Vexille: Vile vexing vullshit!
(Trailer for Vexille, FYI they’ll take your pride too. That goes with the rest of the package when they hijack your body.)
Synthetic life has always been a powerful element of science fiction. Man-made creations integrating themselves into society and the moral applications of creating life become more varied and amazing as years press on such as Blade Runner, to Terminator 2, to The Matrix and so on.
In each amazing chapter of new science fiction there’s changes as wondrously epic as their world shattering consequences. Anime hasn’t gone unnoticed in this realm either with amazing titles like Bubblegum Crisis, Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed putting new and interesting takes on the future and the drawbacks of scientific progress.
This is… nothing of the sort. The Appleseed reboots afforded some excess money for stupid projects and interest in this weird, cel-shaded computer generated aesthetic. It’s not helping. Seriously. They seem to have used all the ideas that one brave person jammed in the toilet when they made the second Appleseed film, but the toilet backed up because the ideas were so wholly full of shit and unfortunately for us all, someone found and executed these criminally shitty ideas in a shitty movie.
That movie is called Vexille, which doesn’t mean anything remotely as interesting as its name might suggest. It’s the name of the obviously titular character. A member of SWORD, a navy special forces unit that focuses specifically on punching the Japanese, Vexille is sent on a weirdly dangerous recon mission into the heart of Japan to break the Restriction set up to keep people from coming into the country so they can see what the Japanese are up to since they’ve been holding secret Christmas meetings with politicians around the world that… have the stupidest purpose ever.
It sounds weird, right? Well, that’s because Japan is not the same rice bowl it used to be. You see, in the future they gave the UN the middle finger when they developed some strange medical/technological breakthrough that would allow them to construct androids and living metal. The UN wanted them to stop, Japan desperately wanted robot sex to become a reality and refused, so the UN began the most flawed sounding Trade Embargo in the world. This is the first point an editor should have been in the room, but I suspect they asked the editor which rag smelled more like chloroform and just went batshit crazy. Everything about their “chosen exile” from the UN sounds like they were, instead, put in the corner like most hostile countries doing shit the rest of the world doesn’t want them doing.
SO… Reality check guys! When other countries don’t like what you’re doing, but aren’t in the mood to go to war in order to get you to stop they do what’s called a Trade Restriction to starve you into submission by cutting off access to the outside world limiting supplies you receive and effectively crippling your economy. When Castro joined hands with the Russians and invited them to set up missiles on the USA’s front porch there was a naval blockade that enforced a Trade Restriction that has stood with the nation to this day making them poor and horrifically miserable, but at least they have Castro, right? Awesome! Dictatorships rock!
Leading me to what’s completely fucked in this film, DAIWA (think Umbrella, EvilCorp, etc.) is the lead robot producer and merchandiser within Japan and because everyone in the world is retarded, they’re using the products of a hostile and naughty nation for everything from alarm clocks, to toasters to the same military hardware they use to contain Japan’s naughtiness. Now, the only way to effectively put a country in the corner utilizing a restriction on trade is to make a military supported filter that prevents ships or planes from leaving or entering the country with supplies or people. Here’s the problem: Trade with Japan has never been bigger and that does not fucking compute given the dire circumstance they’ve put themselves in or ARE in by the time you see what Japan is like.
The whole point of cutting off a nation is to CUT IT OFF from stuff, but for some reason an exception is made for DAIWA’s products, which given the nature of their departure and self-inflicted exile doesn’t make ANY sense. I should have stopped watching at this point, but this is barely ten minutes in and I was excited to see how an all-robot Japan would look.
I should have just watched Appleseed again.
So Vexille and her tormented lover/commander are sent in to scan Japan and they’re intercepted by guys with LOTS of rocket launchers that pick off almost all of these cold, creepy characters that you weren’t attached to in the least because the director confused character development with useless flashbacks makes their overdone death scene pretty worthless. “Guy with mustache! NOOOOO!!!!”
Vexille awakes in, what LOOKS like an appropriately slum-like area of a country under such a trade restriction, but the problem is that they Economy should be rocking the damn charts since Daiwa furnishes the world with EVERYTHING from cars to talking toilets, but then why should shit in this movie start making sense now?
Apparently, Daiwa has been using the veil of restriction as a license to use the entire nation of Japan as test subjects for their androidification idiocy wherein they inject you with Drano and you either turn into a metal sandworm (not a joke; metal sandworms roam the wastes of Japan!) or you become a lifeless automaton that works for the “greater good” of Daiwa.
It’s a spoiler, but given how awful this is… I don’t care. There. How’s THAT for a spoiler alert?
So in doing… whatever Daiwa does, they’ve apparently turned the entire country into a wasteland killing off all vegetation, wildlife and water sources and leveling all recognizable mountain ranges into a flat desert. Why is this a problem? It’s been ten years since the ban on Japan went up, while their industry remained strong and yet somehow they’ve completely ruined their entire nation’s ecology and turned their population into living-metal people. Oh and they leveled every structure in Japan except for the slum housing they borrowed from Cuba around which a wall was erected to keep the sandworms out. So everyone in Japan is a metal human who doesn’t need to eat or drink, except for the guy running Daiwa, he’s human, though what he eats without a food source and what he drinks with only salt water available is beyond me.
There’s also a fleet of rocket propelled dune buggies that apparently run on good intentions since there’s NOTHING to fuel them except sand. It’s cool if the metal japs don’t need food or water (umm…), but they have greasemonkeys running around in the anti-Daiwa resistance below the slums. Where do they get the grease to lubricate parts? Where do they GET parts?! Oh, right. They scavenge the wastes for scrapped puked up by the massive, swirling metal sandworm things. They just happened to get the right parts to make a fleet of buggies? Did they manage to score propane and welding torch fuel the same way? How about WD-40?
Maybe my brain works too much, but everything about this setting is wrong. And it gets worse with EVERY minute, each big, flawed plot point puts itself in direct competition with the otherwise pointless details they don’t think about, but put in the movie anyway; like the razor Vexille hides in her gums to peel an apple. BTW where the fuck is all this food coming from that metal people don’t need to be eating anyway?!? They even have a market, but they’re all non-food needing monsters now, right? But it’s okay because everyone freaking dies in the movie anyway. Well, not everyone, but when the dust clears I find myself still wondering why I sat through this thing in its entirety and I find myself wishing that everyone HAD died. Instead I have to settle for the death of an entire nation of idiots and a lot of characters whose lack of development ensured that I could not remember their names in order to mourn their equally unremarkable demise.
Outside of the impressively lame ending (don’t forget the boring beginning and dull middle) there’s also the additional problems that stem from trying to use this flawed 3D anime CG style taken directly from the production of Appleseed, which had its own share of problems.
First of all, Japan has horrible actors. Actually, that’s totally untrue, they have terrible directors in the way they intentionally make actors exaggerate their Japaneseyness in a way that looks unnatural in that real people are trying to physically mimic cartoon characters; likewise this twist of animated characters trying to mimic real people trying to mimic cartoon characters looks like the cast is having a seizure any time they try to physically convey emotion or action. The way the characters move is creepy and feels like they’re corpses on strings, which isn’t helped by the mostly dead expressions that look painted on (I get the application of anime to a 3D effect, but it looks HORRIBLE).
Nothing looks natural and the toys in Toy Story conveyed more humanity in their faces than any one character in Vexille could in their entire body. It’s not even a matter of budget! Old episodes of Beast Wars and Reboot put this thing to shame, and it’s not a cultural divide as some proponents of this cry in defense of their weak sauce CG movies, it’s that the directors get so aroused by making people that “look” real, that they don’t care to make them SEEM real. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was probably the absolute best example of this issue with Japanese filmmakers in that no matter how massive the budget, they don’t care to waste time with realism to better immerse their audience and that hurts it more than any special effect can help fix. No matter how many freckles, pores or hairs you put on a character, if you exaggerate their movements you ruin any chance we’ll look at them as people. For the record, I liked FF:Spirits Within, but I’m not blind and I’m aware how brutally horrible it was.
Then there’s the action in Vexille, it’s hilarious how much buildup, motion and intensity goes in seemingly mundane elements of SWORD’s deployment and how stiff and ill-prepared they are in actual combat. Busting up doors, running up stairs, stacking up boxes all get an action-packed feel even though no action is really happening and make for the only on-screen intensity that manages to draw you in and make your expectations soar. Those expectations are immediately crushed under a Japanese heel as soon as actual opposition enters the fray, making you wonder how professional these SWORD assholes really are because when they’re up against inanimate objects or robots that can barely fight back they rock hard and when you pit them against a person, or multiple people they get fucking slaughtered. The most expensive action sequence is probably the worm chase at the end as they ride toward DAIWA HQ Dune-style in a suicide strike to draw the sandworms towards the base so that they can devour it (they eat metal, ya know). It would have been cool, but they work hard to paint it as a pointlessly depressing scene because of all the death mysteriously associated with dune buggies that have ROCKETS ON THEM.
Vexille is part of that rare breed of bad film that exists only because of one person’s bad impulse control. It lacks the competence of even remote plausibility, even in a fantasy/sci-fi setting and each element of the story becomes more phenomenally stupid than the last leaving you with an urge to paint the house or saw through your wrist to make the deep hurting of the film stop.
The action is a terrible joke where they prep you for awesomeness and then go out of their way to disappoint with poorly developed protagonists you’re not sure how to root for in a conflict that doesn’t make sense leading to a conclusion as dead and lifeless as the heart of this awful film. It’s an interesting idea, following an American out to defeat the evil Japanese, but it’s so horrifically executed that any hope for edginess went out the window awhile back because in essence they turned Japan via political issues into communist China (Tienanmen square, Human Rights violations, horrible living conditions, near totalitarian government, etc.) but THEN they throw in metal people and whirling scrap sandworms as the icing on the cake for almost no reason.
If it weren’t for the fact that it was so lifeless and dull, I’d encourage people to watch it if ONLY to show in a film class as to the consequences of poorly developed characters and the hazards of script writing without an editor, or at least without a COMPETENT editor. The ONLY good thing I got out of this is that I was too hard on Appleseed before, I still think the sequel is pretty bad, but the first one was a gem of experimental anime/cg hybridization. Appleseed, using the same technology and much of the same staff that made Vexille, crafted wildly exciting acting sequences, gave an origin story that developed the characters and the world they occupied on the brink of civil war and delivered a uniquely powerful introduction to the awesome world of an otherwise neglected franchise that really defined Masamune Shirow’s career outside of Dominion and Ghost in the Shell.
I should also add that the subtitled viewing will not change much as the film is still horrible, but while the dub voices are MOSTLY alright they are directed to be as cheesy and ridiculous as the film then they compound that by the fact that while they couldn’t animate HUMANS if their lives depended on it, they worked VERY hard to articulate mouth movement in the same exaggerated way as they did with the bodies so the dub doesn’t mesh with the occasional pucker of the lips or wide mouth flapping.
Stay as far away from this as possible. But make a point to check out Appleseed, which the packaging of Vexille desperately wants you to associate it with, but make no mistake: Vexille is trash and nothing remotely like Appleseed.