Mardock Scramble: The Third Exhaust Review

The SF-action card-gaming and ethics-pondering anime comes to a conclusion.

Adapted by the author himself from his large three-part novel, the third Mardock Scramble movie – entitled The Third Exhaust – faces quite a challenge in wrapping up Tow Ubukata’s ambitious work. Aside from issues of compression, condensing the conclusion down into a manageable hour-long movie, the work presents considerable challenges in the actual adaptation of the subject matter. While it gains much from visual representation of the manga-like science-fiction action sequences that were there even in the original novel, the anime inevitably glosses over much of the questioning philosophical content of the novel’s unusual content.

Even after a gap of more than a year between The Third Exhaust and the previous movie The Second Combustion, there is however an immediate sense at the beginning of the concluding episode of entering into a familiar universe with its own consistent and identifiable worldview. Part of this is no doubt down to the strong visual design and animation techniques employed by the GoHands production studio which give Mardock Scramble its own distinct aesthetic stamp, but the strength of the characterisation and the rich surrealism of the futuristic dark and violent Blade Runner future world have all contributed towards making the anime and its adaptation of the original material rather compelling.

There is however no concession made at the start of the third movie to anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with the admittedly bizarre content and complex issues raised in the two previous films. Taking place directly where The Second Combustion left off, Rune Balot is in the middle of a game of Blackjack in a Casino run by Shell Septinos, a murderer who had previously abused and attempted to kill her. She’s assisted by investigator Doctor Easter and his transforming electronic sidekick Oeufcoque who are seeking evidence that will convict him him court. Hard evidence is hard to come by, particularly since Shell erases from his mind any memory he has of his criminal actions, but a search through the Communications Backbone in ‘Paradise’ has revealed that Shell’s memories are actually preserved and stored in million-dollar chips in his casino. And there’s only one way to get your hands on those…

That, in basic outline, is the matter that has to be resolved by Rune Balot at the game table, with Doctor Easter by her side, and Oeufcoque subvocally giving her advice on strategy, tactics, card counting and risk-taking on odds, while taking the shape of a glove on her left hand. As strange as all that sounds (and that’s not even getting into half of the bizarre situations that have led up to this point, the religious imagery or all the egg references), but what is even more complex are the ethical moral and philosophical questions that have been raised by the actions of Shell and Rune Balot. Can an abused person really be responsible for their actions? How should innocence react when confronted with pure evil? Where does justice come into it? During the card game, this all becomes entangled with matters arising over questions of chance and fate raising the question of over much control does one have over such matters anyway?

Religion is also part of that equation, but not in any conventional sense. In Mardock Scramble, it’s more a case of using religious imagery and ideas as a framework for exploring the wider human questions. The First Compression presented a vision of Hell for the young girls abducted, abused and murdered by Shell, orphaned children who never had much of a life in the first place. The Second Combustion presented us with a strange vision of Paradise, the promise of a place where Peace could be attained even for the greatest of misfits. If there’s a dropping away of any overt Christian or religious imagery in The Third Exhaust, there is nonetheless a necessity for resolution, rebirth or an After-life if you like, as far as Rune Balot is concerned. She has effectively been reborn, having been killed and reconstructed using Scramble 09 technology, but she needs to believe that truth, justice and forgiveness and redemption can be achieved.

In a way – in its own unconventional way – the third concluding part of Mardock Scramble does take us to that point. Considering that the Blackjack card game takes up almost half the running time, the animators do a very good job in making it as interesting and compelling as it is. You do need to bear in mind all the complex issues that have led up to it however, and understand what is at stake here. Although it’s never dull – the colourful presentation, the characterisation, the psychological underpinning and the editing and storyboarding are all strong enough – the explosive action and special effects in the second half make up for the rather more static nature of the casino sequences, bringing a very unusual anime series to an impressive and largely satisfying conclusion.

The Disc
Mardock Scramble – The Third Exhaust, the concluding third part of the series, is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray. 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 compatibility.

As with previous two parts, there are two different cuts of Mardock Scramble – The Third Exhaust; a 69 minute Director’s Cut and a 66-minute ‘Original Version’, presumably presented theatrically. I didn’t do any extensive comparison of the two versions, but I suspect that the cuts are less to do with the nudity and violence that made the First Compression versions so different, and more to do with keeping the theatrical running time down. It’s the full version that is offered as the main feature, the ‘original version’ included as a bonus feature.

The image quality is fairly impressive in the High Definition format. There’s less of the stylised grain effects in this third film, the clarity of the colours and the level of detail coming across exceptionally well, the transfer perfectly stable and smooth. I didn’t see any specific issues with interlacing or colour-banding. This looks about as good as you could expect.

Both the Director’s Cut and Original Version 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 action sequences. It’s worth mentioning that the soundtrack by Conisch plays an important part in setting the mood and tone of the work, and it’s beautifully distributed across the surround channels.

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 controls that ‘load’ when the BD is inserted mean they can’t be brought up when listening to the English dub or switched on/off from your remote control.

For what amounts to a film that is just over an hour long, the extra features are perhaps excessive, but are certainly more imaginative and varied than the usual anime bonus material. In addition to the alternative Original Version (1:06:04), On The Way to the Movie Theatres (30:33) covers all the events, conferences, q&as from the announcement of the third film through early previews up to the premiere. These mainly involve various members of the production team including Tow Ubukata, as well as the voice actors, and the conferences cover everything from casting, the use of musical themes and the evolution of the scripting process. There’s also a Blackjack Battle feature (30:00), where the production team actually play a game of Blackjack at a casino table – useful for anyone not familiar with the rules of the card game – and a Memorial Talk (33:03) where Tow Ubukata and Megumi Hayashibara (the Japanese actress who voices Rune Balot), consider the 10 year journey of Mardock Scramble from the writing of the novels though to the conclusion of the anime films. The majority of these features are available on the Blu-ray only. A Trailer (1:56) and a Promotional Video (2:51) are also included.

A highly imaginative and original work of dark science-fiction, Mardock Scramble also touches on a number of interesting questions on ethics and morality and mixes them with issues of religion, chance, fate and eggs. Despite the odds being against translating this material effectively to an animated film, and the challenges of bringing all the varied, bizarre and surreal elements meaningfully together, the third Mardock Scramble wraps things up rather well.


Updated: Aug 07, 2014

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