watched the original OVA’s in Japanese with english subtitles, but interestingly enough the compliation film Poly-Matrix was only released with an English dub—even in Japan, and the sequel film Dual-Matrix does not feature the same Japanese voice actors that were present in the original OVAs. So all three entries have a different feel when it comes to their delivery and script. On the whole, though, the presentation does hold up as best as it can given the circumstances. Obviously these are very old anime that we’re dealing with. To even hear the term, “OVA” is a rarity these days in the industry. OVAs stand for Original Video Animation, which means anime that never aired on television and were just made for VHS Release.
Anyways, let’s talk about my bottom-line opinion.
Without delving into spoilers or analysis just yet, I do not think that this series holds up to modern standards. I know this series maintains a lot of praise and respect as one of the front-running premiere science fiction series to come to the West during the late 1990s, but after watching everything in this boxed set, I think that a lot of the praise today stems from nostalgia. Speaking candidly, even from that time period I feel that there are a lot of better anime titles: Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop being the two main science fiction anime that come to my mind, but if you can think of another “great” science fiction anime with a cyperpunk theme, chances are that it is a better product: Outlaw Star, Ergo Proxy, Psycho-Pass, Texhnolyze, Casshern Sins, and Gungrave are all stand as better than this in my opinion. Likewise, anyone who has seen popular action classics like Blade Runner, Terminator 2, or The Matrix will already have seen the major lessons that this story has to offer. Which is sort of ironic, isn’t it? Because while there is a high likelihood that those movies served as Armitage III’s direct inspiration, by attempting to mimic those stories instead of innovate, its entire reason for existing is brought into question: why settle for a deriative knockoff when you can have the real thing?
So, uhh, here is where I should lay out the plot premise for any uninitated viewers, or those who just need to their memories refreshed. However, I'm going to go ahead and try to have fun here. So I'm going to (1) open up Google and (2) Google “Armitage III anime review” and copy/paste the first result’s explanation that I see. Are you ready? Here I go. (25 seconds later) Hm…well, the first result I came across is from THEM Anime Review, a fairly visible source of many anime reviews, though I’ll admit that I haven’t the slightest idea whether they are a reputable source or not. Here is their first paragraph and advert describing Armitage III:
“The year is 2046. Detective Ross Sylibus is in the process of being transferred to Mars when a country singer travelling on his flight is murdered. Making matters more complicated is that the singer is discovered to have been a "Third": a robot that looks and feels like a human. Sylibus is subsequently partnered with Armitage, a beautiful but immature cop with a bad attitude. As they investigate the murder of the singer and a seemingly related series of murders of other women on Mars, they uncover a conspiracy that could get them both killed by the Martian government, a situation made more dire when Armitage is revealed to be a Third herself.”
This is an, okay-ish explanation, I guess. I got a good audible chuckle when I saw “adapted from ANN” at the end of the passage; clearly indicating that the writer, Nicoletta Browne, herself ripped this premise / plot description from another website. It seems she couldn’t be bothered to explain this herself either. (Lol.) But anyways, while I at least give her props for being honest, I’d give this description a C-. The big problem with this summary is that it basically just reflects how boring this series is, being just a run-down of the opening scene of the first episode. Or the beginning of the movie Poly-matrix, depending on which rendition the viewer went with. Sort of a bit redundant then, isn’t it. Why describe a movie scene when you haven't even sold your readership on watching it yet?
Here is a my actual rundown:
This anime is a cyberpunk-action-romance anime with a valiant attempt at also playing at a neo-noir thriller, though that aspect to the anime is debatable because (A) there isn’t any mystery or suspense to it at all: the main bad guy is identified in the very first scene of the series, and so is the fact that the title heroine, Armitage, is an android. And (B) Armitage herself is neither a foil, damsel, nor femme fatale. In fact, the two main characters just hit it off immediately so there isn't any suspense to it. She spends most of her screentime more or less naked (her outfit is revealing, to say the least) and kicking the bad guys’ asses, so there literally is not about her left to the imagination. The plot is seen from the point of view of a recently-transferred detective named Syllibus, who is the series’ main protagonist character for this story. The first scene,previously described above in the blurb, is literally Syllibus landing at an airport on Mars and walking straight into gunfight when Armitage starts shooting at an ominuous-looking suspect carrying a body in a briefcase. He runs for cover and acts confused of over what has happened without participating.
Already, I felt disappointed.
The above description on paper sounds like something most viewers should like. An intense gunfight in an airport, spearheaded by a sexy heroine? If you follow me or know anything about my review history, you’d know that I love cyberpunk. Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner are two of my all time favorite movies, and Ergo Proxy is another personal favorite, and all those titles feature suspenseful encounters with mentally disturbing villians. But most scenes that were supposed to be heartfelt or engaging felt disingenuous or disjointed, at best. Starting with this first shootout. It all felt so flat. Syllibus running for cover and merely watching the gunfight unfold in front of him, joking with a few civilians dressed as cowboys if they have a gun, otherwise helpless, is what I related to again and again as I watched the series. There wasn't a single action scene that the show ever truly engaged me.
As recently as my Blue Gender review, I've always tried to make clear that I have a soft spot badass gunslinging babes. This was renowned for its great action scenes; though frankly I just didn’t really see it. Even in the first scene, Armitage has this whole shootout and no one execpt the some of the bad guys are hit. The bad guy is supposed to be a straight-psychopath but he comes across as a cartoonish villian with an annoying evil laugh. Even later in the series, why he targets only androids of Armitage's type is never really explained. Both the and Armitage both jump out a window and Armitage seems to capture him, only for the villian to escape off-screen ten seconds later. I’d hate to be a nicpicker or debbie-downer, but straight-away you can tell what level of quality and excitement that you’re going to get out of this series. It does not subvert expectations once and, to me, it felt as if the anime “pulled its punches”. Which means it held itself back from fully exploring ideas to its full potential. I don’t get a visceral sense of ultra-violence that was present in likeminded titles from the time period. I don’t get the suspense of a true cyberpunk thriller. I don’t get the intelligent writing of the industry leaders and directors. If you are making a striaght-to-dvd OVA series, why are you holding back?
The entire time I was besides myself at just how much Armitage III retreaded points previously made in more popular cyberpunk anime or films. To the point that I frankly felt bored. Not a single thing that surprised me throughout the OVA’s plot. Even in the case of Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, which was the last anime I reviewed by the same Studio and writer as this, an interesting and unique plot emerged by its halfway point. But Armitage III manages to become less interesting as it goes on. Knowing the general x’s and o’s of a plot does not immediately mean that a story has to be boring: as evidenced by the continued popularity of shonen anime like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto Shippuden, or My Hero Academia, where we as viewers broadly know that the good guys are going to win. In general, audiences know most of the main strokes of the stories they are seeing. Knowing the plot points in advance and being able to say, "I told you so" is not the issue. I’ve always argued that spoilers are not supposed to ruin a story, which is backed by scientific evidence.
But this is the real problem.
This is the same problem I had with Noein, where I have mentioned this idea before in my review. When the creators or storywriters set the goal to “play it safe” with audiences; even in the best case scenario their story is just going to be “good”. Under my review metric, an anime that’s just “good” warrants an equivilent score of 7.0 out of 10, or a 70% percentage score, a passing grade in the US Education system. But Armitage III in my opinion isn’t even competent enough to get a passing grade. Let me ask any American readers right now: did you aspire to obtain C-’s when you were in school? I hope not. While it is quite easy to find scores of glowing reviews for Armitage III online, (I know, because I read at least a dozen of them before writing this) almost all of those reviews feature critics or fans looking back on Armitage III with a sense of nostalgia or revearence. I just do not see the appeal or logic in those attitudes.
Would it have been really that hard to keep the series grounded on a single concept and develop said concept to its logical conclusion? Chiaki Konaka and Akinori Endo at least do a competent job with writing the inter-character dialogues, but there is a continual sense of whiplash with the tone of this story. Frankly speaking—at the beginning of the series Armitage portrays herself as this easygoing sexualized girl any guy could get along with, with a very mature side to her that comes out throughout the earlier parts of the story as she bonds with the protagonist Syllibus. And come on now, how could any straight guy to not relate to this? Sex sells stories after all. But while Armitage herself is a pleasant surprise that benefits this story, Syllibus comes across as this bland character that does not actively participate in many events unfolding around him. Armitage and Syllibus aren’t even in the same scenes together for much of this story’s runtime, and Armitage's character development ultimately amounts to being a damsel in distress who pawns to be saved / pitied by Syllibus.
Which really drives home the point of the matter; I promise you readers that you aren’t exactly dealing with the pickiest of anime reviewers, and I promise I am not using hyperbole when I say that there was not enough competence in this story's execution (or excitement) to hold my attention. I really tried my best, having watched the same story in the OVAs again with the recompilation film Poly-matrix. I typically do enjoy older “trainwreck” anime like Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 or Blue Gender, for example. Both of those other series were made by the same studio. I suppose it’d be unfair to say that Armitage III failures exist on a “you know it when you see it” basis, and yes I may be a little biased here, but I’d argue both of those other series understood their audience and played to their strengths accordingly.
The cold hard fact is this: most of core plot threads are not even resolved by the OVA’s conclusion. So clearly the storywriters didn’t put a lot of care into this…And if they didn’t care, why should we care as viewers? By the end of the story, Armitage and Syllibus become outlaws because of reasons pertaining to a treaty signed with Earth. And the main antagonist named Deucarde just flat-out disappears. An entire division of the Martian military appears, and the main characters somehow win before Armitage reveals to Syllibus that she is pregnant in a final scene. Insofar as I could see, the execution of this final scene where she reveals her pregnacy was the only recognizable difference between the two renditions (the OVAs and compilation film Poly-matrix, respectively) of the story, but in each case the entire ordeal felt ridiculous. Poly-matrix sports a slimmer runtime at 100 minutes instead of the OVA’s 140 minutes, but would you believe me if I told you I can no longer remember or discern what was or wasn’t edited out? This anime was a struggle to get through, to the extent that I struggled to even get this review on paper. The changes or cuts weren't anything consequential as far as I could tell. The OVAs felt like they dragged on too long yet Poly-matrix feels too short, but between the two I'll take the more concise movie if I ever am forced to revisit this series.
Here is some good news, though.
The sequel film, Dual-matrix does see some significant improvement to the story, pacing, and entertainment factor. Ironically, its success comes courtesy of lot more level-headed and realistic direction, in that it intends and aspires to simply provide an exceptional action movie to fans of the original OVAs and Poly-matrix. It almost felt as if it were made by fans for fans, whereas the original OVAs and compilation film attempted to established a franchise whose entire identity was taken from other, more popular sources which inspired it. Furthermore, and somewhat contradictory to what I just said, the sequel film seems to be independent from the original OVAs—removing any pretense of subliety. It feels more like a homage than an organic sequel. I’m sure there were plenty of viewers that saw this new film and weren’t even aware they were watching a sequel, which would make sense given the five year gap between releases.
The animation and choreography have a much more modern feel to it, and it is much more tolerable to modern tastes of fans such as myself compared to the original OVAs, which felt extremely dated—the key word here that comes to mind about the later film is that it finally felt competent. By the end of my second time running through the same story with the OVAs and afterwards its compilation film Poly-matrix, I was ready to pull my own hair out of a deep desire to stop watching Armitage. I’m glad I stuck with it, seeing as the sequel film Dual-matrix was an entertaining relapse in executing fundamental basics for a solid action flick, which came as a pleasant surprise to me. Most traditional fans dismiss Dual-matrix as either a cash-grab or outright failure to live up to the originals’ legacy. And yet I thought it was by and large much better than the original OVA series and its compilation film Poly-matrix. Go figure.
As the saying goes, water is more valuable than gold to someone dying of thirst. Context is important, and in retrospect, the film Dual-matrix has its own share of issues too. Certainly, I wasn’t going to have an epiphany after watching the same story twice that it was suddenly good. So while I finally was able to enjoy something from Armitage by the time I saw this sequel film, some notable issues I still persist that even I can not overlook. First is the atrocious CGI, which even the original 90’s OVAs managed to avoid. The Japanese voice actors are also different, as is the main writer and director tandem behind the helm, so the delivery feels completely detached from the original material. While the benefit here from this change is that now you don’t have to see the original OVAs to enjoy Dual-matrix, the downside here is definitely if you are a true fan of the original series. This goes along with the point I mentioned earlier, but I’m not even sure if you could say this is a continuation, per se, in lieu of a reboot or homage. And finally, even within the confines of this movie’s story; its pretty incredible to me how little the two main characters interact with each other. The romantic hero and heroine and their development together were the only tangible highlight of the original OVAs, whereas in this sequel film they scarcely even have any scenes together.
The plot is remarkably simple and straightforward, which is reflected in the fact that the entire story has maybe six named characters with dialogue in total. A bad guy in a mega corporation wants Armitage for her technology. (Wow, real shocker there!) The highlight of the entire movie is the final prolonged action sequence where Armitage plays escort duty to Syllibus and their daughter while two powerful, evil cyborgs chase after the family as they make their way to an escape shuttle. Prolonged action sequences of this sort of quality are downright hard to find. Many notable popular action anime, including Sword of the Stranger, Mardock Scramble, Afro Samurai, and Hellsing Ultimate all made their names and reputations by featuring nothing but great action choreography. But again, this is a case where it is also fair to point out that, as is the case with all famous action-flicks, (including the ones I just mentioned) their legacies are completely beholden to the standards of the audience. As the standards improve and evolve over time, series that made their name on exceptional animation and choreography tend to become outdated and forgotten to modern tastes.
Ultimately, it’s good writing that sticks with us.
The film Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is yet another adult-oriented action flick from the early 2000s, along with Dual-matrix, that is along the same lines in terms of quality and a premiere focus on action. (In addition to being a belated sequel to a classic franchise.) Both Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Dual-Matrix have essentially been forgotten today. Even the OVAs had some good ideas going on with regards to the main characters. Regardless of the fact that it was all deriative, at least it tried. While this later Armitage film delivered on entertainment; it did so by completely sacrificing any attempt at narrative progression, merely being content to retread the same conspiracy-driven plot thread of the original OVAs in order to provide context for its action, while forgoing any character development to speak of. I can and do appreciate that the story managed to suceed on what it primarily aspired and set out to do, but it is also fair to note that competence should not be applauded. It is expected. The movie Dual-Matrix warrants a tenuous 7/10 while the OVAs a 6/10, but the latter score is reflected seeing that the film is a direct sequel to the OVAs.
Thank you for reading,
Armitage III (OVA)
Plot: "The year is 2179: humans and robots have colonized Mars. A newer Third-Type robot has been designed to interact undetected in human society. That is, until a man named D'anclaude discovers their secret and starts a movement to wipe them out. Armitage is a Third-Type that works for the police with her partner Ross, and now these two must rid the planet of D'anclaude and his evil plans." (site synopsis)
Story: Ow god, even till this day i just wonder, how can short animes be better than long ones? Some of us say, "it can't be! long ones have alot more to tell, much more time to develop stuff and they present a much more complex story than the short ones" or other say "the short ones are better mainly because it doesn't need complex stuff to make it good, in other words it doesn't need a hell of an inteligent plot or a long term story to hit the top charts and to impress the audiences". I stand firm and say, yes i agree, short animes are better, and this show is already a proff of my choice. Armitage is a set of 4 OVA's (and a compilation movie, which depicts the events from the OVA's as a remastered version, however some scenes from the OVA's are not included in the Poly-Matrix movie so i strongly suggest to watch the OVA's rather than wasting time with the movie) that depicts a conflict between humans and robots. It presents a future world filled with discrimination against robots which somehow resembles to world from nowadays. The action of this show is centered on a young girl called Naomi Armitage which is a Third-Type robot, a type designed to interact undetected among the human society. The whole thing starts when she meets at the airport a man called Ross Sylibus, which hides a dark past mainly because of robots which he despise. On the same day Armitage and Sylibus meet, an attack takes place at the airport and both of them get involved in it. They learn the existance of a man called D'anclaude who apparently bears a grudge against robots and is aware of the existance of the Third-Types. Armitage and Sylibus become partners, and their objective is to locate D'anclaude and put an end to his attempts to kill robots. The question is, what would happen to Ross if he would learn that Armitage is infact a Third-Type as well, will their partnership end, or there is more to it than just that? I never expected this show to turn into a romantic story, since it gave me that sci-fi/action mood from the begining. Another question is, why Third-Types are so hated and why is D'anclaude so eager to destroy them? Are they special in any way possible or is just the decision of a madman without a reason? One thing is for sure, there is more to it than it meets the surface and for such a short show i am surprized in a positive way of how well the story was tied up. Armitage stands firm as a masterpiece among all the futuristic/cyberpunk shows i've seen so far. Oh but wait, there is more to wait, a movie sequel called Armitage III Dual Matrix exists as well! Better not spoil anything more because i will do a review about that as well.
Animation and Sound: For an anime produced in the mid 90s i was surpried to see so nice background animation quality and character design and directing, AIC studio exectuded in a perfect manner the animation of Armitage III it certainly did not dissapoint. The futuristic aspect of this show makes the sceneries seem eye-candy~ish. The animation from this show reminds me slightly of the first Ghost in the Shell movie which also aired in the mid of 90s as well. The sound also did not dissapoint as well, the soundtracks were absolutely memorable (infact i could not refrain from downloading the FLAC collection of Armitage III at how good the soundtracks were, of course combined with their respective scenes) i also came to love Hiroyuki Nanba for her soundtracks from Armitage. The voice acting as well wasn't bad since i've always been a fan of Hiroko Kasahara, voicing Naomi Armitage (Vampire Princess Miyu, Yami to Boshi to Hon no Tabibito, Samurai X or Kuran Phantom Memory).
Characters: In terms of characters it doesn't dissapoint as well. Naomi Armitage is quickly presented as a badass character, with cool entries, badass clothes/appearences and amazing fighting skills and determination to defeat those that stand in her way. Sylibus as well is well presented as robot hater which is clearly expressed on his figure. Toghether both of them were a perfect team and very well developed. The only thing is that the secondary characters are very forgetable having roles with not much importance, serving as mere catalists.
Overall: An advice for cyberpunk fans, don't waste time and watch Armitage III you really won't be dissapointed. It has a badass lead, captivating story, splendid visuals and awesome battles. As i said at the begining, this one stands firm as one of the best cyberpunk shows i ever seen, alongside GITS of course.
~Enjoy and Cya Around~