What is the Animatrix?

goes through the looking glass

2003 is supposed to be the "year of The Matrix", what with both Reloaded and Revolutions coming out this year, not to mention the unbelievable excitement which heralds the computer game: Enter the Matrix. Can you see how unimpressed I am? Or rather was, because there is something Matrix-related which even I am pretty interested in: The Animatrix.

The writer-directors of the Matrix series, Larry and Andy Wachowski commissioned a series of nine films from some of the best directors in anime (a form of animation which is particularly popular in Japan), four of the films were written by the Wachowski brothers themselves, while the other five were written by their respective directors.

The shorts range from six to sixteen minutes long, and each takes place in the world of the Matrix films. They are intended to shed some light on the Matrix-verse, including the origins of some familiar characters and of the Matrix itself. Second Renaissance: Parts one and two cover the war against the machines and the genesis of the Matrix, all told in a stunning news-reel style.

You may have seen one or two of the films on five in the past month, or perhaps you caught one before your screening of Reloaded, or if you’re particularly keen then you downloaded them at www.animatrix.com but the only way to see all nine is to buy the DVD, which came out at the beginning of this month.

The standout film was Detective Story, a black and white piece which was heavily influenced by the film noir style of the cinema of the 1940s. It features a private detective who inadvertently trails Trinity (who you’ll remember from the films) "through the looking glass" and out of the Matrix. A Kid’s Story was also impressive; it follows Clayton Moore, who appears in Reloaded and Revolutions, trying to find his way out of the Matrix, having received a personal invitation from Neo.

If you’re keen on anime, then The Animatrix should be on your wishlist, and ditto if you can’t get enough of Neo and his black-clad chums. If, however, cartoons leave you cold and you think The Matrix is just Bill and Ted with added philosophy and different costumes, then it’s probably not for you. I’m still caught somewhere in the middle: the animation in The Animatrix is fantastic, but I can’t quite get my head round the pseudo-philosophy.

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