Appleseed Vol. #01 - The Promethean Challenge -

Anime/Manga Reviews

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  • Art Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Released By: Dark Horse
  • MSRP: 14.95
  • Pages: 182
  • ISBN: 978-1-59307-691-7
  • Size: A5
  • Orientation: Right to Left
  • Series: Appleseed

Appleseed Vol. #01 - The Promethean Challenge

By John Zakrzewski     March 17, 2008
Release Date: April 11, 2007

Appleseed Vol.#01 - The Promethean Challenge
© Dark Horse

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Shirow Masamune
Translated by:Dana Lewis & Toren Smith [with Duane Johnson]
Adapted by:Dana Lewis & Toren Smith [with Duane Johnson]

What They Say
World War III is over, and nomad soldier Duenan Knute and her cyborg partner Briareos struggle to survive in the abandoned cities and demilitarized zones of the post-war wasteland, the "Badside." Matters appear on the upswing, however, when they are found and brought to Olympus, an urban utopia and centerpiece for the reconstruction of civilization. Duenan and Bri join the Olympus police, a force that seems hardly necessary in such a paradise. But, like in most pretty pictures, perfection is an illusion, and Olympus's peaceful facade hides a dark secret, a violent struggle between human and cyborg that could once again plunge the world into war . . . and genocide.

The Review
Dark Horse's long stalled initiative to reissue their catalog of works by famed manga-ka Shirow Masamune is finally puttering along at a decidedly erratic pace, recently delivering the initial entry in one of the creator's more renowned series, Appleseed Book 1: The Promethean Challenge.

This new printing abandons the previously employed US comic book format in favor of the prevailing Japanese-styled design, complete with right-to-left pages and dimensions mimicking the recent Ghost in the Shell volumesslim and slightly larger than your average manga. These unique measurements and non-artwork cannibalizing binding create a superb tactile reading experience, luxury rarely afforded by many domesticated specimens.

Where the old graphic novel's cover sported a promotional image crafted for Appleseed Book 2, this time around the original 1985 art is appreciatively retained, although the dense, full page illustration sees its upper portion obscured by a thick, semi-transparent arched graphic housing logo and other textual information. As all Shirow reissues share this garish template, it's frustrating to think Dark Horse purposefully cast the product-line's branding in the form of a bloated, curved overlay more reminiscent of an intro-to-Photoshop project than what is presumably intended as a prestigious hallmark. Not every manga is lucky enough to receive a fully hand drawn cover, so it's disappointing when a company blemishes their wares with unnecessary clutter.

The book's artwork, on the other hand, remains uncompromised and has even been restored to the Japanese right-to-left reading orientation. Those newer to the manga scene might be unfamiliar with what not even ten years ago was the standard industry practice of mirroring titles, essentially flipping each page to conform with average left-to-right flowing US comics; thisalong with pamphlet releasesallowed Appleseed to sit unassumingly on store shelves next to superhero heavyweights the likes of X-Men and Superman.

How quickly times change. Nowadays, nary a company seriously contemplates mirrored releases (baring extenuating circumstances), so it's fitting this reissue adapts current established norms.

Fans familiar only with Shirow's contemporary proclivity for elaborate computer aided artwork and sinuous, shiny women should prepare for an ocular whiplash. Appleseed wrenches us back to the dawn of the manga-ka's professional career, presenting herein the toils of a fledgling artist still cultivating skills and searching for signature elements to call his own.

Approaching such illustrated artifact, one must scale back expectations based upon newer imagery while remembering this book also represents an earlier chapter in manga's history. Best advice, think simple. From drawings to layout, the composition as a whole is perceptively rudimentary: characters are less anatomically correct and given to morphing proportions; the mechanical grandeur and precision for which Shirow will eventually become known is markedly absent; while tightly defined, and in truth rather timid, panel work is often ruled by negative space or shaded backgrounds.

It's a retro era emblazoned upon these pages, not only in regards to the creator's still developing artistic chops. Appleseed is distinctly conjured from the prominent science fiction of the late 1970s and early '80sto this extent, where nostalgia will undoubtedly compel some to admire the classic cyberpunk aesthetics, others may feel disconnected. The manga concocts a recognizable Earth, in many ways not too dissimilar from our own, but also summons shades harkening back twenty years, reminders of intrusive, monolithic technologies and fashions that deemed high-waste pants and visor sunglasses chic. One can almost hear the songs of Duran Duran and Tears For Fears playing in the distance.

But is Appleseed ugly? It does standout from much of what's currently offered in the US, enough to make one wonderhad this been a modern serieswould any American company seriously chance the property. Realistically, the art is no better or worse than the vast majority of manga now seen on store shelves. Any additional scrutiny is the likely byproduct of originating from a different age, one with its own unique stylistic trends and conventions. For some, this will undoubtedly create an aura of antiquation, prejudice they'll inherently need to combat in order to appreciate the work. Readers with a fondness for the time period and those able to look past the dated trappings can expect a well constructed book displaying already distinct and pleasing visuals that hint at a future potential bubbling inches below the surface; Appleseed Book 1 merely lacks the polish and refinement generally acquired through age.

No improvements are needed for its textual content. The book reads smoothly and without issue; Japanese sounds effects are left intact with small, unobtrusive English translations listed near their general vicinity. Dead space between panels or the top and bottom margins also occasionally hold footnotes explaining obscure minutiae that crop-up during the story's course.

And an engaging story it is. In the future, war has decimated the Earth, leaving the land a scorched husk full of deserts and empty, crumbling buildings. Former soldiers Duenan Knute and her partner Briareos, a full-body, mono-eyed cyborg (physically more machine than man), fight to survive in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, until a fate encounter leads these transients to the proverbial promised land.

Unbeknownst to the pair, while they were struggling to eke out a meager existence, the remaining nations unified under a single ruling body, the Central Management Bureau (also known as Aegis), and immediately began the reconstruction of civilization using the most advanced methods at their disposal. The fruit of this labor was the utopian city Olympus, a technological marvel whose populace is primarily comprised of clones and bio-engineered humanscrime, poverty, and prejudice are thought to be all but nonexistent, yet lurking below the pristine façade are dormant seeds of chaos.

It wasn't by accident the vagabond warriors were ushered into this haven, as clandestine forces within Aegis have their own shadowy designs on the martial duo. With no knowledge of what lurks in their futures and only intuition telling them things aren't perfect as they've been led to believe, Duenan and Briareos will have to muster all their combat skills in order to stay alive in this camouflaged battleground.

Shirow Masamune's open-ended dystopian opus begins on a relatively serene note. Except for two action sequences bookending the volume, Appleseed Book 1: The Promethean Challenge primarily concerns itself with Duenan and Briareos' reintegration into society.

This is a world where the wars that near obliterated mankind have ended, their aftermath now nothing more than horrific memories for a miniscule pocket of survivors; life is on the rebound, with all remaining countries looking towards Olympus as the blueprint for a secure, peaceful tomorrow; what few minor skirmishes still occur are perpetrated by terrorists and malcontents in the lawless and vastly unpopulated "badlands;" even militaristic technologies are said to exist only for protection, not offensive intentions. Nonetheless, highly-trained soldiers are actively sought for a purpose known only by those in the highest echelons of power.

In this first outing, we can see the young Shirow nurturing what will become ubiquitous themes throughout his works: political machinations, philosophical ruminations on the meaning of life and nature of existence, the impact of humanity's almost ruthless technological assimilationall of which is let loose in an action packed piece staged in the fairly distant future. What differentiates Appleseed from much of its creator's other mangawhere even the few sequel-spawned titles offer tight, independent narrativesis that this series was consciously plotted to span several installments. Though each of the four main volumes feature a predominantly self-contained story, material is sown for coming books, which The Promethean Challenge tends to handle in a blatantly casual manner, potentially leaving first time readers scratching their heads wondering if maybe they hadn't missed some important scrap of information. Beyond these vague kernels, however, Book 1 tells a complete tale capped by a solid ending.

Although little is revealed about Duenan and Briareos' past, the global events precipitating Olympus' creation, or the shadowy factions vying for power, effectively conveyed is an underlying sense for the two main protagonists and a superficial understanding of the circumstances they're being drug intoShirow provides just enough background to keep us from losing our way as we travel along this unmapped road. The Promethean Challenge is exactly what the name implies: this is a call to arms, an invitation to escalating conflict; but at the moment, we're merely made privy to moves soon to incite forthcoming conflagrations. In lieu of mass violence and bullet spewing mayhem, a foundation based upon strong characters is built: Duenan's rugged, quick-to-action exterior masking a young woman wishing to settle down to a quiet life, and Briareos, outwardly the manifestation of war, whose thoughtful, calm demeanor and experience provides constant guidance. While we are becoming intimate with these conflict weary souls, they are being deluged by the new ideas and challenges found festering within their scientifically constructed Eden.

But Appleseed Book 1 is trim and wastes no time overindulging its core concepts. This is a fast reading title and probably the one Shirow manga Dark Horse would have been better served specifically assuring was released on an expedient, steady schedule. Currently, the second book won't even street until late May, assuming of course it can make the targeted date without any unforeseen delays. I personally find this plodding approach somewhat detrimental, since the series is better enjoyed in large chunks. Regardless, Appleseed is a classic manga worth the price of admission; readers would be wise to track down a copy (difficult as this may be based on my own experience), even if it means storing this first offering away until a few more volumes can hit retail shelves.


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