Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion Review
Originally published as a three part novel in Japan, there is quite a disparity in the pace, the tone and the content of each of the three sections of Tow Ubukata’s science-fiction adventure Mardock Scramble and an awful lot of bizarre and surreal circumstances to get your head around across the whole work. The anime version - scripted by the original author - retains this structure across three films, each around an hour long. Even if you've watched the first part, or the First Compression as it's known, you can still be taken by surprise by the complete change of pace in the Second Combustion. Whether it all makes sense or not at this stage, the second part is just as compelling in its richness of imagery, bold ideas and its peculiar originality.
The First Compression was in many respects a vision of Hell, at least as far as Rune Balot was concerned. Flashbacks indicated that the young woman had been abused as a child in care and was picked off the streets to be raped by a wealthy businessman Shell Septinos who destroys his victims and has their ashes made into blue diamonds. Rescued by Doctor Easter, reconstructed through Scramble 09 technology and given a technological shape-shifting side-kick Oeufcoque to work with, in the first part Balot still remained in grave danger of Shell's assassins and a ruthless killer with anti-gravitational powers known as Dimsdale Boiled. The dark neon-lit futuristic vision of Mardock City then was the background for a series of explosive action and violent gun battles.
In contrast to the Hell of the First Compression, the opening half of Mardock Scramble - The Second Combustion takes place in Paradise. That's the name of the protected location where Doctor Easter's legalised experiments with the restricted Scamble 09 technology reside, locked off safely from the rest of the world. Easter brings the injured Rune Balot there in a flying Humpty machine, Eggnog Blue, along with the near-destroyed Oeufcoque, who has been severely misused by Balot as a weapon. There are many other unusual figures in Paradise, including a homosexual dolphin Tweedledim that guides the recovering Balot to the Communication Backbone of an information ocean. It's there that Balot picks up a clue that could help them find the location of evidence that could convict Shell Septinos, finding that backups of the memories that he so carefully wipes after committing his crimes could be found in one of his casinos.
There are a lot of bizarre ideas and characters then to pack into the opening part of Mardock Scramble 2, so you need to be well up-to-speed with the first part. Even so, it could still be difficult to find consistency in the surreal imagery animated here in fluorescent rainbow colouration, in the unusual science-fiction concepts and extreme violence, all of it combined with a lot of religious and philosophical references and some nursery-rhyme characters with odd-English names. As hinted in the earlier descriptions of the contrasts between the two episodes, it's the religious imagery that dominates, this episode even ending with an 'Ave Maria' over the credits, as there was an 'Amazing Grace' ending to the first. There's also a "God" in Paradise here, Rune is depicted as a kind of Eve who seeks Forbidden Knowledge, and there are even Guardian Angels in the shape of flying sharks.
The latter gives you a clue then that these concepts are not handled in anything like a traditional manner. Some of the ideas seem a bit random, particularly now that chance and probability is added to the mix, but there is actually a consistency to the central philosophical question at the heart of the work at the notion of how innocence confronts the corruption of pure evil. Balot is clearly an innocent victim of traumatic abuse, but in her search to enact justice she herself becomes a killer and even an abuser of her friend Oeufcoque. Those questions are delved into rather more openly through in-depth philosophical discussions in the 'Mardock Scramble' novel, but the animation series successfully manages to raise these subjects along with associated questions of victims and abusers, healing and forgiveness, fate and justice, actions and their consequences, all within the context of a thrilling SF adventure.
The animation looks a little garish in its rainbow colouration, but it has a distinct character of its own and suits the tone and the contrasts of a storyline that is often dark and violent but rich in imagery and ideas. Animating the second half was always going to be a challenge, not just in depicting Paradise, but in finding a way to keep the casino gameplay sequences interesting. It does this very well, using split screens, vocalising the mind-contact interaction between Balot and Oeufcoque, and using the bubbling, rippling electronic soundtrack to maintain an air of tension and drama. The structure of the second part is let down somewhat by a failure to find some kind of conclusion to the episode, but there's enough here to lure you back for the final part of this unusual anime, The Third Exhaust.
Mardock Scramble - The Second Combustion is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray, the second of three films. The Blu-ray disc is dual-layered BD50, the encode AVC at 1080/24p. The Blu-ray is playable evidently on Region B players, but hasn’t been tested for multi-region capability. The DVD is a dual-layer DVD9 disc with the same content as the BD.
As with the first film, there are two different cuts of Mardock Scramble - The Second Combustion – a 62 minute Theatrical Cut (62 mins on DVD) and a 64-minute Director’s Cut (59 mins on DVD). Considering there isn't as much nudity and violence in the second part - although there is still a certain amount of both - the differences in the cuts would not seem to be as obvious as the re-worked animation between the two different versions of the first film. An extensive comparison wasn't made, but even if the differences are down to little more than minor trims, it's unlikely to significantly alter the tone or the content of the film.
The image quality is again excellent on both DVD and BD, even if it doesn’t particularly distinguish itself in the High Definition format. Both DVD and BD are relatively clear with some visible grain - some of which is intentional - but there is nothing that causes any real problems. Overall, the image is relatively stable and it's certainly colourful. The CG animation, employed mainly for technology and cars, tends to stand out a little more obviously here than I thought it did in the first film.
This time both the Director's Cut and Theatrical Cut come with the original Japanese audio track in DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz) and an English dub also in DTS HD-MA 5.1. The quality of the audio tracks is good, the surrounds used well for the music soundtrack and ambience, the sound dynamically sparking to life in the sudden eruptions of violence.
Subtitles are white, are clear and easy to follow. They are available automatically when the Japanese audio track is selected from the menu on either version, but they can't be brought up when listening to the English dub or switched on/off from your remote control.
In addition to the alternative Theatrical Cut, the main extra consists of a 23-minute featurette On The Way to Movie Theatres which covers the three "Ubukata Summits" unveiling the second film's preliminary trailer, mainly covering the contribution of the voice-actors for new characters, with a Q&A before the film's premiere. There's also a 2-minute Promo Video (scenes set to music from the soundtrack) and a Preview for the third film.
The change of tone might appear to be a little jarring in the second Mardock Scramble film, the SF ideas and philosophy might be a little bit "out there" and things are still left somewhat up in the air by the end of the second film here. There's not really any kind of proper conclusion reached here, but there's so much that is entertaining and thought-provoking about Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion that you're likely to be back to see how it all wraps in the Third Exhaust. You can at least be guaranteed that you won't have seen anything like this before and that the third part will be just as wildly bizarre and unpredictable.