Back to the Vaults: Armitage III OVA Review

Armitage III OAV Review

This past weekend, I had a bit of free time on my hands. So I thought I’d take a moment to dust off an old anime DVD from the shelves and watch it. With only four episodes, the Armitage III OVA series was a prime candidate for watching during a small window of free time that I had. Thankfully, the anime has aged well over the years and is still as good as I remembered with just a few flaws.

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–> Buy the ENTIRE Armitage III Collection from Amazon.com

 

* * * S P O I L E R S ! * * *

The Story in Brief

Ross Syllibus was a member of the Chicago Police Department. He migrated to Mars after losing his partner. At the spaceport on Mars, he and his new partner, Naomi Armitage, discover a murder of a very famous country singer. The singer turns out to be a bioroid “Third Type,” who looks human. The two are assigned to the case, where Armitage expresses a dislike of Ross’s attitude toward robots and androids. As such, she does her own investigating while Ross does his.

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Ross receives more evidence of Thirds being murdered. The suspect, D’anclaude, hacks TVs all over Mars to shine a light on the fact that Thirds exist, helping to fuel fears of robots taking over. Ross confronts D’anclaude at a church, but has to be saved by Armitage, who reveals she’s a Third as well. D’anclaude was beaten to a pulp by Armitage and thus placed into ICU at a hospital. However, more Thirds end up getting murdered. Since Armitage has officially gone missing from her police job, she’s tagged as a suspect.

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When one of the Thirds, all of whom are female, turned out to have been pregnant when she was murdered, Ross learns that Thirds were created to get around the female-controlled Earth government preventing human women from immigrating to Mars. Armitage and Ross reunite to save another Third, only to discover this is the only male Third. They are attacked by D’anclaude, who seriously injures Ross. After Ross recovers, his boss refuses to believe D’anclaude attacked them since he’s still in ICU.

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Armitage and the boy Julian continue their investigation, but another D’anclaude hacks into the boy and kills him. Ross violates his boss’s orders to leave the Thirds investigation and confronts the CEO of the android making company Conception. However, one of the CEO’s Sailor Moon Second Types explodes, killing the CEO. Armitage reaches Ross, and the two go over the info from Julian. They first attempt an armed attack on the hospital where D’anclaude, but fail.

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They then head to see Dr. Asakura, who created Armitage. At Asakura’s facility, they encounter a peaceful D’anclaude Second android. While Asakura is mentally unstable due to a mind wipe, he is still working on bioroids to help continue terraforming Mars. D’anclaude reveals the whole truth behind the Third’s project. That night, Ross and Armitage sleep together. Ross’s now former police boss warns him about a government attack. Asakura gives Armitage a massive upgrade, which allows her and Ross to defeat the government troops.

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Months later, Ross returns to Mars with new Earth IDs, though Armitage rejects hers. However, they are now a couple with a human child on the way.

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Clearing Some Title Confusion

Before I get started, there are three titles in the Armitage III franchise. The first is the four-episode OVA series that I’m reviewing here–Armitage III. The second is Armitage III Dual-Matrix, which is a movie sequel to the original OVA. Finally, there is the American production Armitage III: Poly-Matrix, which compresses the original OVA into 90 minutes and gives it an English dub. Some A-list actors of the time, such as Kiefer Sutherland, Elizabeth Berkley, and Bryan Cranston provided some of the voices.

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I gather Kiefer Sutherland was a huge fan of the original OVA series. I don’t know why it was decided to compress the OVA into a 90 minute, inferior movie. But there you go. Now onto the proper review.

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The Good: Murder Mystery and Then Some

One of the things I really like about the start of Armitage III is how efficiently it sets up the world and gets us into the plot. We get to see what a great cop Armitage is when she sniffs out something’s not right at the space port. And then when the murdered country singer is found to be a Third-type bioroid, the murder mystery expands, especially when more murdered females turn out to be Thirds.

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One thing I think the writers did well was have Ross and Armitage split up at the end of the first episode. This forced Ross to get off is butt and do some investigating on his own. Not only does he want to unlock the mystery of the Thirds, but why someone wants to kill them. And, once he knew Armitage was also a Third, he wanted to reconcile with her. But he has to play things more by the book, since he’s still on the police force.

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For Armitage’s part, she’s abandoned her role as a police detective. As such, her investigation allows her to be more ruthless. Since she knows that someone or some group wants Thirds dead, she no longer cares if people know her secret. She’s going to use her full Third capabilities to get the information she wants, not only about the murderer, but finding answers about herself.

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I found myself completely absorbed into the world of Armitage III. While on the surface, it might remind someone of Blade Runner, I think that comparison quickly goes away. Following the journeys of Ross and Armitage was very interesting, so much so that when I first watched it, I had to immediately watch it again.

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The Good: Armitage

While I don’t have a problem with Ross as a character, it is Armitage that takes the cake in Armitage III. Right out of the gate, while Ross stands there stunned at everything happening in the space port, the inappropriately dressed Armitage is instantly onto the fact that there are bad things afoot. She’s amazing with a pistol. She’s quick on her feet. Armitage is bright and intelligent. She’s got sass and flair. But she’s not perfect.

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By the end of the first episode, she feels compelled to reveal herself as a Third, even though Earth government nor Mars government were aware of her as such. Thus when she came after the assassin D’anclaude, Armitage showed herself to be a powerful, female character. And considering she’s not human, the fact that this tiny girl could beat up men way larger than her, including D’anclaude, was completely believable.

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Thus Armitage’s character arc is so enjoyable. She’s lived her life, disguised as a young, adult female. Yet the circumstances of the murder of Thirds force her into a new place in life. She has to adapt and overcome her own fears. Armitage has to learn to trust Ross and accept her growing feelings for him. Not only that, she has to learn about herself and her heritage as a Third. Watching her go through all of this to become what she needed to become was indeed a pleasure to behold. And as the only male Third Julian asked, why would their creator would build a robot who could kick ass and raise kids?

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The Good: Authoritarians vs Libertarians vs. Libertines

The politics in Armitage III are quite interesting. For a start, you have Earth, which has become an authoritarian world with a strong, third-wave feminist bent. The Earth government demands obedience to what it deems are acceptable ways of living. Then you have Mars, which was founded on libertarian ideals, attempting to keep government mostly out of people’s lives. These two forms of governance are at massive odds with each other. Authoritarians cannot allow freedom because then, people would be free to choose things against whatever agenda the authoritarians are attempting to impose.

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However, the anime doesn’t just stop with the authoritarians vs. the libertarians. It also explores the concept of being a libertine and the pitfalls therein. While a libertarian is fine with limited guardrails, a libertine wants none. A libertine wants the freedom to do anything their heart desires, no matter how decadent. All that matters is their personal pleasure. This is primarily depicted in how Seconds are used on Mars. Men achieve all of their fantasies via Seconds, but to what end?

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Another element looked at in the OVA series is the ugliness of politics. Mars may have been founded on personal liberty and freedom. However, the promise of Earth allowing women to migrate to Mars was all it took for the Martian leadership to cave to the Earth demands. Thus, Mars government is helping to commit genocide against Thirds. But it also reflects how even though Thirds were changed to bare children to the men of Mars, those in charge valued human women over Thirds. I’ll talk more about prejudice in a bit.

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As an aside, when I first watched Armitage III, I couldn’t help but think that the president of Earth was based on Hillary Clinton. Maybe she was. 😅 There was also a nod China and Taiwan’s relationship in how Earth treated the Mars colony.

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The Good: What Makes a Human?

A really interesting component of Armitage III is the question, “What makes a human?” Science fiction has looked at this issue before. I think of the excellent Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Measure of a Man”. There, the human-appearing android Data goes through a hearing to determine if he is merely a machine or if he is a life form. But I think that Armitage III takes this even further.

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In episode 2, one of the executives of a company that produces Seconds, has a female android who looks like Usagi from Sailor Moon, serve him by bending the knee and providing him her other knee-leg to sit on. She looks happily and adoringly at him. And he states that their purpose is to provide robots (androids) to service male fantasies…except for reproduction.

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And that’s where the Thirds come in. Initially, these bioroids were created to be assassins who could perfectly pass as human. But when Earth prevented women from migrating to Mars, to force the leadership there to bend to Earth’s will, Thirds were changed so that they were bioroid women who could give birth. But unlike Seconds, Thirds had unique personalities. They weren’t just male fantasy creations. Their AI was so advanced, they could easily be a human woman and without cutting them open, who would know?

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Through Armitage and the other Thirds, we see that they aren’t just robots. These are living, breathing, thinking entities who can also reproduce with humans. Thus, when it is revealed that Earth wants all Thirds killed, they are basically advocating for genocide as Thirds are a new, humanoid race.

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The Good: A Look at Prejudice

Good science fiction can take a look at hard issues without being preachy, which is something modern writers fail at. As such, Armitage III takes a hard look at prejudice. In this case, it is human prejudice against robots in general. After all, Seconds aren’t just used for male fantasies. They are also replace humans in various jobs. Plus, there’s nothing a well programmed android cannot do better than a human. And outside of the initial costs, plus whatever maintenance costs, they are ultimately cheaper than humans. And they don’t get sick or need time off.

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With this setting, it is understandable that the human population of Mars began having prejudicial feelings for the Seconds and robots in general. How are humans supposed to make a living if robots do almost everything? And that prejudice is exactly what the feminist Earth government helped fire in order to advance their agenda. Thus when D’anclaude reveals to the Martians the existence of Thirds via his videoed and broadcasted executions, it further fuels the prejudicial fires.

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Now, not only are androids/robots taking over human jobs, they are looking exactly like humans. And not only that, Thirds can actually have children. Thus they are supplanting human females. As such, the government of Earth needs them all exterminated as Thirds threaten their agenda. And fear motivates the Martians to want all Thirds dead.

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I really liked how the anime just shows the ugliness for what it is. We don’t get preached to. Rather, we are shown a series of events. And I understood the fears of the Martians, and the disdain of Earth government. But I also could see how wrong all of this was without being beat on the head.

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The Pretty Good: Ross’s Journey

It is in this light that we get Ross’s character journey. He starts out hating cyborgs, robots, and androids, as one killed his police partner on Earth. And his words offend Armitage, though he can’t understand why. Ross thinks that Armitage is just a robot sympathizer. But then Ross’s world is thrown into uncertainly when Armitage reveals herself to be a Third. Not only that, she asks a question. “If humans don’t want us, why did they make us?”

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And yet by the end of the series, Ross sees Thirds in a new light. They are a race, not worthy of being feared or hated. And he’s willing to die to help one he’s fallen in love with. As he admits to Armitage, prior to consummating their relationship, thanks to the incident on Earth and an incident in the first episode, Ross is part robot himself. Thus he became what he hated, though through medical necessity. However, he understood the irony of his position vs. whom he had become.

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I think my only problem with Ross as a character is that often, he’s just seems unsure. Not always, mind you. And certainly by the end, Ross isn’t has made a decision, both in being intimate with Armitage, but also in being prepared to lay down his life for her. But his character just doesn’t have the gravitas I felt he needed at times. That said, Armitage is a hard act to follow.

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The Meh: Mismatched art styles at times.

One thing I noticed about Armitage III is that the art style and character designs seems to fluctuate between episodes. I don’t know the reasons for this. I presume different animation teams worked on different episodes. As such, it can be a bit jarring when the art style or character designs change somewhat. One does get used to it, but I do with there had been consistency throughout all four episodes.

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Final Thoughts and Conclusion

As I write this, I’ve actually struggled for about two years to get this published. 😅 To be honest, I don’t think I’ve done Armitage III justice with my blathering, no matter how hard I try. However, for me, this anime hits the mark with characters, plot, and themes. And even though the world of the series is a dark, terrible place, Armitage and Ross make it one I don’t mind revisiting over and over. Without a doubt, Armitage III is a top ten anime for me, maybe even top five.

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4 Responses to “Back to the Vaults: Armitage III OVA Review”

  1. Carl Ogan says:

    If we could just make the opening song to be Joan Jetts “I Hate My Self for Loving You” would make this perfect!

  2. TK says:

    Thanks for reviewing! I have a lot of nostalgia for this anime, from back in the 90s when a local Hollywood Video carried this and many other anime on VHS.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      You’re welcome. There are other things I want to pull “out of the vault” so to speak. It is just a matter of not having enough time. 😅

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