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The Animatrix

short-format views of the Matrix and its inhabitants dazzle and delight

The creators of The Matrix are releasing a DVD of nine short animated films telling stories related to the world of The Matrix and the characters and situations of the Matrix films. Online and in theatres, five of the shorts have been released in advance of the DVD collection. I was interested in previewing them because I was curious if there would be information that was necessary in order to better understand The Matrix or its upcoming sequels, but I was a little apprehensive that they might be inaccessible to someone like me who isn't very familiar with the world of Anime. I enjoyed the Aeon Flux segments of MTV's Liquid Television years ago (although to say I understood them would be stretching), and I went to the LA premiere of Princess Mononoke and enjoyed it a great deal, but I still consider myself uneducated in the ways of "Japanimation." However, my fears were unjustified; the stories are easy to appreciate and marvelously constructed and each is fascinating in its own unique way.

The Final Flight of the Osiris is a computer animated film by Square USA, the people behind the exquisite, moving (but ill-fated) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. It begins with an erotic version of the Dojo Kung Fu training program that we saw Neo use in The Matrix and ends with a story that leads most directly of the Animatrix stories into The Matrix Reloaded and the "Enter The Matrix" console game. The Osiris represents a rebel ship like the Nebuchadnezzar, and its crew must send someone into the Matrix to get a warning to the people of Zion (the last human city, located deep underground).

Detective Story uses enchanting black-and-white 1940s imagery to tell a story of Trinity's past. It's hard to see how it ties into her life as wee see it in The Matrix, and it's really hard to understand why so much of the technology in the film is 1940s-era, considering the Internet is still around, but it's breathtaking to watch because of the romanticized imagery. Snowfall, train chases, even the detective's pussycat are rendered in a soft, gentle style that feels very unique in the Anime world.

The Second Renaissance is a two-part story about the rise of the machines and the origins of the Matrix. It basically outlines how mankind's ignorant, self-destructive tendencies and greedy shortsighted co-option of science and technology bring about its inevitable subjugation to the next superior race in the evolutionary timeline. That this race is itself a creation of mankind is a bitter irony and I guess that irony is why the humans fight so hard against an enemy they can't defeat. The Second Renaissance ties directly into the beginning of the Matrix story, and is the most traditional in its animation style of the nine films – in terms of color, design, and pacing. Which is not to say that it's simple. Far from it. Personally at a nadir in terms of my optimism for humanity's ability to do long-term good for anything – especially itself – I found the story rather cautionary and wholeheartedly plausible. I saw a direct correlation between the attacks on robots in the beginning of The Second Renaissance Part I and the attacks on innocent Muslim Americans in the weeks after September, 11, 2001. In terms of their reactionary shortsightedness, a lot of the actions of the human establishment are reminiscent of our current events. It's uncomfortable at times, but a must-watch for anyone interested in the world of The Matrix.

Program is another training exercise story, existing largely within a training program and having little direct relation to the story of The Matrix. It's animated in the most familiar Anime style, fast and furious with wet eyes. It's great to watch though, plenty of Matrtix-bending fight action and, at the end, a stirring look at real-world dress code.

The other four short films deal less directly with the Matrix story so far, telling other stories set within the Matrix universe. I understand at least one of them details an escape from the Matrix by means other than the red pill – a method which I still would like explained a bit further. Did the red pill make Neo "sick" so the Matrix rejected him? How? It's not even a real pill!

As an extension of the Matrix universe, the stories of The Animatrix deliver new and intriguing perspectives that are not – as I initially feared – too esoteric to include the casual viewer. Another distinctive forward step in the Wachowski brothers' Plan for Worldwide Domination of Popular Culture.

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