Armitage III OAV
My Rating: B
Notes for audiences:
Violent, including some painful death scenes, with some profanity.
Ross Sylibus, a police officer from Earth, is haunted by the death of his partner at the hands of a cyborg and attempts to escape his past by transferring to a Martian precinct. Mars, with its crumbling job market, is even more anti-robot than Sylibus could ever be, and soon Sylibus finds himself investigating a bizarre series of murders of "Thirds," androids so sophisticated that they are indistinguishable from humans. His new partner in this investigation is Naomi Armitage, a Third who can't be more than five feet tall and dresses in skimpy costumes. The two become entangled in a conspiracy pitting humans against robots, Thirds against Thirds, and Mars against Earth, while Sylibus comes to realize that humanity is not merely a product of flesh and blood.
What a frustrating, wonderful, aggravating show. Armitage III clearly has Blade Runner-esque qualities, with its three different kinds of robots of varying degrees of intelligence and humanity, an investigator whose own humanity is questionable (by the last episode Sylibus has been torn apart and reconstructed enough times that he is half-cyborg himself), and a romance between the investigator and the robotic female he works with. The fact that the basic premise of the story isn't unique isn't a dealbreaker, however, as Armitage III brings plenty of unique elements to the table.
Mars is in a precarious situation: employment is scarce, men outnumber women by a considerable margin (in fact, I couldn't point to many women that didn't turn out to be Thirds), and environmental conditions make reproduction difficult. Thus the type-1 robots are resented for making human workers obsolete, and the type-2 robots are more than a little creepy--female in appearance, but obviously artificial, they serve as waitresses, secretaries, receptionists, weathergirls, and other such positions where cuteness and perkiness are unstated parts of the job description. The type-3 robots, however, are so convincing that they blend seamlessly into society, and some of them are much-beloved artists. The population of Mars is not even aware of the possibility of Third types until one of them is killed, and her killer hijacks the airwaves to broadcast a recording of her death. When another Third is killed, the autopsy reveals that she was pregnant.
Convincingly human female robots with the power to reproduce, existing on a world with few women and a waning population, raises some intriguing possibilities. Mars and Earth have been at odds for some time, but Mars cannot make a bid for independence if its population is going down. Did the creator of the Thirds want to ensure the future of Mars as an independent world? If so, why are they being killed now, and why does Julian, a Third in the form of an adolescent boy, exist?
Interesting stuff. So why did I find Armitage III so frustrating? The OAV is a scant four episodes long, and the first and the last were especially weak compared to the intriguing possibilities of the middle. Armitage is an angsty heroine, and until she grows in complexity in the second episode she can be damned irritating (for instance: she whines, "You don't know what it's like to be meeeeeee!" and leaps melodramatically into a river, after a gruesome combat that left swaths of her circuitry exposed. Dumbass.). The concluding episode felt like a letdown, as threads that seemed terribly important are left dangling, and it's unclear who Sylibus and Armitage are fighting with or why. In the end, we are left without much satisfaction; the story would probably have benefited from either trimming some of the red herrings or expanding on some of the intriguing politics and history in another episode or two. All in all, the ending felt abrupt, as if the writers said, "Whoops! We're almost at the end of our allotted time! Let's just have a big battle and then ride off into the sunset, and maybe the viewers won't notice that it didn't make sense!"
(Actually, entirely too many anime suffer from this kind of rushed ending. I'm thinking of calling it "Rocks fall, everybody dies" syndrome.)
Despite its problems, I would still recommend Armitage III; it suffers at the end only because it aims so high and seems so promising. It's a great ride if you're prepared to deal with the jerky, sudden ending.
Note: Armitage III is available as a 4-episode OAV, or as a movie, Armitage III: Polymatrix, which is the OAV edited down to movie length. There is also a sequel movie, Armitage III: Dualmatrix.