Appleseed Ex Machina (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, March 11, 2008
What They Say
Based on the manga from creator Shirow Masamune, Shinji Aramaki follows up his 2004 take on Appleseed with this new outing which finds Deunan and Briareos as both partners and lovers. As members of ESWAT, the elite forces serving Olympus, they are deployed everywhere trouble strikes. The two fighters find their partnership tested in a new way by the arrival of Tereus who uncannily resembles Briareos before the wartime injuries that led to his becoming a cyborg. At the same time, Olympus finds itself under a stealth attack . Cyborg terrorism, deadly nanotech zealots, and rioting citizens are just some of the threats that Deunan must contend with as she fights to save Olympus.
Olympus becomes a flashpoint once again as the city sets to change the world for the better – in their view – while other elements fight against them.
Applesed: Ex Machina is a dual format release from Warner Bros. that suffers a fair bit on the Blu-ray edition when it comes to the audio. The inclusion of multiple audio tracks is a positive, but not getting at least the original language in lossless is a huge disappointment. The Japanese language track and the English language adaptation are done in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 640kbps, so it’s at least a bit better than DVD. In addition to that, they’ve included a German dub, a Dutch dub and a Chinese dub, all of which are at 192kbps stereo. Considering the amount of space that should be available and the bandwidth overall, the audio options here are highly disappointing, especially in comparison to something like Paprika that provided what, a dozen 5.1 languages and an uncompressed/TrueHD option as well? All told, the 5.1 languages that are present here sound pretty good but there's a definite weak feeling to them in that they don't exploit the action scenes as well as they should. Most won't come away with any real issues with it, but after experiencing a lot of lossless audio, it doesn’t impress as much as it should when it comes to those scenes. Dialogue is well handled and placement is pretty good in general but nothing really stands out like you feel it should.
Originally in theaters in late 2007, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 at 1080p. The film is authored via the VC-1 codec and overall it's a very pleasing presentation with a great amount of detail. A lot of the issues that were more prominent in the first film have been reduced here which gives this a much smoother feel. The gradient issue has dropped dramatically, both in the skies and the character designs, which helps immensely. Outside of a few light blue sky scenes it's rather good looking in this regard. The one issue that's still here though is the aliasing one but I have a hard time really picking a bone with it. During various pans and zooms there's a bit of it showing up in different pieces of the background or maybe a mechanical design. These issues seem to be part and parcel of most CG anime releases so I wasn't surprised to see it here at all. It isn't too strong for the most part but there are a few standout moments of it here and there. Overall though, I have to say that the visual presentation of this is quite appealing and it looked fantastic on our setup.
Presented in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, the visual design for the cover art is a bit darker than I would have expected but not in a bad way. The artwork is framed by a black background with which has the logo sideways on it and that helps to refocus the attention on the character artwork of Deunan and Briareos on their full combat gear. They're cast against the soft fuzzy image of the church interior from the opening scene and that lets them blend rather well in a way that at first hides some of the CG aspect of the designs. While it's not a cover that screams out for attention, it's not a terribly bad one either. The back cover is weak on material from the show as well as it has a small shot of the pair in an action moment off to the side while the rest is filled out with text. The technical grid covers everything well enough, though there are numerous errors to be found in the language section. The summary covers the basics of the Appleseed world and has a good rundown of the extras included in the release. The remainder is filled out with the various production and technical information for the show. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.
Appleseed doesn’t contain a proper top menu like many other Blu-ray releases do but this is standard for a Warner disc. When you press the top menu button it takes you to a static menu that displays the special features for the disc and an option to return to the movie itself. The popup menu is minimal as is expected but nicely done as it has a military/metallic feel to it that works in context of the show. Moving about the menus is quick and easy and the disc actually did a good job of reading my players presets. The language selection is a bit odd in that the languages are done in their native format. French is listed as Francais and you have Nederlands. The Japanese and Chinese ones are done in their alphabet as well, which for those wanting to see it in Japanese it’ll take a moment to figure out which characters represent what. On the PS3 at least, you can change it on the fly via the audio button and it’ll list the language in English. This release is really set for a worldwide distribution but it’s a bit odd to not at least include a dual language listing in the menu.
Appleseed: Ex Machina has a pretty good selection of extras on it that are presented either in 1080i or 1080p depending on the source. The first extra is a feature length commentary track which is done by Jerry Beck and one of the producers, Joseph Chou. The commentary goes into a good bit of what went into getting the film made and how it all came together while also covering a lot of the basics. Both gentleman have good voices for doing a commentary but it’s just recorded so low at times that I had to really turn up the volume to hear them well. The next extra is the Team-Up feature (1080i) which runs 16 minutes and takes us through the two men, Aramaki and Woo, and how they came together with this film and put it all together. The feature is in English for the most part but is fully subtitled. Often when the non English speakers are talking however, they tend to be overdubbed. Getting some good face time with Aramaki and Woo makes it worthwhile but they tend to be overwhelmed by all the other people that are brought in to talk about the two of them. The next extra runs about the same length, 18 minutes, and covers what went into the actual CG animation process and how they took it to the next level after the first film. CG and animation junkies will enjoy it a lot as they go into some good detail at times in this 1080i feature.
The big feature for me is the Appleseed Chronicles in which they actually manages to get Shirow to talk about the origin of the manga and where it’s gone since then. The written notes about it are interspersed throughout the feature and they’re little pieces that are very much “Shirow.” With a runtime of nineteen minutes and done in 1080i, we get a great look at the manga versions, how it came over and what went into it. They spend a good bit of time about the US release of the manga and even haul in Mike Richardson from Dark Horse comics to talk about how it had an influence on the property in Japan. They actually spend a bit of time talking about Shirow’s mysterious persona and his lack of being photographed which is interesting considering how many celebrities are in Hollywood.
The last extra is an East Meets West feature that runs for 18 minutes and is in 1080i. The feature revolves around the differences, similarities and influences between the two countries and how it’s all come to where it is today. While it likely won’t have anything new for longtime anime and manga fans, for the wider audience that may sample this show it’s a great piece that really gives it all a very entertaining yet educational feeling. You can come away from it with a greater understanding and respect for what’s done and how it’s all grown over the years.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When the first Appleseed movies came out a few years ago, I distinctly recall the theater experience with a group of friends. I had come out of the theater very happy with it as I felt it captured a lot of what made the original manga so much fun and I was very interested in the CG style used for it. Everyone else hated it however. Looking at the film, I saw how anime could eventually evolve years from now if they could do it cheaper, especially for big budget spectacles like this franchise. Just three years later, we've got a sequel that has John Woo as a producer and they've taken the animation up a significant level.
Appleseed: Ex Machina isn't a movie that tries to really familiarize you with what's come before as it assumes you've got the basics. Beyond a quick lead-up at the beginning for a few seconds that shows why the world is in the state it is, you're basically thrown into it. This actually works fairly well as we don't need to really know how Briareos and Deunan came into Olympus as that was the previous movie. There are a few nods to it, but you don't expect the Harry Potter movies to recap how Harry came to Hogswart in every movie right? Ex Machina throws us right into the action as Deunan and Briareos are working with the rest of ESWAT on their latest mission which involves a group of cyborg terrorists that have holed themselves up inside a church. The mission shows us exactly what kind of work the group does and how professional they are at it. But it also shows some other key things such as how independent and almost reckless Deunan is and how much Briareos will do for her when she gets in a sticky situation. It's enough to put him out of commission for a bit so they can repair his cyborg body.
This is where the real fun begins as Deunan has to deal with having a new partner. And not just any partner either. With Olympus being heavily populated by Bioroids designed to help humanity get back on track, events from the previous film and after have given them the idea that they need to breed a warrior class to help defend the city. These new Bioroids are being tested with one in particular and he's been assigned to work with Deunan. The kicker is that they used a huge chunk of Briareos' DNA in order to do it. We've only really seen him in his cyborg form but it's easy to see why Deunan is so stunned when Tereus walks in and looks just like him, talks just like him and even acts like him. It's almost an affront to her but she's still distraught over what's happened to Briareos that she just sort of pushes it to the side until she's forced to deal with it.
The story starts to work through the issue of the cyborg terrorists that are being controlled by an outside source and there's a bit of a detective angle to it as well. Mankind's reliance on technology has long been a staple of Masamune Shirow's works and it blends very well in here as more modern gadgets are introduced that wouldn't have been thought of when the manga was conceived back in the 80's. This sort of updating works well as the core part of the property is still very much apparent, and that's the social/political aspect with how it ties into the action. Appleseed has played heavily to all angles in the past and it comes through wonderfully here as we see Athena working through issues on a global scale to ensure that future terrorist acts are reduced and eliminated for the good of mankind. We also see how the corporate world reacts to it and the international community in general. These angles aren't kept to just background dressing pieces but are integral to the story because they set the mood for what kind of world these characters live in.
The most fascinating elements for me are the social pieces however. This connection between man and machine is explored heavily in the Ghost in the Shell franchise but Appleseed looks at it from another angle. The use of Tereus as a clone of Briareos puts some good ideas into the mix about how we'll deal with all of it. Deunan has to face the reality that he exists and that there is a lot of good that he can do for the world. But the dangerous element is there as well in how well controlled they can be and whether it's right to do that. Bioroids have strict rules placed on them form their creation and we've seen Deunan struggle with that with some of the other characters in the first film. Tereus challenges her once again to change her mindset and adapt to a new reality. Yet as much fun as it is to watch her see a form of her old partner in this way come to life again, seeing how Briareos deals with it is even more fun. He's simply a guy at heart even though he's the one man that's been able to bond with this particular kind of cyborg architecture. The emotions are certainly there which we see when he and Tereus go through a sparring match, but he tends to look at it a bit more logically. And boy does Briareos fill out a tuxedo nicely.
Back when CG started to really get into anime proper, particularly in the area of television shows, I remember looking at it and thinking that it was a bad joke. Then five years later it was progressing well and the tools were growing and changing to a point where I was liking it depending on the usage of it. When the first Appleseed film hit, I fell in love with it and could see where it could go years from now, especially when dealing with theatrical properties. Yet within just a few years they've surpassed what I expected them to do and I'm in love once again. Appleseed is a film that's really beautifully suited to this kind of exploration. The visuals are incredibly impressive, particularly when it comes to the backgrounds, but the characters are where the heart is they succeeded well in there. There's more emotion this time to them, more fluidity to them and that helps to let you connect much easier to it all. If that didn't work then this would be far more difficult to work through but in the end it just clicked wonderfully for me. While I can't see a high school romance movie being done in this form, the science fiction and action angles are definitely perfectly suited to it.
No look at this feature would be complete without touching upon the John Woo influence. The extras help to illuminate this nicely as Woo was brought in during the preproduction phase as a producer and helped to craft the overall story with suggestions and ideas. Shinji Aramaki has long been a favorite of mine since his Bubblegum Crisis days so it was enjoyable to see how he'd work with John Woo and what the collaboration would bring. With anime having been influenced heavily by what Woo and others did in Hong Kong in the late eighties, it doesn't feel strange to see the camera angles and set layouts that someone like Woo would bring in here. There are some patently obvious homages in there such as the opening scene in the church and those pigeons flying around, but instead of coming across as corny and awful, it really feels like a sort of perfect blending and nod towards what has come before. Woo looks to have brought a bit more polish to all of this and his name recognition certainly won't hurt in getting a few more people to look at this, and for that alone it's worthwhile having him on here. The end result is one that has left me quite pleased.
While this movie has gotten some buzz because of the John Woo connection, for me it was all about getting to see some of my favorite characters in a fascinating setting once again. Appleseed Ex Machina just fulfilled everything I wanted out of it after the first one and did it in a gorgeous way. The visuals continue to delight and I love the world that the story plays in with the characters. Appleseed weaves well between the big action pieces and the more thoughtful moments which helps to give it a heart that lets one connect with it. I've known these characters in different forms for about twenty years now and continue to enjoy them and Ex Machina just made it all the stronger. While I can certainly understand why some dislike this kind of animation, I really do see it as the future for a good chunk of shows and they're proving here once again that it can be done incredibly well. Here's hoping for more from the team as they've done a fantastic job. Very recommended, though with a glare at Warner for their audio decisions.
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,Chinese 2.0 Language,German 2.0 Language,Dutch 2.0 Language,French 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,English SDH Subtitles,French Subtitles,Dutch Subtitles,German Subtitles,Chinese Subtitles,Korean Subtitles,Team Up: John Woo and Shinji Aramaki,Revolution: Animating Ex Machina,Commentary Track,Appleseed Chronicles,East Meets West
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: A - N. America, S. America, East Asia
Released By: Warner Home Video
Running time: 104
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 1080p
Disc Encoding: VC-1