Never heard about this Matrix anime? This is for you.
The Matrix trilogy was a huge success years ago and the hype is still around for some fans, old and new. The film gave people a new narrative in the action genre, one that combined the idea of a tech takeover while also questioning reality itself.
After watching the Matrix movies, you should consider watching The Animatrix, a movie made after the trilogy that explains the beginning and end of the Matrix and Zion. This 2003 animated movie is worth watching, especially if you’re into anime, as it’s directed by some of the best anime directors of recent years. It’s a compilation of nine anime shorts that reveal interesting Matrix details through different stories.
Thanks to streaming platforms like Netflix and HBO, you can experience The Animatrix for yourself, considered an anime classic. But why should you watch it? Well, let's recap the shorts to convince you.
Warning: This may contain some spoilers, so if you want to watch the anime and then come back, we'll wait . . .
Okay, ready? Great! Let 's dive in.
The Second Renaissance: Part I
This first short is directed by Mahiro Maeda, who is also the director of the mangas Blue Submarine No. 6 and The Evangelion: 3.0 and 3.0 + 1.0. This short is one of the best of this entire collection. In essence, it’s the origin of the Matrix. How humanity grew bored of itself to the point of having to create something more interesting, like AI. This short in particular is pretty intense and violent, depicting humanity's reaction to their enslaved creations rising up against them and their laws. Maybe Elon Musk should watch this one . . .
The Second Renaissance: Part II
The second part of this short is also directed by Mahiro Maeda and serves as the continuation of the previous episode. In this short, the story focuses on humanity's need to eliminate AI robots. It also explores how and why humanity decided to “scorch the sky"—something that Morpheus mentions to Neo in the first Matrix movie. Like the first part of the rebirth, this short is even more brutal, because it portrays the nasty struggle between robots and humans as they fight for power over each other.
This short is directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who is also the creator of Cyber City Oedo and Highlander: The Search For Vengeance. The animation in this short is similar to his previous work, noticeable in its attention to detail, slow motion movements, and close-up shots that highlight the action scenes. The story revolves around a simulation created by the programmers of the resistance to test the loyalty and ability of Cis, a girl that is part of the resistance crew. This is one of my favorites. Even if the story doesn't really add much to the entire movie, it showcases some well-done animation, and it also goes in-depth into the training programs for the resistance members of Zion.
This one is directed by Takeshi Koike, who received the Tokyo Anime Award in the OVA category for this short, so you know it's worth watching. For starters, the animation is outstanding. The story is about an athlete, known for being the best in the 100-meter race and continually breaking the record. But as he ages, his body can't handle that kind of effort anymore, which makes his last race his most important one. We then learn that the Matrix simulation isn’t set up for this kind of speed, resulting in agents trying to stop this athlete from breaking another record to prevent him from waking up and realizing that the world he lives in is just a simulation.
A Kid Story
This is directed by Shin'ichirō Watanabe, who’s known for his work on Cowboy Bebop and for his horror anime films, an influence you can pick out in this short. The illustration and color of this anime is textured, like a draft, emphasizing life in the Matrix, giving the short an unreal, trippy feel. The story revolves around a special kid that we were introduced to in the last two Matrix movies. This kid, like Neo, is contacted by someone from Zion and tells him that he’s, in fact, in the Matrix. The kid then feels trapped, and the short ends in a surprising twist that also involves Neo's first and only appearance in the entire Animatrix collection.
The director of this short is Kōji Morimoto, who had a hand in Robot Carnival and Digital Juice. In this short, the animation is smooth and innocent, with a focus on nature, color, and a lot of movement. The story revolves around a girl who’s lost her cat and finds herself looking for it with a group of kids in a haunted house. In reality, this is a house with many glitches, such as zero gravity or teleportation, which allows the children to fly, plus other abilities that shouldn’t be possible in the "real” world. This short basically explores the solutions that the agents of the Matrix employ in this type of situation, keeping people from learning the truth.
A Detective Story
This one is also directed by Shin'ichirō Watanabe. It's set in the 50s, with an old NYC black-and-white, film noir detective feel. The story centers on a detective named Ash who’s hired to find Trinity, one of the key hackers on Zion and also Neo's lover, who later dubs herself the “Red Queen", since she uses Alice in Wonderland as a way to communicate with Ash to later arrange a meeting. The minute Ash finds Trinity, they both realize that the Matrix agents were the ones who hired the detective to do their dirty work. Their story ends in a shoot-out that helps Ash understand who the bad guy is—but it may be too late.
Directed by Peter Chung, the creator of Æon Flux—of which influence can be clearly seen in the animation of this short—this story centers on a group of survivors who experiment with sentinels and their will to choose between their species or humanity. It makes you realize that, at this point, humans have learned that attempting to understand (and subtly manipulate) the minds of robots is a better option than forcing them. In the end, this strategy doesn’t exactly turn out like they thought it would. This is one of my favorites; the animation is attractive, as well as the coloring and the music.
Final Flight of the Osiris
The final short is directed by Andrew R. Jones, who’s now known for his work on major productions such as James Cameron’s Avatar. This short takes place during the last minutes aboard the Osiris ship, just before the machines invade Zion. This event is mentioned in the latest Matrix movie, which enables a direct connection to the film trilogy. It's a good short—the animation was very well done for its time—but it isn't the best of the Animatrix.
With this in mind, you may want to watch some of these short films before diving into the trilogy for the first time, or before watching the new movie in theaters in December. There’s no precise order to consuming these shorts, but if you enjoy anime and the Matrix as a series, you’ll definitely enjoy the Animatrix.