Out of the gate, a couple of things are clear: Altered Carbon: Resleeved desperately wants to play in the worlds of Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and the Yakuza video game series. It eventually opts in to being a part of Altered Carbon‘s world as well, thanks to a few well-placed lore drops and connections. Because of that, if you aren’t caught up on at least the first season of the live-action Netflix series, you might want to remedy that before diving into the anime, because spoilers abound.
Our intro to this one-off anime film also serves as an intro to the rules of the world, one in which future humans have shuffled off their mortal coils … or at least they’ve figured out a way to download their consciousness into harddrives called Stacks that can be swapped into new bodies called Sleeves. It’s all here in these handy explainers here and here. The timing of this side-story appears to be after the events of Season 1 and before the events of Season 2, though it’s a little tricky to pin down.
As usual, Takeshi Kovacs is back in a new sleeve, one with military training and heightened reflexes, but a powerful nicotine addiction (which never really comes into play except when it’s introduced and in the final scene, for dramatic effect). He’s brought back on the planet Latimer in order to assist a yakuza boss–Hideki Tanaseda–into investigating the murder of his brother at the hands of the rival Mizumoto clan. He’s powerful enough to erase Kovacs’ record on Harlan’s World, a nod back to the flashbacks in Season 2 of the live-action series, though this side mission takes place a year after the supposed death of Kovacs’ sister and Quellcrist Falconer. But in the many worlds of Altered Carbon, few deaths are certain.
Complicating Kovacs’ mission is young Holly, a tattoo artist for the Mizumoto clan with a special connection to the yakuza boss and the central philosophy of their clan: When a new successor is chosen, the tattoo artist copies the boss’ tattoo onto the newcomer and simultaneously activates a program in the old boss that will sacrifice them, granting “real death” to prevent any one man from ruling forever. But even that honor-based philosophy can be circumvented if you have the will to do so, and that becomes the central mystery of this tale.
Altered Carbon: Resleeved excels in the action department, which should come as no surprise considering the pedigree of the creative team behind the scenes. It’s intense, kinetic, and unique, taking advantage of all the attributes that make Altered Carbon an original tale while also dipping into fan-favorite sci-fi elements. But rather than reveal plot points organically, there’s some forced expository dialogue immediately following the fight.
And this is where the standalone film falls short. The story is broken up into three acts, which are each broken up into alternating sequences of jaw-dropping action and head-scratching exposition dumps. We learn just about everything about the nuts and bolts of the story through dialogue, expository phone conversations, revelatory narrations during holographic flashbacks, and the like. Rarely does anything feel as if we’ve discovered it alongside the protagonists (with the exception of one “Oh shit!” moment, which should have been revealed in a better manner than a phone call, but it was still a surprise.)
The action just barely makes up for the lacking storytelling: Cybernetic ninjas perform a bloody ballet of sorts in a hallway, ultimately being defeated by Kovacs and CTAC elite, Gena, who assume joint protection of Holly during their investigation. And when those two alone aren’t enough to defend against a wave of ninja’s, the hotel’s AI Ogai dispatches his automated defense system, complete with exploding arrows and burrowing points to do the trick. That’s a literal blast, but the exposition dumps drag the story down.
While there are plenty of reveals to keep the momentum up just enough to keep the hour and 14 minute runtime from flailing, the action beats save it, especially when a yakuza boss gets to go all yokai in the most insane sequence we’ve yet seen in an Altered Carbon title. It’s very Japanese, very Yakuza, but a lovely addition to this canon.
In the end, we get more reveals as to all the characters we’ve been following on screen for more than an hour, which also leads to a cliffhanger of sorts. This story is tied up, make no mistake. But it sounds like we’ll be getting another round of this anime as Hideki Tanaseda tasks Kovacs with another mission, despite his earlier promise of wiping his slate clean. I, for one, am on board.
Rating: ★★★ Good