Thoughts (and Just Thoughts) from Watching ‘The Animatrix’ for the First Time

With The Matrix Resurrections now less than a month away from release, it was time to make one more dive into the world of the Wachowskis’ creation, but through multiple different lenses. In 2003, the same year the second and third films came out, an animated anthology film called The Animatrix was also released. In collaboration with several Japanese animation studios, side stories, origin stories, and stories of random characters within the Matrix are explored through these nine different shorts.

Knowing that the Wachowskis pulled a lot of influence from anime, the fact that they collaborated with creators of their source of inspiration reminds me a lot of the Star Wars: Visions anthology Lucasfilm put out a few months ago. Each of the shorts varied in animation style, genre, and approach. Some characters were familiar, some were not, and some of the shorts I liked more than others. Because it’s shorts I was dealing with this time, this approach will be different than what I did for the trilogy, as I go over my thoughts, rather than my reactions, to my first viewing of The Animatrix:

The Second Renaissance Parts I and II (dir. Mahiro Maeda)

(I’m combining these first two since they’re two halves of one whole story.)

We’ve heard Morpheus talk about how the machines came to power, but these short films take it a step further and actually show it. Featuring a voiceover narrator that I did not find to be necessary (and sounded like Siri before Siri was even a thing), the mistreatment of machines by humans came across as cliche. However, never was I more horrified at seeing so much scrap metal when the humans started demolishing them.

It’s easy to sympathize with the machines in that regard, but it doesn’t make their retaliation any less harder to watch. To see them decimate humans in really (unnecessarily) gory scenes, before turning those who lived into their equivalent of batteries, it was disturbing. It’s the opposite of the relationship between humans and robots as portrayed in Wall-E.

The Second Renaissance is most certainly not for the faint of heart, but I would consider it worth a watch to gain a better understanding for why the world is the way it is when we first meet Neo.

Program (dir. Yoshiaki Kawajiri)

I mentioned earlier how the idea of The Animatrix as a whole reminds me of Star Wars: Visions. This short in particular makes me think of some of the shorts from the latter that centered in Japan-inspired worlds. In this case, it’s a training simulation set in feudal Japan.

Whether intentional or not, the character Cis reminded me a lot of San from Princess Mononoke; in her appearance, her mannerisms, and her fighting style. Both her and Duo are such fascinating characters, especially when it comes to the subject matter that was only ever so briefly touched on in the trilogy: Do you regret taking the red pill? To fight off of the feeling of complacency and comfort for the hard truth is a fight I think a lot of us have had to wrestle with regarding events that have taken place throughout the pandemic, but as the short showed, knowing the truth and the reality of things is always worth it.

I was turned off by the fact that it was all a test and that Duo isn’t even real. Her crew members, whether they admit or not, were actually very manipulative, and so I don’t blame Cis for getting angry.

Other than that, I consider Program to be quite an engaging short.

World Record (dir. Takeshi Koike)

Each animation style is a sight to take in, and this one most definitely required a minute. With the stark shadows and wild-looking character designs (most notably for the Agents), it was far different than the shorts I had seen previously.

For a franchise that’s pretty fast-paced, seeing Dan run in slow motion for the most part made for a different viewing experience. To intersperse the sequence between his interaction with different characters who’ve come to watch him was something that I’ve seen done before, but seeing it in this universe was interesting, to say the least.

The ending to this one is quite sad, as it really hones in on just how much the Agents aim to keep everything in control. It was hard to see Dan in that much pain.

World Record is a hard truth about what happens when someone in the Matrix becomes aware of the outside world, and doesn’t have someone like Morpheus, Neo, or Trinity to come rescue them.

Kid’s Story (dir. Shin’ichiro Watanabe)

I was so confused when I saw who this short was about. I don’t know if there’s a fan base out there to this character in particular, but I didn’t think the Kid added much to the film franchise. Heck, I didn’t even know his real name until I saw this.

This short tells another story that was only mentioned in the films, but is fleshed out here. I wasn’t surprised to see how in his old life, the Kid was kind of a slacker in school. What I was surprised by was how much his journey to breaking free of the Matrix parallels so much with Neo’s; from communicating with an unknown person online, to the phone call, to even being chased by Agents. It has me wondering now if Neo’s origin story wasn’t that different from the likes of others before him.

I found it unsettling as to how the Kid finally broke out, and to be told by Neo that he saved himself via suicide most definitely wouldn’t fly so well now if this short were made today.

Kid’s Story, while interesting in theory, is one of the shorts that I didn’t particularly care for.

Beyond (dir. Koji Morimoto)

If I had to name a single favorite short film from this anthology, it would be this one. I was so intrigued by it; from its setting in Tokyo, to its starting point of a teenage girl looking for her cat, to having a glitchy, abandoned building be seen as a sort of haunted house to the kids. Its blend between a grounded setting in modern-day Japan and the glitch in the Matrix being treated as something fun rather than a threat made for a nice break from all the other stories that came before it.

But because we’re still in the Matrix that, of course, the glitch would be dealt with eventually by the Agents. Similar to the ending of World Record, their control was exercised, and in its place is sadness once more, but of a different kind.

The simplicity, the break from routine in the otherwise busy city of Tokyo, and the glitch being seen as almost magical, is what I found captivating about Beyond. I highly recommend this one, especially for fans of Makoto Shinkai’s work.

A Detective Story (dir. Shin’ichiro Watanabe)

So this director notably took on the only short films to feature characters from the trilogy. When measuring A Detective Story up with Kid’s Story, I gravitated towards this one a lot more.

This black-and-white animated noir is appropriate for the mystery that presents itself. Aside from having Trinity as someone to find, I like how this short took advantage of the Alice in Wonderland references that were really only prominent in the original film.

If there’s anything for me to critique about this one, it’s the ending. It felt too abrupt. While it was meant to create tension, it just didn’t feel like that to me. It wasn’t as satisfying for a short film that otherwise brought a unique flare to this hardcore, sci-fi world.

Matriculated (dir. Peter Chung)

This is the one short from this anthology that I got so lost from watching. From taking a runner into a matrix of its own and watching it go through all these abstract obstacles, I just wasn’t sure what was going on. I get that the crew was trying to show the runner a different way, but how they went about it was just odd.

At this point, its ending was unsurprising in tone, and while I appreciated how this short started and ended with bookends, it doesn’t make up for the fact that it was a particularly weird short to follow.

Final Flight of the Osiris (dir. Andrew R. Jones)

Out of all the shorts, this is the only one that’s done in full 3D animation. It actually looks pretty good for its time; its style reminiscent of the animation in the Final Fantasy games.

I loved how it opened with a fight sequence in a training simulation similar to that of the one that Neo and Morpheus sparred in in the original film. I wasn’t expecting the characters, Jue and Thadeus, to strip throughout the course of their sparring session, and had it gone any further, the only things they would have been wearing would be their blindfolds.

Despite not knowing anything about them, their obvious chemistry makes it easy to ship them, which is why when Jue decides to make the sacrifice to broadcast to Zion from the Matrix about the arrival of the Sentinels, it’s heartbreaking when they say their final goodbye.

This short goes to show that not all of the heroes of Zion have survived, and yet have still contributed to pushing the fight forward. This just happens to be the story of one particular crew.

There you go! There was a lot to gain from these nine shorts, so many stories to tell. While some were better developed than others, they all found their place within the wider Matrix universe, in their own unique ways. Aside from returning to the source of influence to create this anthology, the Wachowskis made way for other creatives to provide their own takes and stories into this detailed, philosophical franchise. The fact that this predates contemporary endeavors of a similar kind such as Star Wars: Visions really makes The Animatrix a product ahead of its time.

It’s been 18 years since this anthology film, as well as the Matrix sequels, were released. Now that we are mere weeks away from The Matrix Resurrections finally coming out, I’m very curious now how it will compare to its predecessors.

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