Enter the Matrix

You need to watch the most daring sci-fi anthology ever ASAP

“May there be mercy on man and machine for their sins”

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Released in 1999, The Matrix came at a time when technology was rewiring our relationship to entertainment.

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A burgeoning consumer internet made it easier to find and share new work, while the public was just waking up to the potential of video games as a storytelling medium.

Transmedia was to be our future, and the Wachowskis took full advantage of it.

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You could just watch The Matrix and be satisfied with it, but the full story continued in video games and a series of shorts spread across theaters, home video releases, and the internet.

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The Matrix video games are nothing if not interesting, but it’s The Animatrix that shines brightest, expanding and recontextualizing The Matrix while telling its own new stories.

Its nine eclectic animated shorts flesh out the universe of The Matrix, drawing on the talents of some of the very creators who inspired the Wachowskis’ style.

Among them:

Shinichiro Watanabe - Cowboy Bebop

Peter Chung - Aeon Flux

Koji Morimoto - Akira

The Animatrix’s centerpiece at the time of its release was Final Flight of the Osiris, which follows a major plot point in The Matrix Reloaded — a ship’s crew racing to warn Zion of an imminent attack...

... right after the horniest sword fight in history.

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It looks like a particularly detailed video game cutscene now, but Final Flight of the Osiris was a technical landmark at the time, using the tech that powered Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

The rest of the collection rejects any attempt at photorealism, leaning into a dazzling array of inventive animation styles instead.

The Second Renaissance recounts the human-machine war from the winners’ perspective, blending heavy-handed recreations of humanity’s bloody past with nightmarish apocalyptic visions.

Kid’s Story recounts how one character in Reloaded broke free of the Matrix — but is more notable for its beautiful pencil-sketch art style.

Not every short is quite as mesmerizing, and some of the stories are quite forgettable, but the collection as a whole is a marvel.

The Wachowskis wrote just four of The Animatrix’s shorts, otherwise giving free rein to the creators who worked on the collection.

The result is an uneven kaleidoscopic whose segments follow their own logic and rhythm, often ignoring the rules set out in The Matrix.

Some are horrific depictions of war; others joyfully explore glitches in the Matrix and celebrate those who rebel against its control.

Nothing in The Animatrix is essential to the Matrix trilogy or (most likely) the upcoming The Matrix Resurrections, but that’s why it works.

Free from the constraints of a tightly controlled IP, The Animatrix is a playground for its creators and a way of honoring them for inspiring The Matrix in the first place.

The Animatrix is streaming now on HBO Max.