The Animation Corner: Metropolis

BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM | ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST

Many science fiction films about human and robot interaction centralize on industrialization and technology consuming society—ex. “Blade Runner” (1982) and “I, Robot” (2004). When I started “Metropolis,” an anime that I had only heard about by title and saw within the first minute that it was going to be mainly a human-robot conflict, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. But not long after…I realized I might as well get used to it.

“Metropolis” (2001) is an anime loosely based on a 1949 manga of the same name, which itself was inspired by a 1927 silent film. In this universe, humans and robots live in the futuristic city Metropolis, though robots are discriminated against and segregated to different city zones. The story follows an android girl named Tima, who is created to become a weapon to dominate the world. Everybody has a different agenda for her, however. Duke Red, the human leader of Metropolis, has designs to make Tima into a godlike force. Rock, the adoptive son of Duke Red, strives to kill Tima the whole film because he obsessively believes his father to be a divine figure. Atlas, a human revolutionary, sees Tima as a symbol for the oppression of the political system. The only person who doesn’t want Tima to be anything other than who she is already is Kenichi, the nephew of Detective Shinsaku investigating the events surrounding Tima.

As you can tell from my brief (okay, not really) synopsis, “Metropolis” has a very convoluted plot. And that’s probably the film’s biggest drawback. There are too many vital characters interacting with each other, crisscrossing primary plots and subplots, that at times the logistic of the story gets lost within itself. For example, it never is really explained why Duke Red wants to take over the world. We discover that his daughter—also named Tima—is dead, but all that does is explain that the android Tima is seen as a replacement presence for Duke Red and not why he wants to use her as a weapon of mass destruction. I don’t have the space to explain them all, but there are a lot of lingering details that aren’t fully developed. It makes it difficult to connect Point A to Point B, and most importantly, hinders the audience’s ability to understand characters’ motivations and actions.

The characters, in general, were two-dimensional. Because there were so many plots to cover and so many important roles, there wasn’t enough time for “Metropolis” to really explore one or two characters in depth. Even Tima and Kenichi, the stars of the film, barely had any screentime to establish a believable relationship. The closest the movie gets is when it starts to unmask Tima’s fluid identity between part human and part robot, but unfortunately that doesn’t get analyzed as much as it used a plot device.

The saving grace for “Metropolis” is the artwork. There were moments in the cityscapes and background that stunned me, because I had never seen anything like it before. I paused several times throughout the film just so I could study the visual aspect. The art does a far superior job in evoking the emotional experience the film tries to project with its incredible detail, bold color palette and creative scenic design.

In the end, what’s disappointing is that the visuals can’t hide the deficiencies in other areas.

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