Style over substance
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Date: September 17, 2003

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'Matrix fans, generally speaking, fall into two camps: those who are drawn to the high concept philosophical debate that underpins the movies, and those who don't care about the intellectual stuff, but love the martial arts, guns and cars.'


The animated series based on The Matrix trilogy is a victory of style over substance.

Reviewed by Steve Couch

While the world waited for The Matrix Reloaded, some of the leading artists of Japanese anime created these nine short films.

Matrix creators Larry and Andy Wachowski are involved as writers on some, while elsewhere they simply gave their permission for other talents to run amok in the playroom of their fictional universe. As you would expect, the animation is uniformly excellent, but overall the Animatrix is a victory of style over substance.

The first three titles, The Final Flight of the Osiris, and The Second Renaissance parts 1 and 2, fill in background material around the three full length Matrix movies. Other shorts feature characters from the movies, but many are simply isolated stories set in the Wachowski's world, with little else to connect them to the full length films.

One tale that benefits from a closer tie to the original - so much so that it's probably the best of the bunch - is Detective Story, where a Private Investigator is called in to track down an illusive computer hacker by the name of Trinity (yes, that one). Shot in black and white, this is an animated film noir, complete with namechecks for Philip Marlow and Sam Spade. It sits well in their atmospheric shadow, with both script and score managing to keep the retro and futuristic elements nicely balanced.

Matrix fans, generally speaking, fall into two camps: those who are drawn to the high concept philosophical debate that underpins the movies, and those who don't care about the intellectual stuff, but love the martial arts, guns and cars. Which group is the Animatrix better suited for? It's hard to say. Several of the shorts contain action scenes, but they lack the impact of their (more or less) live action counterparts.

But the Animatrix tales are also found wanting in terms of content. With most of the shorts lasting less than ten minutes, there isn't time for involved storytelling or profound thought. All of the stories hold the attention, but when they end, the viewer can be left wondering if there was any point to them. Where the full length films wrestle with issues of truth, freewill and identity, the most that the Animatrix does is nod vaguely in the direction of a question.

The films give the impression of being made by artists who are burning to tell their story and engage with the mind; the Animatrix collection seems like it was a cool marketing idea. If you are searching for more clues as to where the trilogy is headed following the excellent (if frustratingly enigmatic) conclusion to the Matrix Reloaded, this isn't the place to look.

But it's harsh to judge the shorts for what they aren't. At times, particularly in The Final Flight of the Osiris, you can forget that what you are watching is computer generated rather than real flesh, blood, metal and stone - which is appropriate, given the franchises central concept of a world where machines have pulled the virtual wool over mankind's eyes.