Let’s see: giant robots, gun fights, and huge explosions; all offered in gorgeous CGI animation. Who needs story?
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 lead 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.
For this viewing, I took in the English 5.1 dub. The Japanese tracks are offered in both 5.1 and DTS. Both 5.1 tracks (I was not able to test the DTS) sound fantastic as all of the channels are mixed well, and front/rear and left/right directionality is utilized to a significant degree throughout. Even the dialogue gets the benefit of some movement, which makes a nice change from the standard centering. With all of the various gun fights, explosions, and other like sound effects, I was happy to note that there were never any instances of dropout in the music or dialogue; they balanced it all well.
I am not sure I can gush enough about the video for this release. Previously, I have long held Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence up as the top mark for anime visuals, but Appleseed is at least the equal of it (makes sense since they are both Shirow Masamune properties). Technically, there are no issues with the transfer, but it is the CGI artwork that pushes this over the top. The backgrounds are amazingly rich with detail, and the people are rendered with gorgeous cell shading. There is a distinct difference in the styles between the background (realistic 3D) and the people (cel-shaded 2D) which creates a bit of a disconnect between the two layers, but it is one that actually works well. Even more impressive are the visual effects such as explosions and water. Briareos steps through a puddle at one point, and I would have sworn that the resulting visual of ripples in the water was real video footage. Add to the impressive audio tracks, and this is a sensually impressive title.
Though I cannot heap praise on the packaging like I did the audio and video, it has a pretty nice design for standard casing. The front has a shot of Deunan in Briareos’s arms as he is carrying her away from an explosion. The determined look in her eyes tells us she is not as helpless as her situation might otherwise suggest. The back has another shot of Deunan in battle gear, with a movie summary and the technical details below. Interestingly, the image of Deunan on the DVD is the only piece of art that shows off the cell shading used in the actual title, but all of the art looks good.
In reality, there is nothing particularly special about the menus for this release, but I really like the design of them. The main menu has head shots of Briareos (top) and Deunan (bottom) separated by a band in the middle that contains a strand of DNA. All of this is set to a grid background that makes it look digital. The selections are placed along the bottom of the band, and are easy to follow. My only complaint is in the music loop: an action theme is playing, which sounds really nice, but it is set to about a 20 second loop and the transition is very abrupt.
Overall, there is not a ton of options here. There are a few staff profiles of Shirow Masamune and some of the other technical staff. But the major inclusion is a feature length commentary with Shinji Aramaki (Director) and Fumihiko Sori (Producer). It would have been nice if Masamune had gotten in on the commentary, but a feature length commentary is nice nonetheless.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Appleseed (2004) is an adaptation of the 1985 manga of the same name by Shirow Masamune and somewhat of a remake of the 1988 OVA. I say somewhat because while they take different routes to get there, the ultimate conflict is roughly the same. What we get is a cyberpunk title that is at times predictable, but no less thrilling for being so.
Deunan Knute is a modern day super soldier; a veteran of World War III who has never met her equal. There’s just one problem: the war has ended, and she never noticed. While in combat with some strange beings, she is rescued and then captured by the ES.W.A.T. forces from the city of Olympus who have been looking for her. It is then that she discovers all of her recent fighting had been for nothing.
There is a silver lining, though, as she finds that Briareos is a prominent member of the Olympus ES.W.A.T. Deunan and Briareos were former lovers during the war, and she was under the impression that he had been killed. As it turns out, he was rescued just in the nick of time; unfortunately, he was only able to be saved by being transferred into the body of a cyborg, and despite what should have been a happy reunion, he treats Deunan with all of the non-emotion of the robot he now resembles.
Once Deunan is reacquainted with normal life, she finds things very different from what she remembers in Olympus. World War III had ended with no clear victor, and Olympus was now ruled by the guidance of the A.I. super computer, Gaia. There is a council of elders that help consult Gaia, and Prime Minister Athena handles much of the day-to-day decisions, but most of the orders come directly from the computer.
Another major change is that half of the city’s population is not human, but rather bioroid—a genetically engineered human clone with only a vague sense of human emotion. The idea behind bioroids is that their abundance combined with their lack of strong emotions will help keep public sentiment pleasant throughout the city, and that has been the case thus far.
But the presence of the bioroids is not seen as a positive to everybody. Typically, a bioroid could be immortal, but it needs regular maintenance to keep it from dying a rapid death. When a terrorist attack steals all of the supplies needed for bioroid maintenance, Olympus suddenly has a catastrophe on its hands. The Elders suggest that they reverse engineer the bioroids and allow them normal human functionality, which would remove the necessity for regular maintenance.
To do that, though, they need to find the legendary Appleseed—the original engineering data for the bioroids. Deunan is given the task to search out and find the Appleseed, and she only has 24 hours before the bioroids start shutting down. Along the way, however, she will have to fight off those who want to see the bioroids die out, and she has to figure out exactly who her enemy is.
While the setup for Appleseed is pretty decent, the execution of the story is actually somewhat predictable. Once Deunan is rescued from the warzone, reintegrated into everyday life, and learns about the issues of the day, it is not that hard to figure out where they are going to go from there. Even the various twists, such as Briareos admitting to working with the Regular Army or the recent truth behind Gaia, are pretty well telegraphed.
But you know, I would care about this more if everything else had not been so well done. For lack of a better term, I look at Appleseed as being a fairly typical 80s action movie: sure there is a story, but it really is nothing more than window dressing to the almost non-stop action from start to finish. The movie opens with huge explosions and guns blazing, ends with huge explosions and guns blazing, and packs as much of both as it can in the intervening time (my favorite moment is Deunan taking out Colonel Hades as she is being pushed off a high-rise building). And with the incredible visuals, it is like an hour and forty five minutes of eye candy.
And frankly, despite the predictability, the story is not that bad. The characters are all believable, the various antagonists are realistic in their issues, and the finale is pretty dramatic. I would not sit here and suggest the plot is akin to a Shakespearean drama, but it is more than good enough for its purpose: to give the characters a reason to run around and blow stuff up. I can appreciate that.
As Appleseed is cyberpunk and it was also written by Shirow Masamune, it will draw inevitable comparisons to Ghost in the Shell. And with good reason as there are a lot of similarities. Both have a cyberpunk setting, a sexy ass-kicker for a protagonist, and an existential quandary that helps drive the plot. Ghost in the Shell asks what it means to have a soul, while Appleseed asks what it means to truly be alive.
But where Ghost in the Shell sometimes beats the viewer over the head with its spiritual ponderings, Appleseed lets its own examinations sit in the background and just enhance the story. In essence, Appleseed is what Ghost in the Shell would be if all of the philosophical discussions of ‘ghosts’ were removed. What that means is that while Appleseed might not be as interesting as Ghost in the Shell can be, it certainly makes it more accessible.
All-in-all, there is not a whole lot to say about Appleseed. The storyline will not turn any heads, but the awesome action more than makes up for that. Appleseed is the very definition of “popcorn movie”: turn off your brain and just enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is. It will not make you think much, but not everything has to. If you like your science fiction with a healthy dose of action, then I really cannot recommend this one higher
Japanese 5.1 DTS Language, Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Staff Profiles, Commentary Track
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System