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Hugh David finds it third time lucky for Tow Ukukata’s eggstravaganza

The final film in the Mardock Scramble trilogy, adapting the third book from renowned writer Tow Ubukata, delivers exactly as fans of the franchise (book, manga, anime) expect. The second attempt to animate it since the original trilogy of books were published in Japan, this version has also been something of a prestige project, being three theatrical features rather than the average straight-to-video release.  Blessed with top-voice talent and an experienced production team working under the direct guidance of the original author, this trilogy is arguably one of the most faithful adaptations of a novel put on our screens.

The third book and film, The Third Exhaust, picks up right in the middle of the suspenseful mission by our heroes – former child prostitute Rune-Balot, former war criminal Dr. Easter and former military intelligent weapon Oeufcoque – to gain access to the memories of lead villain Shell that are stored in his casino’s million-dollar chips.  While some commentators have remarked on the length and detail Ubukata went into in the gambling sequences in the book, the anime retains a great deal of that detail, because it speaks directly to the characters and their development.  Rune-Balot learns a lot about who she is and what she is capable of as she works with Oeufcoque and the Doctor up through the games, meeting a woman she can look up to in roulette dealer Belle Wing, impressing chief card dealer Ashley Harvest, and facing Shell himself for the first time since he blew her up.

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The production team strips back some of this final novel to keep to their hour-plus run-time, including relocating one of the villains to the location of an earlier action sequence to move the plot along, but this is actually the only major change throughout the films, and it works well.  The balance is also more in keeping with a film, with the action sequences taking up the bulk of the second half after the Octobercorp casino sequences.  Those action sequences bring to life much of Ubukata’s creative use of the powers he has granted Rune-Balot and Dimsdale-Boiled, the seemingly unstoppable antigrav unit-powered ex-soldier who used to partner with Oeufcoque.  The author’s ideas are a natural fit for the fluidity of animation, with Oeufcoque’s transformations in particularly benefitting from the digital techniques on display.  The unsettling horrific elements that featured so heavily in the first two parts are here saved for a nasty psychedelic trip inside Shell’s past, and then for the effects of violence throughout the action sequences.

It is a real testament to how far things have progressed in the U.K. that this trilogy has been released uncut; in the 1990s the BBFC would never have allowed it.  In that sense, the ten years it has taken Ubukata to get his books on-screen may, despite the frustrations caused him personally, have ended up benefiting U.K. audiences.  We have been able to read the trilogy, peruse the manga, and engage with Ubukata’s other works well before the release of these films, just like the Japanese audience.  To be able to approach a work from a similar starting point to its fans is indeed a rare, though enjoyable, occurrence, and one which only adds to and deepens the experience of watching the anime.

Mardock Scramble: The Third Exhaust, is released on 4th August on UK DVD and Blu-ray by Manga Entertainment.

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