Click here to return to the main site.
Rune Balot's struggle to bring the man who killed her to justice continues amid the world of high-stakes gambling and glamour at the Eggnog Blue Casino. The odds are stacked heavily in the house's favour, and even with the aid of Dr. Easter and Oeufcoque, a universal item capable of turning into anything and everything, Rune's chances of winning are slim. But winning the golden chips containing Shell Septinos' memories is only the next step on a long and treacherous road. Rune will still have to live long enough to bring those memories before the court, and even that isn't the end of the journey. Rune's search for answers to the questions that haunt comes to a shattering climax...!
Like its predecessor, the third and final instalment of the adaptation of Tow Ubukata's picaresque cyberpunk novel resumes the action virtually mid-scene, as Balot and Oeufcoque continue the elaborate game of blackjack against a new and intimidatingly cunning dealer. The decision to spread this lengthy and involved sequence across the span of two movies ultimately proves rewarding, as the interplay between Balot and Oeufcoque is at its most fascinating here; his coaching of her to psychologically wrong-foot her opponent with her body language is worthy of a Derren Brown set-piece.
With the goal of obtaining the blackjack chips that contain the ruthless killer Shell Septinos' memories achieved, Balot faces the far more arduous challenge of delving into Shell's bloody past to uncover his motivations and find evidence against him. These scenes recall the lurid Jennifer Lopez sci-fi thriller The Cell, which shared a similar conceit of an empathetic woman protagonist infiltrating the subconscious of a vicious male serial killer; as with that film, the scenes that follow are occasionally visually spectacular but questionable in their apparent need to have Balot sympathise with her murderer.
A subsequent confrontation with Shell's grotesque, paedophilic ally pushes Balot to her limits, as she pours out her self-loathing determination to throw away her life in the name of destroying his kind. It's the movie's most harrowing scene, only given grace by the presence of Oeufcoque as he brings her back from the brink, once again cementing his place as the only other individual – certainly the only male-identified person – Balot can trust.
The movie's short running time, in keeping with earlier instalments, brings the series to a climax with disconcerting speed as Balot faces her most dangerous opponent, Shell's sometime protector Boiled, in a battle that sees them both using all of their abilities to their limits, and the directors and animators working at full stretch to deliver a spectacular finale. It's a pity more time couldn't be found for developing Boiled, who has hints of an interestingly melancholic past behind his impassive exterior, as well as an intriguing dynamic with both Balot and Shell. The finale is suitably flashy, yet the decision to close Mardock Scramble with a subdued, tender scene between Balot and Oeufcoque is the appropriate one; their relationship is the lifeblood of the story, and the one facet that makes it something more than the recycling of ideas and concepts from Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in The Shell that it appears on first glance.
As a series, Mardock Scramble does suffer from feeling like a late entrant in the field of cyberpunk-inflected anime that reached fruition with the likes of Oshii's movies in the late 1990s; its production values are solid and occasionally gorgeous, though The Third Exhaust simply continues its predecessors' standards rather than surpassing them. It's a downbeat end to a series that doesn't carve new terrain in anime as its creators seem to imagine, yet still remains entertaining and thought-provoking.