Vexille is a tale of a future Japan that, just as their Asimo and Aibo robots predicted, has isolated itself from us all, tinkering with biomechanics on a level we couldn’t possibly imagine. Perhaps the rest of us are to blame, having shunned cybernetics so readily, but Daiwa Heavy Industries is the very picture of pioneering technological developers gone wild.
That’s where the American agency known as SWORD—which is no doubt one of those acronyms that are created before anyone decides what it means—comes in. Though Japan has been sealed off from both physical entry and the probing eye of satellite surveillance, SWORD suspects them of enough mechanical wrong-doing to initiate a stealthy infiltration. Vexille Serra is one of the few chosen to assist on this intelligence-gathering mission, entering the now-mysterious country with heavy armor and the wavering hope that it’s not as bad in there as they think it is.
As it turns out, it’s worse. There’s something much more sinister going on in Japan than a simple surge of robotics development, and Vexille is more or less stranded in a Tokyo that’s far from the bustling metropolis it once was. Without giving too much away to those that haven’t watched it yet, it’s now crucial for Vexille to organize an assault on Daiwa with a local resistance group and finally put an end to the cybernetic Hell unleashed by the corporation.
I’m kind of torn on Vexille. There’s a lot to like, for sure, from the setup to some of the big, if a bit predictable, reveals. Even so, the story itself is missing something, and a lot of that has to do with Vexille herself. I never really got the impression that she was any more fleshed out than some of the secondary characters, and following her primarily seemed more out of necessity and convenience than anything else. The audience understands early on that she “hates machines,” which certainly gives her some vested interest in the mission, but it doesn’t go much deeper than that.
Vexille makes up for some of the shortcomings of its plot and characterizations by providing an interesting future world and a couple of exciting action set pieces. The contrast between the Tokyo of old and the one we have here is pretty stark. Without dwelling on it too much, they give the viewer some glances of the way lives are being lead under the veil of Japan’s barrier, all before discovering why everything seems so rote and automatic.
One of the big threats in the movie outside of Daiwa are the “Jags.” If you haven’t seen them yet, they’re basically sandworms composed of what amounts to entire junkyards of scrap. They dive in and out of the ground, hungering for more metal to feed their insatiable appetite or, well, I don’t know. Honestly, while it sounds kind of interesting on paper, the Jags came off as a tacked on secondary threat to me. Not that Vexille doesn’t need one, it just needs a better one.
Like both Appleseed movies, Vexille sometimes succeeds at the 3D anime look it strives to achieve. Still, while director Fumihiko Sori has stated that the style’s purpose is to combine traditional animation with CGI, it’s really more of the latter than the former. What it all boils down to is a look that seems dated even as it debuts. As much as I hate those old codger critics that compare all movie CG to “them darn television games!”, it’s pretty accurate here. Those critics are in the wrong most of the time, because what they’re really referring to are the cutscenes in video games. Vexille, on the other hand, often looks like in-game graphics.
But let’s not boo and hiss over that for too long. After all, games look better now than ever before, so it’s not as much of an insult as it would have been a decade ago. Despite its flaws, Vexille is still an enjoyable action/sci-fi flick with a world I wouldn’t mind further exploring. One would also be remiss not to mention the mechanical designs. The suits worn by the members of SWORD, Vexille included, are really clean and slick. Both those and the rest of the robotics featured therein are thoroughly detailed and feature some of the movie’s best animation.
Vexille‘s visual powers are that much more potent on Blu-ray, as you won’t find a better representation of the work Sori and everyone else involved have done. The Isolation special edition is a pretty swell package overall. It comes packed with a nice booklet featuring an in-depth interview with the director regarding the finer details of the plot, and it’s loaded with bonus features. They’re not just TV spots and trailers, either. A great deal of what’s included covers the making of the film, and Sori offers a lot of insight into both the process of preproduction and postproduction.
Even the packaging has a much better cover image than the standard DVD. Fans with Blu-ray players will no doubt be picking this up ASAP, and anyone that liked Shinji Aramaki’s Appleseed flicks will find what is, in my opinion at least, a much more enjoyable film in Vexille.
Images © 2007 VEXILLE FILM PARTNERS