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Rebuilding the Mardock Scramble heroine

Andrew Osmond has the technology… to watch Mardock Scramble

Mardock Scramble

In Mardock Scramble: The First Compression, the young heroine is burned to a crisp, then remade Frankenstein-style. Fifteen year-old Balot is blown up in a car by her sugar-daddy Shell, a serial-killer. Then a seedy scientist rescues Balot’s charred body, plops it into an underground vat and refashions her as a super-avenger.

The medical details are truncated in the anime, but the Mardock Scramble novel by Tow Ubukata (available in English from Haikasoru) tells all. Balot’s body is wrapped in a synthetic skin of “regenerative metal fibres.” These fibres sharpen her senses; they also give Balot an “omnidirectional perception,” so she can “feel” everything in her vicinity. Oh, and she can manipulate electricity, as she’s a living remote control for any piece of electronic equipment. In the anime, she finds a handy use for this power – mucking with traffic lights so they go green.

Jemi

For Western viewers of a certain age, Balot’s resurrection recalls the 1970s American action show, The Six Million Dollar Man. In the show, Lee Majors played a test pilot mangled in an air-crash, then rebuilt as a cyborg with bionic limbs and eyesight. Later he gained a female cyborg ally (Lindsay Wagner), who was spun off into the series The Bionic Woman. The original Six Million Dollar Man was shown in Japan from 1974 under the title Cyborg Kikai Ippatsu (Cyborg in Hair’s Breadth Danger), and his lady counterpart becmae Bionic Jaime (pictured). Majors was dubbed by Taiichiro Hirokawa, whose anime voices include Kodai in Space Cruiser Yamato and the doggie Holmes in Sherlock Hound.

However, some commentators suggest that, Six Million Dollar Man aside, Japan is more comfortable than the West with techno-fantasies about building or rebuilding people. Christian doctrine, and an aversion to “playing God,” could be one reason. Another might be Japan’s own literal rebuilding of itself through technology after World War II. Generations of postwar children have grown up with Japan’s two most-recognised answers to Mickey Mouse. They’re the blue cat Doraemon and the bequiffed lad Astro Boy, both of whom happen to be robots – and Astro Boy emphasises that there’s nothing wrong with being a robot.

Western kids, though, have long been fed the opposite propaganda. Old-school Doctor Who fans should be able to recite the profile of the Cybermen, printed in several of the old Target novelisations of the ‘70s. “As bodies became old and diseased, they were replaced limb by limb, with plastic and steel. Finally, even the human circulation and nervous system were recreated, and brains replaced by computers… Love, hate, anger, even fear, were eliminated from their lives when the last flesh was replaced by plastic. They became dehumanised monsters.” Brrr.

Current anime moves between these extremes, between sympathy and scepticism about technology. The cyborg heroes in the various Ghost in the Shell anime question their artificial states, rather more than they celebrate the extraordinary powers that come with them (jumping down skyscrapers, having a mega-library in your brain…). Tellingly, one of the team, Togusa, chooses to stay “human,” though with a cyber-augmented brain.

In Mardock Scramble, Balot reacts to her cyborg state by trying to shoot herself, and is understandably suspicious of her Frankenstein saviour, even accusing him of rape. Her psycho sugar-daddy is another post-human, who extracts his memories following each of his kills, so he can forget it and savour the next murder to the full. “We can rebuild him…” – indeed, but what are we rebuilding?

Mardock Scramble, part one, is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment. The manga is also now out from Kodansha.

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