This review contains spoilers for Altered Carbon: Resleeved.
Is Altered Carbon: Resleeved an anime in an Altered Carbon sleeve or Altered Carbon in an anime sleeve? On the one hand, this animated tale incorporates plenty of elements we’ve come to recognize in a story involving the last Envoy, Takeshi Kovacs, including digital consciousnesses, hotel AIs, and even some underlying backstory involving Kovacs’ long lost sister, Rei. On the other hand, the organized crime story involving a Yakuza boss and rituals of succession, honor codes, and sword battles dives deep into the Japanese origins of the story form and appeals to a distinctly different audience.
It works on one level because Takeshi Kovacs is himself of Japanese origin, a fact that has been downplayed by the Joel Kinnaman and Anthony Mackie incarnations of the character but corrected here in this movie with an Asian sleeve, and it’s not as if we haven’t seen plenty of Yakuza in the live action series. Altered Carbon viewers might not be all that familiar with the idea of a “kumicho,” the head of a clan within the larger crime syndicate, but they certainly can see why it would be so unusual for each boss to choose “real death” to command the respect of their men in this time where eternal life for the rich and powerful is the norm.
In that sense, the central mystery of Altered Carbon: Resleeved is a bit predictable, but the conflict is cleverly disguised behind the attempt to kill a young tattoo artist, Holly Togram, who would at first seem only incidentally involved with the succession ceremony in which the new boss of the Mizumoto clan receives the same tattoo as the previous kumicho. Viewers are left to puzzle, along with Kovacs who has been hired under the alias Ken Kakura to protect the girl, why Shinji, who is next in line, would want to interfere with the tattooist who is part of his rise to power.
But that mystery doesn’t last long enough to truly satisfy, and in fact, the whole premise of bringing Kovacs in to investigate appears to be specifically geared to imitate the pattern of other Altered Carbon stories. Hideki Tanaseda is a Meth looking to hire the last Envoy, luring him with a military-grade sleeve, to figure out what happened to his brother — sound familiar? Except Tanaseda would surely be familiar with the Mizumoto rites of succession that required his brother to experience real death even as the head of his own Tanaseda clan. He may be surprised that his father abused the ritual he founded to extend his rule, but he would have no illusions about what his brother, the second kumicho, was getting into.
Meanwhile, there were plenty of action-packed fight sequences with tech ninjas, CTAC soldiers, and Kovacs himself to satisfy the many violence junkies in the Altered Carbon fandom. It was particularly effective to inject an alter ego for Reileen Kawahara into the mix as another bodyguard for Holly alongside Kovacs. Gena, as she is known in this sleeve, would otherwise be an over-sexualized soldier with no real investment, and although not much is done with the hidden relationship, the subtle shifts in her motivation, both when she understandably seeks to destroy as many Yakuza as she can and when she encourages Kovacs to walk away, are appreciated.
The AI of the hotel that serves as the Mizumoto headquarters is another successful nod to the live action Altered Carbon since Poe is a fan favorite character in the series. Ogai may be a bit more of rule follower, but loopholes in his programming make for some wonderful fireworks (pun intended) later in the movie. There was also the welcome reference to the memory of the skin as Kovacs complains to Tanaseda that the sleeve he was given has a significant smoking addiction. All of these touchstones help fans of the source material accept the place of the anime in the canon.
As twist endings go, the fact that Holly was actually a young sleeve for the original tattoo artist, Margot, wasn’t much of a surprise, but it was a nice touch nonetheless. Given that the latter half of Altered Carbon: Resleeved merely enacted the aspects of the succession ceremony that most viewers had already guessed, this extra reveal helped temper the predictability somewhat. Much time was also spent on the brutal final battle which left the Mizumoto kumicho with two broken arms, two broken legs, and a broken nose: a fitting end given the subject material but which also undeniably took up quite a bit of narrative space.
Netflix may be trying to capitalize on the popularity of the Altered Carbon series by releasing this CG-animated film version, just as it plans on doing with The Witcher in the future, but although its shortcomings are plain to see, it is still an enjoyable romp in a familiar cyberpunk world. Fans of the live action show may not jump for joy at this additional tale, but they will appreciate the effort and most likely won’t be sorry they took the time to watch the anime. Altered Carbon: Resleeved stays true to the world it seeks to honor and is creative enough with its story to distinguish itself from its predecessors.