Armitage III: Poly Matrix (1997)
Directed by Takuya Sato

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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On a future Mars, now colonized by humanity, robots perform a variety of different chores. Most of these robots appear to be insentient, but some, the thirds, are more complex and are capable of emotions and creativity. A policeman, Ross Sylibus, arrives on Mars just as someone has begun killing the thirds. There, he is paired with a diminutive and very scantily clad female partner, Naomi Armitage, and together they begin an investigation.

As I began watching Takuya Sato's animated Armitage III: Poly Matrix, I feared I was seeing yet another example of a half plagiarized and completely uninspired science fiction adventure. I am happy to say that I was wrong. Armitage III is not a great film and does not venture into areas unexplored by other movies, but it does approach the areas with which it deals with a greater sensitivity than is generally the case and ends as a satisfactory and enjoyable adventure.

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While, for example, the initial characterization of Armitage is not particularly interesting, as the movie progresses and her angst develops, she begins to ask evocative questions and, consequently, to suffer in an affecting way. Armitage herself is a robot and wonders about her personal value. In the world of the film, thirds are hated by many humans and are frequently victims of human violence. Seeing such persecution, and hearing derogatory statements about thirds from various human characters, Armitage is angered, but, more interestingly, she is also made to question her own worth. She is shown as being susceptible to accepting the bigoted evaluations others make of persons such as herself. By bringing in complex issues of self estimation, and of how an individual's understanding of her own worth can be influenced by how she is valued by others, Armitage III is able to engender a real sense of compassion for the title character.

Sylibus' personality is also revealed more as the film progresses, but he is too reminiscent of countless other characters in previous science fiction films to arouse the sort of interest that Armitage does. This is not to say that he is completely unable to engage the viewer, but simply that he is not as successfully realized as is Armitage.

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The political issues brought into the film also help to reinforce the sadness of Armitage's existence. The director relates, for instance, how all thirds are female, and how, as Mars and the Earth draw together politically, the thirds' existence on the former world is seen as offensive by the women of the latter. He then goes on to show how, in order to appease the leaders of the Earth, Martian leaders encourage their own people to attack and destroy the thirds. There are a number of possible interpretations of this particular element of the film, of which I will mention only one. Progress for one oppressed group often occurs at the expense of another, and when the members of a group benefit from a given situation, they frequently fail to see the suffering they themselves are causing the members of the other group. In this case, the feminist leaders of the Earth, by attempting to better conditions for women, oppress the thirds. If this is the idea behind the elements noted above, the director has been very bold to include such a politically incorrect theme. It certainly does, however, enhance the viewer's awareness of the suffering of the thirds in the film, and of Armitage in particular. It is, as a result, beneficial to the creation of a sense of compassion for her.

Finally, I should note that the animation used in Armitage III is always well done. It is not particularly indicative of any aesthetic sensitivity, but it is technically accomplished. Even though I cannot say that I was awed by the draughtsmanship at any point, I cannot criticize it either.

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Armitage III is not a great movie, nor is it particularly distinctive visually or thematically, but the story is presented in a sensitive manner that does distinguish it from most other science fiction films.

Review by Keith Allen

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