Malice@Doll is an intriguing title from Japan that mixes modern Computer Graphics animation with traditional cel based animation techniques to create an almost unique look overflowing with animè sensibilities. The film itself is set in a strange underground world where only 'Dolls' and other robotic creatures seem to exist for it would appear the human race is nothing but a memory in the electronic minds of its creations. As the title of the film suggests the main character of the story is a Doll by the name of Malice, a female cyborg that is programmed to pleasure humans (referred to as 'Gods' by the dolls) in any way they see fit. The physical appearance of this character is one that mimics the human form almost perfectly though Malice cannot feel, she can only emulate such emotions.
Living in a world where her programmed routines are all but useless, Malice is finding herself without purpose and haunted by dreams she is not capable of having. In a vain attempt to find a customer Malice takes daily strolls, and while on one of these strolls she stumbles upon a location in her world that she has never come across before. Exploring this new terrain Malice comes face to face with the ghost like image of a little girl that has been haunting her, but when this image turns into a grotesque monster sprouting tentacles that proceed to violate her in the way that only Japanese hentai creators seem to envisage, Malice blacks out and goes offline.
Upon waking Malice finds that somehow not only has her appearance changed but she is now effectively human. She can laugh, cry, feel and touch in the same way we can and this brings with it great happiness but also great pain as she becomes an outcast amongst her fellow Dolls. When Heather@Doll is kind enough to offer some comfort, Malice repays her via the only method she knows of bringing pleasure, a kiss. Unwittingly this kiss proceeds to evoke a sudden change in Heather as she too becomes human, though unlike Malice she is not the perfect physical specimen. Realising the ability she has and overlooking the obvious flaws in Heather, Malice proceeds to offer this gift to all of her fellow Dolls. But, with each Doll that is transformed comes the increasingly obvious reality of their previous existence that in this new human form, where they can feel pain just as much as they can pleasure, their previous lives as prostitutes is one they will either embrace or reject.
Bringing the world of Malice@Doll to life is the aforementioned blend of CG and traditional cel animation that creates a quite unique look for the film which compliments its story well. What I must outline though is how the quality of the CG animation seen here does not come even remotely close to that seen in movies from say, the mighty Pixar, and is even a far cry from the quality seen in the video segments of today's modern videogames. Instead what you will find are still, darkly lit camera shots that allow the relatively basic CG models to look their best, with the most striking feature being the likeness to traditional animè designs. The usual rules apply, cute faces highlighted by large eyes, minimal animation usually restricted to the facial features, but when called for the animators step up and deliver some very effective work with the organic objects in particular standing out due to some fine detail work (they just love their dripping tentacles!)
Essentially Malice@Doll is a clever Hentai piece that focuses more on the story, its characters and their emotions than it does on showing us gratuitous sex and violence, though of course no hentai would deserve such classification without the odd bit of titillation here and there. What Malice@Doll offers in this area is exactly that, suggestive erotica for the most part interspersed with the occasional scene depicting some horrific acts, though its never graphic enough to cause the censors any concern, hence the uncut 18 certificate. Unlike the few other Hentai shows I have seen, the so-called erotic scenes featured in Malice@Doll never outstayed their welcome, which as it turns out is an integral reason for my general liking of the film and a wish to see it on the more than one occasion, so for anyone looking for extended graphic sexual depictions, you may want to look elsewhere.
For those of you still with me, let us continue. The most interesting aspects of the film involve the realisation Malice has regarding her previous existence. As a Doll she felt no pain, fear or shame and in one of the most striking scenes of a sexual nature we see Malice relive her time as a prostitute doll and the variety of eccentric customers she endured. As a human the mere thought of these times is horrifying for her both emotionally and physically because the shame of her previous actions is equal to the reality that her new form of flesh and blood could not sustain the depraved acts she was once accustomed to. This intriguing plotline is extended as the other Dolls are transformed (to varying degrees of success with some becoming horrid mutations) and they too must face their past. Some however are not horrified like Malice, as they are introduced first hand to the pleasurable aspects their work can bring which gives their life a whole new meaning, though seeing her friends embrace their old ways is something Malice is not as comfortable with. These emotional and often spiritual undertones are furthered by the films ambiguous finale that on first viewing left me quite perplexed, but intrigued enough to go back for more which left me with a greater understanding and appreciation for the work.
The original aspect ratio for Malice@Doll is 1.33:1 Full Frame and rightly so the film is presented in this format. As the result of an online poll Artsmagic decided to offer a second version of the film on the disc, presented in 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen that essentially cuts off the top and bottom of the 1.33:1 picture to create a 1.78:1 Widescreen Aspect Ratio. I only sampled the latter option briefly and found the new composition of the shots to be quite jarring, while all other aspects of the transfer live up to that of the Full Frame presentation. Personally I find the inclusion of a 16:9 option quite unusual and to me it seems that Artsmagic misread their audiences requests, though it is good to see a studio listening to the public for a change.
What we are really interested in here then is the 4:3 Full Frame transfer, so this is how it weighs up. The print used is in near perfect condition and has allowed for a transfer that can offer as much detail as the original animation will allow, while the generally dark colour scheme has been handled with care and is represented well with no signs of any colour bleed present. Compression is also of a high standard with the only fault making itself obvious being a few signs of aliasing on complex textures (this was only apparent on two occasions, both of which were actually the exact same shot). The only other issue worth mentioning is one that I feel is actually a deliberate visual effect on the part of the creators, and that is a noticeable level of grain, though its almost like digital noise. This looks to be part of the desired effect rather than a print or transfer related problem so is nothing to worry about.
The original Japanese language track is provided here in DD2.0 Stereo and is of a very high standard showing no signs of dropouts or other such problems. The track is actually quite active and makes good use of left and right separation. Optional English subtitles are available in an easy to read white font. There were no signs of spelling or grammatical errors though I did notice one line that went by un-translated.
Artsmagic have compiled together a few extras for this release with the most substantial being a 25-minute Interview session that sees voice actress Yukie Yamada discuss the film with Chiaki J Konaka (scriptwriter) and Keitaro Motonaga (director). Throughout the interview session various topics are covered including the development of the film, the use of CG within the film and future aspirations for the medium, and of course the ideas behind the story. Despite an amateurish feel and a highly irritating cameraman who cannot keep still for 5 seconds this interview gives an interesting insight to the film from its key collaborators making it worthy of your time and a more than welcome inclusion to the disc.
Filmographies are included for the Character Designer, Creature Designer and Director, while Script Writer Chiaki J Konaka receives a fairly in-depth biography that also adds further insights to the film and his own personal inspirations. A Character Models section provides CG renders from various angles of the Dolls and the ghost seen within the film, each allowing you the opportunity to appreciate the designs that hold true to that animè look.
Rounding off the bonus materials is a Trailers section that includes the trailer for Malice@Doll along with future Japanese CG efforts that Artsmagic plan to release, Alice and Blue Remains. Also present is an Artwork section that includes the various titles available via Artsmagic's Warrior and Eastern Cult Cinema labels.
Malice@Doll came as something of a surprise to me as despite being a long term fan of Japanese animation I have never been particularly drawn to the hentai sector, yet Malice goes against everything I had previously seen in the genre and offered an intriguing storyline where the sex and violence was justified (to a degree anyway) and then combined these elements with simple yet effective animation. Despite my liking of the show it's certainly no masterpiece and due to the content I would advise caution as its appeal will be limited, but if it sounds like something you would enjoy then this DVD is the best (and only) way to go about seeing it.
This UK Region 2 DVD release from Artsmagic Ltd on their Eastern Cult Cinema label can be purchased direct via the Artsmagic website or through one of our site sponsors using the links below.