It's by no means easy to review a collection such as this. Although many people may love 'The Animatrix', it's a given that they'll love it for different shorts. There's a variety of visual styles here, which gives the dvd as a whole a sense of collective uniqueness, if that makes any sense. Perhaps the best way to get an idea of the overall quality of the disc is to examine each of it's parts.
In addition to the nine shorts, the DVD also contains some extra features. Each of the anime pieces has an attendant featurettes with commentaries, 'making-of' pieces, and director information as standard options. There's also a an short but informative documentary exploring the genre of anime.
Final Flight of the Osiris
This completely CG rendered short premiered before Stephen King's 'Dreamcatcher' in theatres, the only one to do so. We open with two members from the Osiris engaging in some pretty dangerous foreplay in a virtual world. They're interrupted by the discovery of an army of sentinels, and must warn Zion at all costs. This segways nicely into the beginning of 'Reloaded'. The animation is absolutely gorgeous - it's truly an impressive piece of work.
The Second Renaissance, Parts 1 & 2
'TSR' is an beautifully animated story that tells the history of the machine's rise, and eventual defeat of man. It does an excellent job as portraying the machines as first victims, and then righteous combatants. You can probably guess what that makes mankind. Fans of the 'Matrix' world will love these two pieces as they provide an account of one of the most fascinating periods of history.
Directed by Peter Chung, of 'Aeon Flux' fame, 'Matriculated' has a distinct visual feel. Taking place as the last vestiges of humanity try to resist the ascendant machines, 'Matriculated' explores the boundaries between artificial and natural intelligence, and the application of virtual worlds. The story does not tie directly into the 'Matrix' movies.
'Beyond' deals with an idea that consistency in the matrix can fail at certain locations. One of these is an old haunted house, and within the rules of physics have been twisted, if not suspended entirely. It's discovered by some children, and they proceed to enjoy the rampant reality in a way only children could. Evolving into a 'loss of innocence' story, 'Beyond' is a solid addition to the disc.
We're drawn into the story of a professional runner, who is absolutely obsessed with success. To do so, he pushes himself beyond all physical and mental limits. So far past them, that his perceived reality disintegrates and he is given a glimpse of what the matrix really is. An interesting concept, but the entire story is a little too abstract, and can be hard to understand.
This one tells the story of the kid who approaches Neo in Zion, claiming Neo saved his life. Neo simply tells him he saved his own life. Here, we find out how exactly he went about doing that. The kid is approaching the truth of the matrix, and is so close agents appear at his school. In a desperate flight from them involving all kinds of skateboard antics, he learns a costly way of escaping into the real world.
From the director of 'Cowboy Bebop', 'Detective Story' details the attempts of a private eye to track down a mysterious personage named Trinity. Hired by mysterious employers, the more he discovers about who he's searching for, the more he wonders about who she really is. Drawn in the style of old newspaper comics, 'Detective Story' looks unique, but isn't as engaging as some of the other offerings.
Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri of 'Ninja Scroll' fame, 'Program' is perhaps more disappointing because of it's expectations. It deals with a training sim that is much more intense than it first appears. Based in feudal Japan, there's plenty of action, and good animation. The ending in particular is one of the high points.
In general, 'The Animatrix' is an good showcase of modern styles of anime, and adds much to the world of 'The Matrix'. It's an unbalanced collection however, as viewers will find shorts such as 'The Second Renaissance' and 'Final Flight of the Osiris' excellent offerings, but others are decidedly lacklustre.
As a final note, 'The Animatrix' also ships as a 'Gift' set, which really just includes a music disc. If you like the musical styles of the Animatrix, then the disc is exactly what you're looking for. It's generally a medium paced techno instrumental collection, so just keep that in mind.