The year is 2046. Detective Ross Sylibus is transferred to Mars when a country singer on her flight is murdered. Making matters more complicated is that the singer is a "Third"—a robot that looks and feels like a human. Sylibus is partnered with Armitage—a beautiful female cop with a bad attitude. As they investigate the murder of the singer and other women on Mars, they uncover a conspiracy that can have them both killed by the Martian government.
I will admit that I'm a fan of cyberpunk in its many forms, from novels by the likes of William Gibson and Iain Banks to movies like Blade Runner and Mad Max. As a child of the 80s, these were mainstays in my entertainment repertoire. By the time Armitage III was released in February 1995, I had already been exposed to titles such as Appleseed, Battle Angel Alita, Cyber City Oedo 808, Genocyber, AD Police Files, and those classics Akira and the Bubblegum series.
Now, given the time of it's release, much of the hype of that moment centred around the forthcoming Ghost in the Shell,
set to be released later that year. Because of this, Armitage III has been somewhat left by the wayside when it comes to mid 90s anime, especially given the huge marketing campaign devoted to GitS. This irony is that of the two major cyberpunk releases of 1995, Armitage III just pips GitS as being the best of that year.
The story is set in the year 2046 in the city of Saint Lowell, on the planet Mars. Earth has become overpopulated, and Mars has subsequently been terraformed to deal with this issue. Humanity was aided in the terraforming process by the first generation of androids, and by the time of the story the second generation of androids had become widely used for service and pleasure purposes. Unfortunately, Mars has been suffering from declining birthrates, and whilst the planet is autonmous from Earth, this fact is one of the main drivers for the story.
The plot is well thought out on the whole (barring a few inconsistencies), and the pacing is very good. There is a nice mixture of action and intrigue, as well as a dollop of political machinations (nowhere near as much as GitS though). The story does suffer from its flaws, however the premise is one that is just as plausible as GitS and, given the advances in medical science since 1995, may prove far more "real". The biggest irony is that both Armitage III and GitS ask the question "What is life?", but approach the answer from different angles.
The animation is very well done on the whole. AIC, who are also responsible for AD Police Files, Bubblegum Crisis and Now & Then, Here & There, have done a great job animating the show, however there are some moments when the animation loses its polish. The backgrounds are nicely drawn and are generally atmospheric, but they lack the detail that is one of the hallmarks of GitS.
One of my biggest problems with this series was the design of Naomi Armitage. The other characters were quite well done on the whole, however I initially had difficulty taking the show seriously given that her outfit seems more appropriate for a dominatrix than a police officer. It may be that the designers wanted to emphasise that Naomi is different from other humans by garbing her in very little, however they seem to have forgotten about the utility of clothing in their approach.
The sound is generally very good throught the OVA. The music is very much of the time, so lots of beats are prevalent in many of the actions scenes. The sound effects are well handled on the whole, however there are moments when the sound and music can clash quite badly.
As far as characters go, Ross Syllabus is very much a stereotype - an honorable and decent man who unfortunately hates robots and androids (although he has his reasons for this, and the series tries to explain them to a degree).
Naomi Armitage, on the other hand, is very much a tomboy. Brash, cocky, somewhat arrogant, and very often wilful, she seems to be just another normal, albeit unusually dressed, human being. It's not until the last two episodes that we begin to see more of her true character, however this is still not enough to ensure that the audience can relate to, or sympathise, with her.
Aside from these two, there are sundry other characters who play their part in the OVA, the chief one being René D'anclaude - a man who has been targetting and murdering specific women on MARS.
Although I had some difficulty at first, I thoroughly enjoyed this series and it's sequels. The balanced mixture of action and drama could have been improved, as could the characters, however that would have needed at least 12 episodes to achieve.
There's a definite appeal to the show because of its scripting and unusual (for anime that is), premise. As it's only a four part OVA, there isn't really any time for any real development ofthe characters or the plot, however this is purely a perceptional issue, and one that I can ignore in favour of being entertained.
With inspiration drawn from many sources, like I, Robot by Isaac Asimov and Neuromancer by William Gibson, this OVA is one of the reasons why GitS became so popular here in west. Even by todays standards the story holds up well, whilst much of the artworks bright and cheery palette belies the story's much darker plot.
“I wish I had no brain to think and worry.” — Naomi Armitage
Ah, the age-old dilemma of being human (or a robot emulating a human), that which separates us from the animal kingdom — namely being, our superior cognitive abilities — is the same variable that alienates us, as well. We have the capability of creating fantastic technological instruments to ease our lives, yet those same instruments have the ability to “replace” our intended “purpose” of existence. From a biological perspective, we tend to believe in passing on our genes to future generations in a process known as procreation. The sense
of “fulfillment” gives us great pride, yet evolutionary theory does not adhere to a designed “purpose,” nor does it care how genes are passed on, or if they are passed on at all.
Faced with the prospect a diminishing/stagnant population, the Mars colony deems it “necessary” to hasten their biological development by means of using advanced robots (otherwise known as: “thirds”). The ethical/sociological dilemma’a comes to the fore when job displacement becomes an issue, and feminists begin to protest as their “woman-hood” is supplanted by the female “thirds.” The absence of purpose is evident from the outset, as numerous people define themselves — and take great pride — through their job, or their capacity to start a family. Think about it: how many times does a person ask you what you do for a living, and you responded promptly with, “I work at [fill in the blank.]” We tend to believe we have a life outside of our job, but the fact remains: without a job, we cannot live as we please. As of writing this review, our very own society will be facing this same predicament as automated cars replace truckers, robotic arms replace surgeons, and artificial wombs (potentially) replace human conception.
The political easement of the people’s woes through the faux slogan, “one world, one nation,” as they eliminate their enemies with, “coincidentally” enough, their own robots, highlights the hypocritical nature of politicians and national governments. The Earth Federation Chairwoman, like many politicians, appears before a crowd with a sense of dignity and virtue, but behind the scenes, loose ends are being “taken care of,” for the “betterment” of society.
The characters of the show are fairly interesting, as we get some useful insights into their motivations and their uniquely distinct characteristics. Armitage, while being a robot, struggles with the same basic questions that plague the majority of humanity: why do I exist? There are no easy answers, but it sparks the audience to ask the question themselves, and where the line between robot and human should be drawn? Ross Sylius, in a weird way, represents the anime public, as he falls in love with an “artificial” girl, someone who is not “human.” Think about it: he married, and impregnated his waifu. Well done, sir. Well done.
A fascinating anime relic from the past, Armitage III resembles the highly popularized Ghost in the Shell, but, interestingly enough, its first episode predates the latter’s release. Coming from the mind of Chiaki Konaka — who would later write Serial Experiments Lain, several episodes of Texhnolyze, and Digimon Tamers — it’s no surprise the series deviated from the high-paced action sequences, to a philosophical view of the human condition. That being said, it suffers from a surface level approach to its own philosophical themes; thus, leaving the viewer yearning for something more substantial. Also, the story seems sporadic, at times. Giving the impression of poor planning on the staff’s part. But given the brief nature of the show itself, it did a fine job of accomplishing an entertaining action-drama with philosophical musings, and sociological ramifications of proliferating technology.
In addition, that opening theme song is fantastic. I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I absolutely love it. Perhaps you have to be a 90’s kid to understand.
Armitage III is a good example of how important execution is now matter what concept you're working with. At the core this is a standard cyberpunk romp about the complex role of ever improving technology in human society, in this particular case it's about incredibly advanced androids that are not much different from humans in their make-up and functions. I don't think there's much wrong with the plot since story is not the highlight this time and more of a vehicle for stylized action that's occasionally mixed with some noir and drama.
Art\animation - I'm not quite sure who did the character designs for this show
but sometimes it felt like it was done by two different people. The show is not entirely consistent with its style so some main characters fit this archetype of 90s fashion with sci-fi elements, particularly strong on the titular Armitage but a lot of side characters kind of dress like normal people. Same with world design, even though there's a lot of future elements like floating city blocks, abundance of neon signs and such there are also pretty normal looking bars and offices so I'm not sure if there was one clear vision of what the world of Armitage should look like. If there was a clear distinction between what's futuristic and advanced and what's old and decrepit then it would contribute something to world building and atmosphere but as is it just feels like another part of the show that creators didn't much care about. Also even though Armitage looks solid for overwhelming majority of the run it also has some moments where characters looks so out of proportions that it hurts to look at.
As far as animation goes it's about as good as you'd expect from a 90s OVA, lots of detail, pretty fluid too but it lacks flare and style to be really memorable. So, it's not exactly bad but without proper direction it won't be impressing anyone. To be a single action scene from Mezzo DSA overshadows all the "sakuga" moments in Armitage because of this.
Direction - this is where I want to kind of continue talking about the art while also bringing up music and some of the story though this will be spoiler free.
The direction is probably the biggest flaw in this OVA, as I mentioned in the beginning, I don't think there's much in terms of plot that keeps this from being an entertaining sci-fi action OVA but all of the potential is squandered thanks to bad direction. First of all the pacing is too slow, even action scenes feel dull when the director and editor don't care to depict urgency, intensity or danger involved. It's horribly mundane and unexciting and music is only making it worse. While on its own it's not necessarily bad, when paired with scenes where it's used I felt like someone just looked at the scenes and thought it's getting too quiet so they just randomly slapped the first bleep bloop track they could find. It doesn't fit the mood or action so what's the point? My next issue with direction is editing, I started paying more attention to it towards the end where the flaws became too bad to go on unnoticed and sometimes the choices made were flat out baffling. Like in episode 3 I think there's a relatively important action scene with higher stakes than most other fights prior but we cut away from it to boring investigation work, just why? Other time the faults were less egregious but there's still plenty of amateurish cuts that disrupt the flow of action as well as spacial continuity. The last complaint is that it's just not interesting to look at. There are too many shots with boring framing that give you nothing to look yet they linger on as if you're shown something important. One shot stood especially stood to me when it was like a 2 or 3 seconds long still shot of an almost completely brown back alley with 5 inches of some neon sign in the upper left corner. That scene was so dead and boring that it took me out of the show. It might sound like a nitpicks but I'm only mentioning it cause it's bad and it's common so stuff like that builds up.
Writing - no surprises here cause pretty much all you need to know how this is gonna go is in the synopsis already. The show doesn't get too deep and it's better for it cause otherwise they'd be encroaching on the territory that's already been covered by far better written sci-fi classics like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. The script is kind of cheesy and very much in your face at times but I don't think the show pretended to be more than it is and wrapped it all up in the end, can't say it was entirely satisfying but when you got a show that can't offer and interesting story, doing as little to create more problems is fine.
Fun factor - this is the part where I'm supposed to justify why I still gave it a 5 cause so far it seems like a bunch of negatives and not really anything to justify it. No matter how underwhelming the execution is I think it still works as a cheese little sci-fi romp that can be a fine casual watch. It's not good but it's not offensively bad either so if it peaked your interest in one way or another it's worth to have a go at it.
Arimtage III is a truly great anime OVA. Sadly it came out about the same time as the original GHOST IN THE SHELL, and was overlooked for the overrated Ghost in the Shell movie. The story is far better, truly delving into whether machines are alive or not and could they be considered human, along with many other questions. Can they fall in love, or even have children. Then there are the two main characters, Naomi Armitage and Ross Sylibus. They add depth and bring life to the story. The action is great keeping you watching even in the
quiet times of the anime. The animation isn't as great as it was after all it's been 13 years since it first came out, but it still holds up today. I would highly recommend this anime over any of the Ghost in the Shell anime.
In the early-mid 2000s, US licensing companies were involved in numerous anime Production Committees. It didn't go so well for them. This year, several US licensors are trying their luck on Production Committees again. Will it go better this time?