Review by Ed Nguyen
Ai Kobayashi, Jûrôta Kosugi, Yuki Matsuoka, Mami Koyama
Directors: Yasuhiro Otsuka, Shinji Aramaki
Audio: Japanese Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1, English Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Color, 16:9 anamorphic widescreen
Features: Commentary, music/scene cues, staff profiles, previews
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: May 10, 2005
a strange creature is Man that he would choose to cage himself so willingly."
of the most revered names in Japanese manga and animé is Shirow Masamune.
As the creative force behind such entertaining works as Black
Magic M-66 and Ghost in the Shell,
Shirow Masamune has been at the forefront of the Japanese comic world for over
two decades. His most acclaimed
manga is Appleseed, an insightful and
futuristic epic saga set in a post-apocalyptic world shared by humans, bioroids,
cyborgs, and machines alike. Several
subsequent volumes of Appleseed have
been released since its original publication in the mid-1980's, and Shirow
Masamune's classic remains the standard to which all other Japanese manga are
noteworthy aspect of the Appleseed
manga is the strong characterizations of its female characters.
In fact, all the major characters are women - Deunan, Hitomi, Athena, and
Nike. Deunan is the manga's central
protagonist, a survivor from the post-apocalyptic wastelands now struggling to
adapt to life in the new bioroid city of Olympus, governed by Prime Minister
Athena with her extremely capable aide-de-camp Nike.
was first adapted into animé in 1988. This
first version was a traditional cel-animated film following events mostly from
the early chapters of the manga. The
animation was somewhat crude but effective, providing little character
development but plenty of action and energy.
The recent advent of CG animation has provided a new opportunity to
re-visit Appleseed, and in 2004, a new, all-CG version of Appleseed
was released, bringing the city of Olympus and its barren world to life as never
the most part, this new film remains faithful to the narrative arc and character
designs of the Japanese manga. Many
scenes have been lifted directly from the sequential artwork, although there
enough new changes that viewers familiar with the Appleseed
manga will have a few surprises in store for them.
film opens with an impressive battle sequence staged in the scorched-earth
wastelands of a post-apocalyptic world. A
small band of survivors, including Deunan Knute (Ai Kobayashi), is under attack
by a mysterious group of heavily armoured and very powerful cyborgs.
One by one, all of Deunan's colleagues are killed, and as Deunan herself
is surrounded and faces the near-certainty of death, she is suddenly rescued by
saviours from the sky, descending in their landmate warsuits and assault heli-crafts.
rescuers are revealed to be members of ESWAT, an elite fighting force
originating from the city of Olympus. They
are led by Hitomi (Yuki Matsuoka), a bioroid charged with reacquiring humans
from the wastelands and rehabilitating them for peaceful co-existence in
Olympus. She will also hold the key
to maintaining the communal relationship between humans and bioroids by the
film's explosive climax.
the rescuers is Briareos (Jûrôta Kosugi), a heavily armoured cyborg, more
machine than man now, who once shared an intimate past with Deunan.
Their relationship and reconciliation will comprise one of the developing
focal points in Appleseed (this being a minor but significant change over the
original manga, in which Briareos and Deunan were together from the start).
a word about Olympus, the final great city and seeming utopia of Man.
In the aftermath of the last World War, Olympus was constructed as a
haven for human survivors and perhaps the next phase of humanity - the bioroids.
Bioroids were created as genetically-enhanced human clones, unable to
reproduce themselves but otherwise quite similar, if not superior, to humans.
Bioroids possessed limited lifespans which were nevertheless infinitely
expandable through periodic maintenance (much like motor vehicular tune-ups). They were also designed with moderately suppressed emotions,
so bioroids did not submit to the fits of rage and irrational passion that have
tormented "real" humans for much of their history.
is a link between Deunan and the mysterious origins of the bioroids, and the
revelation of this enigma is another of Appleseed's
intricate subplots. Not all humans
in Olympus are fond of the bioroids, and some are apprehensive that
"true" humans may eventually become extinct, superceded by bioroids as
the emergent new form of human life. This
fear has led to random acts of terrorism throughout Olympus, and the increasing
frequency of these attacks ultimately compels Prime Minister Athena (Mami
Koyama) to declare martial law.
decision does not sit well with General Uranus, commander of the human army of
Olympus: "I will never allow humans to become living tools."
He is highly suspicious of Athena's intentions, and her actions only
heighten the tension in the city, serving to paint her loyalties and convictions
in an ambiguous light. Athena is,
after all, a first-generation bioroid herself, and the film is ambivalent about
her intentions, whether Athena is the true power-hungry mastermind behind the
reign of chaos over Olympus or whether she has the city and its inhabitants'
best interests at heart (readers of the manga comic will know the answer).
Furthermore, Athena conceals a hidden link to Deunan's past, a secret
concerning the film's title and one with a potentially explosive impact upon the
final outcome of the growing conflict between humans and bioroids.
finale to Appleseed features the
mind-boggling Mobile Fortresses (a highlight of the manga) in action.
Entrusted with the safe-guarding of Olympus, the Mobile Fortresses are
like gigantic mechanical spiders wielding massive heavy artillery guns, rocket
launchers, Gatling cannons, laser rays, etc. (you just name it).
Should they ever turn upon the city, these leviathans are virtually
unstoppable and would cause utter destruction.
This is precisely what will happen, although the ultimate question as to
who is truly controlling the Mobile Fortresses and Olympus - the bioroids, the
humans, or even Gaia, the utopia's central supercomputer brain - remains in
"appleseed" of the film's title is literally and metaphorically the
seed of Life. It is akin to the
bioroid's Holy Grail, and the quest to find it provides the dramatic thrust of
the film, whether this "appleseed" is an abstract concept or whether
it exists as an actual, physical entity. However,
sometimes such lofty goals are worth dying for.
As to paraphrase a familiar quotation - one's aims must exceed one's
grasp, or what's a heaven for?
this is what most fans of the manga really want to know - is the animation any
good? In two words - you betcha!
Appleseed looks awesome.
This is Olympus faithfully brought to life from its manga origins. During travelogue scenes throughout the city or during the
numerous battle scenes, the film remains very faithful to the look of the
being a CG-animated film (or "3D Live Animé" as the filmmakers call
it), the video quality of Appleseed is
absolutely exquisite. The stunning
images are pristine and crystal-clear with brilliant flashes of color and
ever-constant motion. Appleseed
may initially appear very much like a typical animé film, but the extra spatial
quality of CG animation adds an unparalleled degree of visual splendor to the
proceedings. Even during lengthy
scenes of sometimes rather sophisticated exposition, Appleseed
looks so gorgeous that there is never a dull moment in the film.
there are flaws, they have nothing to do with the actual mastering but rather
with the design of the film. The
character animation lacks the plasticity and fluidity of, for instance, a PIXAR
production, and the human characters at times look more like poupée dolls than
fluid characters. On the other
hand, the motion capture animation and mechanical movements are quite
impressive, and in terms of CG action sequences, Appleseed
has few, if any, peers in the animation genre.
there is a slight disconnect between the industrial and mechanical feel of the
three-dimensional background with the cartoonish appearance of the human (or
bioroid) characters. These
characters look like typical animé characters, only rendered in
three-dimensions. The visual
disorientation is slightly similar to that seen in recent animé films like Metropolis and Ghost in the
Shell 2: Innocence (although in those instances, the characters were
two-dimensional ones superimposed on a three-dimensional background).
After a while though, viewers will become quite accustomed to this hybrid
the final equation, Final Fantasy
still retains the crown as the finest achievement in CG animation and rendition
of humans. Appleseed is not far behind graphically, although it opts for a more
animé-esque design and less of a realistic one.
are three very dynamic audio options - Japanese Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 and
English Dolby Digital 5.1. The
voice acting is equivocal in both languages, although for that extra bombastic
feel, the Japanese DTS track is the best. If
your audio system supports DTS, don't wimp out, use it!
The numerous action sequences will really give your audio system a
bone-crunching, innards-liquefying workout.
you also have to deal with an awful rock soundtrack. The score itself complements the film's action well, but the
songs in Appleseed, in a word, suck.
Big-time. If I were a
hormonal, rebellious teen, I'd still think these songs sucked.
They are a mixture of rave, grunge, metal, electronica, and alternative
rock. These songs might be just
fine on the dance floor of a discotheque, but every single one feels intrusive
or out-of-place in Appleseed and
trivializes the film's impact. Imagine
any of the recent Star Wars movies
with a hip-hop soundtrack, and you will get the picture.
Alas, such are the necessary evil machinations of marketing and product
placement in today's action flicks.
be fooled by the clever packaging. This
stand-alone DVD doesn't really have much in the way of quality bonus features.
The most significant one is a difficult-to-follow commentary track by
director Shinji Aramaki and producer Fumihiko Sori.
The commentary is in Japanese with optional English subtitles.
As a nice touch, one speaker gets white subtitles while the other
receives yellow ones. Unfortunately,
the men converse in an overly enthusiastic and extremely rapid clip with
frequently overlapping comments, such that the detailed subtitles fly by at a
distressingly whirlwind pace. Viewers
should keep the remote handy, as they may be hitting the pause or reverse button
quite regularly (and will probably not have time to actually watch the film
while following the commentary).
who can follow the excitable comments will find that they are only occasionally
informative. The two men describe
some changes between the film and the original manga, but most of the somewhat
self-congratulatory discussion centers upon the more technical aspects of the
film - the CG graphics rendering, motion capturing, character and set designs,
and voice acting. Furthermore,
showing that humanity is flawed, the men find opportunities to praise the rock
music, perplexingly enough.
else on this DVD is promotional and publicity filler. The "Music Cues (with Scenes)" section offers quick
access to scenes in the movie featuring the songs on the soundtrack.
This section is also accompanied by short biographies for the
participating musical acts. Considering the quality of the musical selection anyways,
this bonus feature is probably a miss. There
is also a quick promo spot for the Appleseed
original soundtrack. Whee.
"Staff Profiles" section offers biographies for six of the film's
creators, including the director and various producers.
However, much of this is technobabble and is not even written in complete
or intelligible sentences. This
section is another miss, but at least it acknowledges the talent behind the
film's production. There is also a
separate section for the DVD credits.
there are previews for six other Geneon animé films. As with most animé films, these are hit-and-miss and tend to
feature samurais or ninjas or big-breasted teen-aged girls or cybermachines (and
combinations thereof). Included are
previews for Samurai Champloo, Tenjho
Tenge, Kyo Kara Maoh!, Fafner, Gankutsuou
- The Count of Monte Cristo, and Paranoia
Agent. Only these last two
films look remotely interesting - Gankutsuou
for its original art design and Paranoia
Agent for its mystery thriller aspects.
a side note, a superior deluxe two-disc edition of Appleseed is also available with a virtually indestructible metal
box case, much better bonus features,
and even a Briareos action figure. That
edition is obviously more expensive, but for the film's rabid fans, it is worth
the price of purchase.