The underground city of Lux was established years ago in order to mine raffia, a rare substance whose primary use is in the development of artificial limbs, a process known as "texhnolyzation". Years of isolation from the surface have led many of its people to forget their origins, however, and while life has gone on in the city, it has become a crumbling ruin, one in which corrupt organizations squabble for control and in which the destitute starve in the streets or scrounge together a living by fighting for the entertainment of crime syndicates. Among these fighters is Ichise, a man who has spent so long as a fighter that he has come to view himself as an animal, overtaken by the urge to commit violence. One day, however, his life is turned around when a scuffle with a crime boss leads to him losing an arm and a leg. Although left for dead, he is picked up the doctor who performs the texhnolyzation operation, who has grown bored with her meaningless life and desires vainly to make a perfect texhnolyzed human being to give her life some significance. Ichise is given new limbs and a new life as a bodyguard for the organization currently in charge of the city, where he slowly begins to contemplate the actions of his violent past and the existence of the world around him, one that is degenerating rapidly into chaos.
When deciding to whether or not to describe a series as "dark", it is worth considering to what extent its internal despair is counterbalanced by humorous and romantic moments on the part of its characters, as well as other elements that may temper the unpleasant realities it presents. By these standards, then, the haunting experience that is Texhnolyze surpasses almost every single other series I know of. Set in an underground city where man's days are numbered and where one's existence is bound to be crushed into dust, this series never once attempts to distract us from the bleak and terrible world it builds to tell its story of a dying race, designing itself carefully to allow the audience to experience the same pain its characters experience as they slowly began to understand the horrors of their dystopian world. Texhnolyze, in any case, is difficult to treat and discuss as "entertainment": it is a story of the violence within human beings and the allegorical fate of a race destined to loneliness and ruin as a result, and it never once attempts to refashion its discussion as an experience that the audience is meant to enjoy. It is encapsulating and deeply fascinating, but it is a show that will hurt you as you watch it, and while this pain is the sort that leaves one in useful contemplation after, say, reading a novel with an unpleasant ending, I will not begrudge those who decide to pass on it, as watching it is a potent experience that is not to be taken lightly.
I cannot discuss any aspect of Texhnolyze without first extrapolating upon its setting. Hardly a single other animated work I have seen has used art to so profoundly state that the world it represents is an alien world, not necessarily indicative of a past or future but of close enough relation to our world that we can recognize the importance the story has to it. The underground world of Lux is a masterpiece of bleakness and desolation, its stark cement structures losing their roofs and becoming full of cracks even as people continue to live in them, as if to say that nothing beautiful will ever be built again. The futuristic technology that is present in the show is intentionally incongruous, a decision that would cause any other series to be labeled as "steampunk" but which here simply illustrates the futility of technological advances in saving humans from the state of chaos they have not been able to stop. Characters walk on their texhnolyzed limbs even as they travel by train and live in squalor, their vision enhanced by intricate computer graphics but their lives given no extra meaning by this "enhancement".
Indeed, I found that the aesthetic aspects of Texhnolyze were an integral part of its narrative strength. As an example, the skies of the city are drawn as if the entire world was in the glare of thousands upon thousands of streetlights, a glare stronger than that of any metropolitan area known to today's human race, and such an aesthetic choice highlights the artificiality of this underground world, one that is bathed in a cold light and rendered nearly colorless as a result. It is almost as if the world has forgotten the true sun, and indeed, when we do eventually see the surface, we realize just how stunningly alien Lux truly is as the contrast is thrust upon us. The art direction is arresting as a whole, with Yoshitoshi ABe's character designs being hauntingly beautiful and the animation used to gorgeously render one's viewing experience into a visceral one. In addition, I have seen few shows that as successfully allowed me to empathize with a character's physical experiences, with violent acts being animated with alternating close and wide shots and with a gradual increase in the volume of the series' musical score, such that one almost feels as if one's own arm is torn off when this is done to Ichise. Said musical score, largely consisting of atmospheric electronic pieces, pervades the series almost like the sound of static, contributing to the unsettling feeling that the art has already spawned.
Although Texhnolyze is graphic, with violent acts being depicted throughout, it is not interested in titillating the audience with gore, nor with anything else for that matter. The violence, instead, is presented as the act through which humans slowly bring about their downfall, with the texhnolyzed limbs (which give enhanced strength and coordination) serving as catalysts for that inevitable ruin. The story is told to us via the viewpoint of Ichise, a man from an impoverished background subjected to the horror of essentially being used as an animal in a fighting ring, and the progression of the story runs counter-parallel to his personal progression, with his slowly gaining control of his violent instincts and becoming able to open himself to others even as the world around him descends into violence worse than that present before. At show's outset, he is a character kept among the rabble of society, where the only response he is capable of is violence and where he is only given violence in return, to a point that he loses two of his limbs. The first two episodes of the series, indeed, are almost entirely devoid of dialogue, as Ichise rarely speaks, and the show's extremely effective use of imagery to replace words as a storytelling vehicle highlights his state. He is subsequently transformed, however, when he is given a place within the elite of society out of pure whim: it is a grimy "Cinderalla" story, of sorts, in which the main doctor responsible for designing texhnolyzed limbs refashions him as her newest experiment and he is given work as a bodyguard for the leader of the city, an act that essentially tells him that he has been reborn. The show, almost simultaneously, is refashioned, with dialogue becoming more commonplace and the putrid political system of the city becoming a point of focus, just as if we were let into this other part of society when Ichise was.
Ichise is an effective character in that his subsequent development provides an interesting counterexample to the state that the world is crumbling into. His role, essentially, is to highlight the theme that wisdom can allow one to somewhat transcend the horrors within that one's society has embraced, even if that is not enough to ultimately create a better world. It is here that I must discuss one other character, Ran, a young girl capable of envisioning the future. Ran is an enigmatic character, one whose awareness seems to extend beyond that of anybody else in the series, and this effect is compounded by the visual effect of her penetrating eyes, paucity of dialogue, and dark-red hair, a color not seen on any other characters. Ostensibly a flower-seller, Ran is seen following Ichise as he stumbles through the city after losing his limbs, never speaking to him but remaining within a few meters' radius, as one's guardian angel would. While her behavior is certainly up for interpretation, Ichise's eventual opening up is traceable to her actions, as they are the only source of love and protection, no matter how distant, that he experiences. A pivotal scene later occurs in which Ran, expressing emotion for the first time, tells him that her visions involve his actions bringing ruin and destruction to the world, in which his response is one of horror at the notion, as if his exposure to her has given him an awareness of the horror of violence that nobody else possesses.
His story, needless to say, is a bitter one. While he is eventually able to express love, he is torn to pieces as the characters whom he expresses his feelings towards are destroyed by the society they inhabit. He bears no love for any of the warring factions that squabble over the city and slowly destroy it (with that "slowly" ceasing to be a qualifier near the end of the series), and yet he remains bound to the group he serves by the feelings of duty and affection for those who had saved him that he had never been aware existed, and which he is still unable to articulate. The world of Texhnolyze is one in which one's opening up only brings more pain, any romantic feelings that arise appear to be desperate and are doomed to bring the people involved to ruin, full awareness of the state that the world is truly in only brings despair, and the world will one day drown in a sea of blood, tears, and the flesh torn to pieces by the horrors of human violence. It is thus intriguing, then, that the story is told through the viewpoint of the one character who is given any sort of hint that a different world might have been possible. The story's ending and the fates of Ichise and Ran are ultimately all the more tragic as a result, and the subtle manner in which this is eventually brought about represents a masterful exposition of misery.
Texhnolyze is a beautiful and subtly told story, one that some people will have difficulty stomaching and others may find difficult to follow. Indeed, it is a series that takes a considerable amount of work to watch, one that would almost certainly benefit from a second viewing. The show is not without some small flaws, as there is, for example, one slow stretch of episodes starting from the third episode or so, but it is powerful throughout, and its beautiful and profoundly depressing ending renders the story into a masterpiece. If nothing I have said has dissuaded you, then cautiously proceed with it, for it is among the most fascinating anime ever produced, if among the most unsettling to watch.
Texhnolyze is anime's most profound tale of the horrors of the human psyche and among the most haunting, beautiful, and sad stories among its output. If approached with caution and with a hot cup of tea to console yourself with afterwards, the rewards are considerable. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: Graphic violence pervades throughout, with the ending being extremely bloody, and the show is not afraid to depict mutilation in disturbing detail. There are also two sexual scenes, both of which are short and (intentionally) more depressing than titillating. Keep children away from this until they can approach this with a critical mind, and if you yourself are squeamish I'd say be careful.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream Courtesy of Hulu (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (22/22)
Texhnolyze © 2003 Rondo Robe/Texhnolyze Committee
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