Mardock Scramble: The First Compression Review

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The first part of the Mardock Scramble Trilogy is a dark and disturbing look into a futuristic world with a seedy underbelly. It is at times disturbing, creepy and can make for uncomfortable viewing, but it’s all done for a very specific purpose, to immerse you in the kind of feelings the main character is having to live with on a daily basis. Usually I’m against sexuality and violence being such close partners in media, but in this case the film does an admirable job of justifying the relationship through an interesting personal narrative and I’m very curious to see how that develops across the trilogy.

The story focuses on Rune Balot, a fifteen year old homeless prostitute, victim of sexual abuse from her family and generally someone with a lot of well developed but tough to watch issues regarding her own body image and view of the world around her. After accepting the advances of an influential casino owner who offered her compassion, she finds herself part of his fiendish plot to kidnap vulnerable girls, use them for his own purposes, then kill them and compress their ashes into blue diamonds. Yeah, the story is pretty dark.

Thankfully for Rune, she is rescued by a government agency who have been on the killer’s tail for some time. Having sustained massive burns to her body, in order to keep her alive she is fitted with cyborg style cybernetic augmentations. These leave her with a power comparable to the hero of Ubisoft’s upcoming Watch Dogs game, allowing her to control computers, and giving her superhuman speed, strength and agility.Throughout this process however, she remains a vulnerable and scared young woman with a lot of issues regarding the trust of those around her.

This is where Oeufcoque comes in. An A.I. in the form of a mouse, Oeufcoque is the force pushing for Rune’s rights as a human being. While the ultimate goal of those who brought her back is to have her testify in court against her attacker, named Shell, Oeufcoque is adamant that she not be forced to testify and put herself in danger, he feels that choice must be hers alone.

Shell makes a fantastic villain for several reasons. From the opening scene, which gives us a perfect reason to hate everything about him, to the clever way the narrative justifies his completely psychopathic nature and complete lack of guilt and dissociation from his crimes, he is one of the most genuinely hateable antagonists I’ve seen for some time.

I mentioned in the introduction that the first film quite closely ties sexuality and violence. There will be scenes of near full female nudity, sexually disturbed individuals with fairly graphic designs and scenes where violence and sexuality meet throughout. While this initially put me off, the pay off comes from an incredibly moving scene toward the end. When you take a sexual assault victim and give them the position of power in a sexualised situation there is a rather interesting and very believable payoff that, while tough to watch, left me feeling a huge sense of belief in the character that perhaps couldn’t have been achieved without the story’s openness to displaying at times uncomfortable content.

What I didn’t expect from the film was its great action scenes. There are some wonderful scenes in the second half of the narrative where we get to see Rune put into a situation where she is in danger. The way that her emotions are on show during the fight scenes as well as the creative use of her A.I. companion make for some moments of action where things are exciting and unpredictable.

It does end very abruptly, presumably transitioning straight into the second movie, though it does end on an immensely powerful cliffhanger that left me very eager to see more. My only concern is that the second film may not be able to keep up that narrative pace from the start and may lose the tension that had been built up when we initially reached that scene.

While Mardock Scramble: The First Compression is not for everyone, and I’d particularly recommend against it if you’re sensitive to themes of sexual abuse, it does a very good job of dealing with an uncomfortable subject matter and opens it up for interesting discussion.  

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