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by Wilma Jandoc

Sunday, November 18, 2001


Map

‘Metropolis’ vivid but
lacks substance


By Wilma Jandoc
wjandoc@starbulletin.com

THE movie "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" taught us two things: 1) Don't mess with technology or else it'll backfire somehow, and 2) A movie may look nice but have a bad story line.

The feature-length anime "Metropolis" teaches us these same things.

Based on the Japanese comic by Osamu Tezuka, this anime is set in the future in a city-state called Metropolis, bursting with technology while showing off retro fashions. Carefully controlled robots do most menial jobs and occupy some higher-level positions.

This leads to a class that lives underground, people whose jobs have been taken over by robots and so harbor resentment against the machines.

Metropolis's latest achievement is a gigantic building called the Ziggurat. Only certain people, including the influential Duke Red, know it houses a weapon with the capability to destroy the world.

The final piece of the Ziggurat is a highly advanced, female robot being created by the fugitive Dr. Laughton under Red's orders. Red's adopted son, Rock, finds out about the robot and blows up Laughton's laboratory in a jealous rage.

Meanwhile, a Japanese detective, Shunsaku Ban, and his nephew, Kenichi, are in Metropolis searching for Laughton. At the lab fire, Kenichi gets separated from his uncle and finds the robot, Tima. She was somehow activated and has no idea who or, more important, what she is.

Red's troops eventually capture the two while political forces push the underworlders to stage a revolution against technology that leads to martial law. Red takes over Metropolis and prepares to seat Tima on the Ziggurat's throne.

Little does anyone know that Tima's experiences in the city have awakened her sense of self-awareness, and she is no longer a simple robot.

"Metropolis" boasts magnificent animation that combines with computer graphics so well, it's nearly impossible to tell when one ends and the other begins. The city is dazzling with a flashy, bewildering Las Vegas atmosphere and upbeat Dixieland music.

Beyond the technical features, however, the anime has little saving grace. "Metropolis" tries to tackle too many themes -- political intrigue, the workings of society, and human identity among them -- and never truly cultivates any of them, so the characters remain shallow.

It lacks any mystery or suspense that would keep audiences riveted. We could see Red's takeover coming a mile away, and the Ziggurat's biblical parallel to the Tower of Babel is so obvious that the ending can be predicted.

This plot device can work, but the anime fails to evoke the deep sympathy for the characters needed to make the movie's inevitable end that much more poignant.

Tima, the anime's symbol of the search for self-identity, doesn't quite fulfill her role. Her repetitive "Who am I?" is more like the emotionless squawk of a parrot instead of a true questioning about herself.

Her later feelings for Kenichi come across as a crazed obsession rather than sincere affection, and we can never see her as the robot that transcends her mechanical origins.

"Metropolis" may be long remembered for its vivid animation but has little substance otherwise. Its attempt at a more complex story line puts it higher than "Spirits Within." But only a little.




Wilma Jandoc covers the universe
of video games and anime for the
Star-Bulletin. She can be emailed at
wjandoc@starbulletin.com



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