Even fans who hate the 2005 film version of Aeon Flux have reason to be grateful it saw the light of day: It finally provided an incentive for the rights-holders to get the original Aeon Flux series out on DVD. In the early '90s, MTV routinely showcased experimental and cutting-edge animation, but very little of its best output has made it to DVD. (Whither The Maxx? When does that get a big-screen outing?) Which makes Aeon Flux: The Complete Animated Collection a godsend: It's not only a complete summary of MTV's wildest animated outing, it's also a slick three-disc package of commentaries and interesting extras, including shorts from MTV's Liquid Television and commercial work by Aeon Flux creator Peter Chung.
Chung began Aeon Flux as an ultra-violent, avant-garde 12-minute piece in which a barely dressed, preposterously proportioned silent assassin capably slaughtered her way through an army, then died just short of her goal and went on to a surreal, foot-fetish-driven afterlife. Subsequent shorts inexplicably and repeatedly resurrected and killed her: The Complete Animated Collection features the pilot and all five of those shorts, with commentaries by Chung and composer Drew Neumann, who get into the nitty-gritties of the disturbing sound design and the jerky, angular anime-inspired animation without talking much about the possible meaning behind all the image-driven, kinetic weirdness.
The shorts are baffling good fun, with their quick-moving stories, utterly unpredictable plots, and wildly inventive imagery. (The four-legged alien in "Leisure" is particularly fascinating.) But the real meat of the set is the 1995 series, 10 half-hour episodes that give Chung's pointy-breasted, gangly-bodied heroine a voice, a name—Aeon Flux, naturally—and a goal she can mostly handle. Facing off against inventor/dictator Trevor Goodchild, she sabotages schemes and baffles plans, ostensibly in the name of freedom, though she seems more interested in teasing Trevor. Adversaries and intermittent lovers who constantly jockey for dominance, Aeon and Trevor play out their episodic good-guy/bad-guy conflict in a manner common to kids' cartoon series, but with a heavy sexual frisson and a kinky sense of humor. While both perpetually claiming the moral high ground, they insist they're trying to liberate or awaken each other to truth, but they're both as much victims of their fetishistic desires as they are victims of each other's plots. Those plots take some extremely unlikely forms, from an enclave of artificial life suspended in "an ocean of paralytic fluid" to a cloning scheme to the series of human and inhuman partners they embrace to make each other jealous. Like the shorts, the episodes are surreal and mystifying, and while the setups are elaborate and the characters well-developed, their stories rarely reach conventional resolutions. But there's nothing particularly conventional about any of Aeon Flux. Ten years after its genesis, it's still ahead of its time.