1: The Animatrix
Synopsis: The Animatrix, which came out in 2003, is an anthology of nine different short episodes occurring in different time periods and across many themes in the world of the Matrix trilogy. The episodes "The Second Renaissance Part I and II", for example, are about what started the war between humans and the machines and "Detective Story" is about a lonely Detective who must track down the heroine Trinity. Other episodes like "Kid Story", "Beyond" and "World Record" or "Program" take place between each Matrix film and only borrow the overall plot from the trilogy. And, still others, like "Final Flight of the Oasis" are completely derivative. In these, members of the Zion army warn the city of Zion that the Machines are digging their way through underground tunnels and are planning to attack the city. The last episode, "Matriculated," is about a rebel team who captures a runner robot and must log out of the matrix to defend their base from the machines. Eventually one of the rebels and the robot reenter the Matrix but become stuck and unable to log out.
Why it`s on the list: The Animatrix is on this list because its completely fantastic imagery is built around a universal theme with which we can all identify. In the two short films "The Second Renaissance Part I and II", we are confronted with the issue of a classic AI story. Humans build robots that have Artificial Intelligence and because of that the robots start to question their existence and realize that they are no different from humans. The Robots start demanding rights and ask to be treated with the dignity accorded humans. Ultimately, the contradictions between humans and robots cannot be reconciled. The result is rage, war and wholesale destruction. The universality of the theme is obvious. Can the contradictions between those who have power and those who do not result in an apocalyptic end? Is that our future? And if so would it go the point of nuclear fallout? Like its namesake, the matrix itself is a metaphor for alienation and authoritarian control, one in which all of the characters feel existentially detached by the very world that they live in.
One of the themes of the Matrix trilogy was about how we use our imagination and resilience to overcome the banality of the mundane world but also how we are often pulled back and forced to live in it. Like the Matrix series itself, some of the episodes in The Animatrix speak to an often silenced need to be liberated from all of the trappings of our social existence either by fighting back against that social existence or by using our imagination. Too often we try to be different from the world that surrounds us but are pulled back in by the power of social control and forced to re-join society. To take but one example, the main character in the episode "Detective Story", while searching for Trinity, realizes that he is living in a world that is a façade but he can do nothing about it. And when he dies, the ultimate horror occurs. He, or in this case, his "remains", become a permanent part of the Matrix. In a wonderfully creative, yet terrifying episode "Beyond", agents of the Matrix take away the imagination of children by burning down a house that the kids believe is haunted and that allows a space to be creative, a place to escape, if only for brief moments, the bureaucratic and stultifying effects of the Matrix. The film's imagery, both the apocalyptic scenes showing nuclear fallout and its suicidal effects are powerful and compelling. With The Animatrix's solid grounding in familiar real-world theme, it's a great way to introduce yourself to anime.