Appleseed (also Special Edition / also SE w/figure) -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A+
  • Packaging Rating: B+/A
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B+/A
  • Age Rating: 17 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 19.98/29.98/49.98
  • Running time: 103
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Appleseed

Appleseed (also Special Edition / also SE w/figure)

By Chris Beveridge     April 06, 2005
Release Date: May 10, 2005

Appleseed (also Special Edition / also SE w/figure)
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.

What They Say
Earth's last city, Olympus, rose from the ashes of a global war on the backs of Bioroids, artificial clones who make up half the city's population. Under the strict guidance of a supercomputer, humanity's last survivors enjoy an idyllic peace, but only on the surface! Human terrorists within the military seek a return to power and clash with the government's ESWAT forces led by the legendary soldier, Deunan Knute, and her boyfriend who is 75% machine. Retrieving the Appleseed will end the conflict, and Deunan alone holds its secret.

Available in three editions:

Regular Release - $19.98
Special Edition - $29.98
Special Edition w/Figure - $49.98

The Review!
Based off of one my favorite manga series, Appleseed plays out like a standard action movie but is so rich in detail and gorgeous mixture of animation that it simply enthralls me each and every time I see it.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this film in its original language of Japanese and in the DTS 5.1 mix that was included. Like a lot of action films, the sound of this movie is critical for getting things done right and both the Dolby and DTS 5.1 mixes do a fantastic job here in providing a lot of directionality and really punching things up a lot with some serious oomph to it. The subwoofer also gets lots of work on this release that almost had the floors shaking during one of the fight scenes. Dialogue plays out much the same way with a clean and clear mix across the board that was problem free from start to finish.

Originally released to theaters in 2004, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This feature is so rich in detail due to the style used that it's simply something that will really keep your eyes busy and merit repeat viewings to take it all in. From the lush futuristic cityscapes to the abandoned laboratories, it is simply filled with all kinds of amazing detail. The transfer for this is simply beautiful from start to finish as it captures the bright colors of Olympus and its positive feel as well as providing so much detail in those dark areas from the rainy night sequence to the mixture of blacks and greens in the opening fight sequence. The end credits for the film are also done as an alternate angle so if you watch it in Japanese, you get their credits, but if you watch it in English you get a full translated set of credits.

For the single disc release, it's done in a black keepcase where it also has a cardboard slipcover that is identical to the paper insert in the keepcase. The front cover has one of the more commonly used promotional images from the film with Deunan in Briareos' arms as the fires rage behind them and both of them are loaded down with weapons. It's a good looking image that provides an illustrated mix of what the show really looks like while combining it with standard anime illustration style. The back cover provides the usual material such as several small shots from the show, a decent summary that promotes up the music in the film and a listing of the discs basic features and extras. The bottom gets rounded out with the mixture of production information and technical bits that would be much cleaner if Geneon adopted the technical grid. The insert uses the same artwork as the cover but without the big quote while the reverse side of it provides the chapter listings.

For the special edition release, the packaging is completely different. The keepcase is actually a steelcase that is similar in design to the previous Akira limited edition release but this one is designed to the same size as a regular keepcase and it snaps closed nicely. The front of the case has a great shot of Deunan and Briareos side by side with darkened colors that are really accentuated nicely because of the steel itself. The back cover uses the artwork from the regular edition release but without the flaming background and that comes across much more detailed as well because of what it's on. Opening up the case, the back panels combine to show one of the long shots of Olympus in all of its detail. A booklet is included with more artwork of the lead characters on it and in a two page spread. The back of the insert provides the chapter listings for the show.

The menu layout is fairly simple with the use of clips from the film playing over the entire screen after a brief load-up animation. Once it settles in the tech-looking angled navigation strip covers the lower half of the screen with the movies name. It's a good looking setup that fits the theme of the show nicely and allows for quick and easy navigation. I was also glad to see that they used a longer piece of instrumental music for it and that the loop time for it is nearly double the length of other standard releases. The disc did correctly read our players' language presets though we had to bump it up since the DTS track was the second Japanese track on it.

With the standard/single-disc edition release of the movie, the on-disc extras are pretty good and definitely something for those who really want to know more about the making of the film. The big extra is the commentary track recorded in Tokyo back in late 2004 by director Aramaki and producer Sori who go into a lot of details about the entire project. We skimmed this for the moment but it definitely piqued our interest in a lot of areas and sounds very much like it's worth checking out. A small series of staff profiles are included with the release and there's a commercial from Tofu for their release of the soundtrack. The music gets another big nod in the extras as you can hit particular scenes where the touted bands start playing so you can see exactly who was where with their music.

With the special edition double disc set, the first disc mirrors what's above while the second disc provides more extras. With a lot of interesting technical information behind this film, this disc tries to capture some of that. The Design Archives in particular are of interest as it takes you through some of what each of the creative types did in particular for the film and shows you from conceptual drawings to CG video and then to the final product itself. It's really neat to see how it came through all three designs and what changed along the way. The image gallery is broken down into both character and mecha sections and the Appleseed Info section is a painfully minimal piece that takes certain keywords and items from the show and basically says what you learned about it from the show. Though I can easily understand why it wasn't done, I would much rather have seen a comparison to the manga or more detailed information from that for the this piece.

A music video is included for the Boom Boom Satellites song "Dive For You and we get a couple of promotional trailers for the film. The big extra included in the set is an expansion upon some of the teases on the Japanese website that shows how the live action 3D anime film was made and it's something that really piqued my curiosity when I first saw the small clips they had on the site. Getting a much fuller and richer version of how it's done is very much welcome here and quite interesting. It runs just under thirty-six minutes in length and bless their hearts they included chapter stops for it as well.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With a movie like Appleseed, I have to really preface any comments made on it by simply being upfront in stating that not only do I have a "Shirow Tolerance" as said by a friend of mine, but I have a "Shirow Adoration". Now, that doesn't mean I'm blinded, but it's something where with Masamune Shirow's works, I've been something of a fanboy where with most other series and creators I'm not really one but rather just someone who enjoys the works. With Shirow, and Appleseed in particular, his works are the ones that really went and appealed to a nature within me that I hadn't known before. In my reviews of the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series I've talked about how that show really feeds a need and almost a lust within me for a particular kind of storyline, setting and sense of action and intrigue. That show really combines a lot of what I find appealing – but not necessarily something I want all shows to be like. I'm not a genre whore by any means.

Appleseed, which Shirow created alongside his time as an educator in Japan, first appeared in 1985 in serial form and then 1986 in the first collected volume. It also appeared in a similar fashion in the US starting in 1988 which was certainly unusual. Appleseed was something that I had tried out after not caring much for the Black Magic material of his that was released but felt compelled to try something different since I was such a huge comic book fan who was looking for more during this massive boom of the independent publishers. Appleseed, while sharing some similarities to Black Magic in designs that Shirow is well known for, instantly appealed to me. The style of the presentation, the characters, the setting, the artwork – just about everything. It was unlike just about every mainstream American comic book I was reading at the time and trust me, as a young white boy in the late 80's that was a considerable number of series.

Though slow in coming out over the next few years, four graphic novels eventually arrived and Shirow moved on to other works such as Orion, Ghost in the Shell and more importantly to me, his Intron Depot books. These massive collections of material from him, many from projects that never got any further than some concepts or pieces used for advertising things based solely on his name, really show his evolution as an artist over the years. The more recent material, as he's still publishing these books and Dark Horse continues to get them, show his trend towards what he believes the future of animation is like with computer graphics. While I think there's something not quite the same as his early designs, my own taste towards them have certainly evolved over the years as the technologies have changed and the way they can be presented has come a long way.

That brings us to this year when a new Appleseed movie has come about. So let's talk about the movie itself first. While it's been a number of years since I last read the manga, there are plenty of changes to accommodate what is a large political and sociological thriller that's combined with mecha action into a more compact movie form. The introduction of the characters is altered and the overall initial storyline is adjusted as well, but many of the same elements remain. In a way, I'm sure this is one of those reasons that I was able to enjoy the movie as much as I did since I was mentally adding in things I knew to it. Unlike the Ghost in the Shell movies which have leaned towards pushing the heavy philosophical and sociological aspects of their source material as the focus, Appleseed takes that material as its launching point and background story but intends to be an action movie overall.

The world of Appleseed takes place in some near future within the next fifty years or so. The world was at global war once more and humanity is pushed once more to the brink. In the ruins of one of the cities we meet up with a small group of humans who are fighting against what appear to be completely robotic warriors and tanks, but robots with a good idea towards stealth and deception. The fight between the two sides in this darkened ruined city is quick and dangerous and very well choreographed, but it all comes down to one character, a young woman named Deunan Knute, who survives only thanks to the arrival of an airship that has a crew of human piloted mechanical suits that are overly powerful.

As Deunan learns, she's been scouted by a young woman named Hitomi to have her brought to the city of Olympus, the center of what's really left for the future of humanity. Deunan's shocked to see this massive sprawling city that's a glittering utopia, filled with happy people, children and a working civilization. The realization that the war she's been fighting has been over for years now is evident. To her surprise, one of her oldest comrades in that war who was lost well over a year ago is also here in Olympus. Briareos, the tall masculine can-do man, lost it all in one battle and has found himself rebuilt as a cyborg, the kind in the style that only Shirow seems able to design. Though a bit colder in his approach now, he's there to help Deunan adjust to Olympus as well as bring her into the ESWAT group.

Olympus isn't a normal city by any stretch of the imagination. In the aftermath of the war and using research from just before it, the seven Elders who seemingly run things have created an interesting system but one that is easily seen to cause fear in the hearts of many men. Half of the cities population is made up of Bioroids, human looking creations that are flawless in appearance but lack certain key things. The main thing missing is their ability to reproduce; they must be grown in a factory like style. Due to this, they have no sex drive and therefore are already cut back on some key human emotions. Others are tightly controlled which lead to the Bioroids being a race that lives and co-exists with humanity in an attempt to help calm down the angry fires of humanity and to help them become the proper stewards of the planet and life in general.

The city itself is overseen by the Intelligence Network dubbed Gaia, a supercomputer that works in consultation with the seven Elders as they go through continual debates on the best course of action that will ensure humanity's survival. The military is placed under the command of humans and operates relatively free of Gaia outside of ensuring that the city is safe in itself and well protected. But Gaia has its own set of strengths that have been growing in recent years. Under the guidance of Governor-General Athena, a Bioroid herself, she's created an ultra police squad called ESWAT that can perform much of the same duties as the military but it's a pared down specialist organization that uses personal combat mechas called Landmates to operate with.

Back in the 80's, things like the Landmates were impressive and interesting visions of how personal body armor would evolve in the future, especially with regards to cybernetics and more. In 2004, they're admittedly not as revolutionary as they once were but they're still a really neat element to them in how they move and interact with their surroundings. They're an interesting tool that the ESWAT team uses to fight off the various problems that show up in a place like Olympus. Deunan is instantly attracted to them and is naturally very adaptable to them once she gets into it and her loner nature makes it easy for her to spend time with it and figure out how to use it. Of course, field use is the best way to learn for some and with Deunan being targeted for death the minute she came into the city; she gets to use it pretty fast.

Various factions within the city-state are trying to achieve their goals. The high ranking leader of the Regular Army is trying to ensure humanity won't be enslaved by the Bioroids as he believes that's the plan. Athena is trying to ensure that the Bioroid race isn't sent into the history books too early as there's a failsafe virus within Olympus that will cause all of them to die within a certain period of time should it be released. The seven Elders and Gaia are looking out for the best interests of both parties but also see the potential of a third race being the true path to the future. And while it's clichéd, Deunan's arrival is the spark that lights everything up and pushes everyone to go forward with their plans and attempt to control Olympus.

There are a few things that I want to cover in regards to this movie and a lot of it just comes from me being familiar with and like the Appleseed property. As mentioned early on, the movie for the most part really avoids the heavy philosophical and sociological questions that do arise from such a premise because going after that would either be a longer and more talk-talk movie. The intent is instead to use it as a backdrop, albeit one that's important, to what's essentially an action movie. Depending on your opinion of action movies in general, this is either going to a be a series of clichéd action sequences strung together where you can figure out what's coming next before it happens or it's going to be something where you just get into the flow of it and enjoy it. I'm not huge on action movies but I've certainly seen my fair share in my lifetime of movie going and I ended up going into this movie with no expectations other than hoping it was better than the old anime OVA and I came out from it extremely pleased and very happy with it. The action sequences are fast and engaging and highly detailed. While there isn't a lot of blood violence to the movie since it's a lot of mechanicals fighting against each other, there's a lot of destruction built into ruining them. During one sequence where some cyborg assassins are after Deunan, when they get ripped apart there's a large amount of detail into how a ripped arm comes apart and all the pieces inside are there.

But therein lies the other potential problem. A lot of scenes like that, or ones where Deunan is doing her offense/defense moves against those she's fighting, are done in various slow motion panning sequences. Naturally, this goes back to the Matrix – now five years old – and continues to bother a lot of people. While I think it's definitely been overused at times and inappropriately in some movies, this is a form that's definitely with us for the duration and the complaining against it is something that I just find weak. If you don't like the Matrix style camera movements with the slow motion, then there are going to be tons of movies for years that you're going to hate and you can include this one in it now. It's not my favorite thing in the world and I do think it's a crutch for some directors, but I thought it was well used here since it was allowing you to really see the kinds of details that are harder to do in a live action movie as opposed to something like this. Watching a cyborgs arm getting torn apart and seeing the detail the component pieces being shredded is something that I just don't think could be done in a live action movie without looking really bad and out of place.

One small detail that I have to say something about as well in making a small mental leap in keeping up with the disbelief. There's a moment in the movie where Briareos, a cyborg himself, is severely wounded and lying on the beach. His body is dealing with the problems that the fights incurred and even though he's mostly made of metal parts, his body convulses with a small fit of "coughs", even though he's got nothing like a mouth or even a humanoid head. This elicited a lot of laughter from the audience and from people I listened to afterwards. I just mentally shook my head at it because I thought it was one of the things that the Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell properties both do so well and that's to look at what humanity is giving up at times when they become cyborgs. The "phantom limb" theory applies very easily to this scene and it was the first thing I thought of. Briareos is still human inside and his brain and whatever parts of his human body still reside within the cybernetic casings still react to memories. There are so many things people do without conscious intent that they don't need to do that something like this was just self-explanatory.

Of course, laughter during an anime movie is something that I've gotten very used to over the years and it's largely why I've avoided going to them in recent memory, having skipped Ghost in the Shell 2 and Millennium Actress. The amount of laughter at inappropriate moments or for seemingly no reason is only on the rise. I've seen the same at video rooms at conventions for TV series and OVAs as well as movies and it's just something that bothers me to no end and has continued to result in me not being someone who can watch anime with other people.

What I think in the end is going to be the hardest part of Appleseed for people to get into is the animation. With it being an all cgi film, it's not a traditional looking anime film. Even something as recent as Macross Zero doesn't come close to getting the feel for this. The movie was done as a motion capture (for how much I can't be sure) with live actors doing the movements and then moved into the digital anime form. Unfortunately, the only truly close cousin I can say to this look of the show is the Superior Defender Gundam series with its cel shaded digital animation. But the comparisons really stop there since this is done as an adult movie and with a much larger budget and intent. It'd be like saying all anime movies look like the Urusei Yatsura movies because they've got the same kind of animation techniques used.

The style used here I think worked really well in the bulk of the movie but there were some poor looking instances as well. There's an intent done in the style that may not be instantly noticeable. During any of the scenes done outside of Olympus, the feel of things was much rougher, darker and grimier. Other than some of the clean looking outfits from those from Olympus, you'd be incredibly hard pressed to make comparisons of the shows look to anything else except maybe an incredibly high budget cut scene. When the show shifts into Olympus, it becomes much brighter, much shinier in its feel. But that's also the point. Olympus is called Utopia. It's filled with the biggest and brightest buildings, lush park systems and lots of very happy people. The city is designed to be very human friendly. Just looking at the highway system where it all works on hover cars of sorts, the reflective look of the road is just another piece that's used in the science fiction aspect of it but at the same time can look like it's out of place since you expect "roads". Some of the outfits come across as a bit glossy and plastic as well, particularly some of the Regular Army commanding officer outfits where the blues really don't seem to work as well. And for the most part, the faces of the characters continue to be the last area that really needs work for moving this kind of animation forward. The lip-sync in general was fairly decent and not terribly noticeable but there were some areas that were really off and the emotional side of the characters, while getting much better, still needs more work.

One area that's not been touched on much is the score for the film. The Boom Boom Satellites (which again elicited laughter when their named came on the screen) were credited for the music in the show and it definitely has more of a pop/western feel to it. There's a really interesting mix of artists involved from them to Paul Oakenfield to a group called Atom out of Chile. I was really happy to see one of my favorites involved though, Ryuichi Sakamoto, who made a huge impression on me with his score for Wings of Honneamise and his work on the US series Wild Palms. The soundtrack isn't a big in your face type but they do work well when it comes to the action scenes and though it may give it more of a "music video" feel at times, I think it works well overall.

In Summary:
Director Shinji Aramaki has lived in these kinds of shows for just about his entire professional career. From the original works of Megazone 23, design work on numerous 90's cyberpunk OVAs up through his involvement in Bubblegum Crisis 2040, Wolf's Rain and Witch Hunter Robin, he's got the right eye for this kind of story and I think he did a fantastic job with this movie. As soon as it was over I wanted to see it again. When it comes to theatrical anime, I think we've unfortunately moved into the realm of expectations where every movie must be this big work of certain proportions. With most of the movies these days being such things as Millennium Actress, Spirited Away or Ghost in the Shell 2, Appleseed doesn't fit into the same mold or style as those do. Instead, it goes to tell an adapted tale of the manga series that I think does an excellent job of bringing in as many elements as possible and while some of it could be better explained within the movie, they did a great job and I'm glad I can watch it anytime I want now in the comort of my own home.

Japanese DD 5.1 Language,Japanese DTS 5.1 Language,English DD 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Director/Producer commentary,Staff Profiles,Music Cues,Soundtrack Commercial

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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