Appleseed Illustration and Data Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:John Zakrzewski
Review Date: Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Release Date: Wednesday, December 20, 2006



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Shirow Masamune
Translated by:Frederik L. Schodt, Dana Lewis, and Toren Smith
Adapted by:Frederik L. Schodt, Dana Lewis, and Toren Smith

What They Say
A collection of sketches, studies, and schematics, Appleseed ID is a companion book for the cyberpunk saga Appleseed. Shirow Masamune takes you on a guided tour of one of his most beloved worlds; exploring the people, places, organizations and, of course, technology that make the universe of Appleseed the sci-fi hotspot that it is.

Feel like taking a break from Shirow's examination and explanation of his creations, and of his own creative process? Then take a browse through this book's beautiful color galleries, or follow Deunan and Briareos on a high-stakes adventure with the short story "Called Game."

The Review
In my review of Appleseed Book 1: The Promethean Challenge, I described the character Briareos as "a full-body, mono-eyed cyborg;" truth be told, Bri (as he's often called) really has 8 eyes placed about his robotic nogginnow the large circular lens in the middle of his face, that's actually a nose. Shocking as it is true, you won't find this little tidbit in Appleseed ID: Illustration and Data, at least, not anymore.

Longtime readers of Shirow Masamune might rememberback in those halcyon days when life was a Gangsta's Paradise and Kevin Costner urinated into a coffeemaker to get drinkable waterspunky manga pioneer Dark Horse released Appleseed Databook, a companion to Shirow's popular militaristic science fiction serial that conveniently assembled background information while providing deeper insight into the series as a unified body of work. Offered to Japanese consumers in 1990 (about a year after the publication of Appleseed Book 4), it culminates in a 50-page manga chapter defusing a great deal of the narrative momentum built-up through the four main volumes, presumably cleaning the stage for (the never realized) Appleseed Book 5.

So imagine my (admittedly expected) surprise upon opening Appleseed ID: Illustration and Data to find a somewhat different product awaiting meits name was the tip-off, though I never bothered looking for a distinction prior to cracking the book's cover. Appleseed ID, making an official US debut with this Dark Horse edition, is in fact a significantly altered Databook revision from 2001, wherein much of the original's material is supplanted.

Readily apparent in ID is an attempt to contemporize, whichin the likely absence of newer written contentwas achieved by removing dated, short essays from Databook and replacing them with illustrated works. Missing in this regard are three articles by Shirow himself: "Comments Inspired by Aegis," "Monologue," and "A Word to the Readers." The first two are notably pessimistic musings on the state of our own world at that time, how such matters influenced Appleseed, and suggestions on what can be done to salvage humanity's future; interesting texts themselves, particularly for series' fans, but these readings are to a degree bogged down by topical obsolescence thanks to over ten years worth of global proceedings. In contrast, "A Word to the Readers" is probably omitted due to its heavy referencing of an Appleseed Book 5, which as already stated never came to exist.

Of the remaining two jettisoned sections, hardly mourned is "Comments on the Story, Part 2," another short essay concerning knives and their presence in the manga. The only deleted Databook segment truly deserving of inclusion is "Mecha World," a long featurette written by Hitoshi Hayami (whom I believe is a sculptor of plastic robot models) detailing the many mechanical assimilations and contraptions running amok throughout Appleseed's techno-future. This interesting spread is where I rediscovered the entry pertaining to Briareos' eyes; it's full of similarly illuminating nuances and is unfortunately missed.

But enough about the past, let's talk about what can be found within the confines of Appleseed ID.

Surviving the transition are two annotated world maps and "Characters in the Appleseed World," a quickie reference guide of sorts grouping together the series' primary personalities. The maps are especially appreciated as they finally provide a visual for the vast topographical changes to the Earth's ravaged landscape wrought within the story's context by a duo of subsequent World Wars, nuclear fallout, and near-cataclysmic meteor strikes; unfortunately, because the larger (more informative) map is a two-page spread, a decent portion of its middle gets detrimentally lodged near the book's binding, forcing one to choose either spine creases or dealing with an unsatisfactory viewing experience. The "Appleseed Chronology" remains as well, listing major historic events beginning from 1988 CE and running up to 2147 CE, with Shirow's additional running commentary helping to expand on his mostly-fictitious temporal concoction.

Likewise retained are the political-organization flow charts, several illustrated descriptions of major characters, and a few pages of mashed together, less-than-illuminating rough sketches. The articles on guns and anti-tank shells are also still present, which dovetail into "Comments on the Story, Part 1," a lengthy essay based around the role of munitions in Appleseed; while this sounds rather dry at first, Shirow actually provides ample insight into his characters by examining how their usage of firearms helps us understand them both physically and psychologically as individuals whose lives revolve around being members of a martial force.

Above covers the "Data" portions of Appleseed ID; next we move onto "Illustration," where we find the bulk of the book's new content. There's really not much in the way of categorization going on for the predominantly full-color plates spread throughout the volume, reproducing most of the Appleseed illustrations contained in Shirow's Intron Depot 1 art book. Here you'll find covers, promotional pieces, and images created for merchandise that span the series' existence; in this manner, ID is a paperback-sized visual retrospectivewhile its pages are smaller and of a lesser quality than the hardy sheets inside Intron Depot, the presentation remains attractive, except (again) for a handful of two-page spreads suffering the same fate as the world map. Beyond this artwork, the last remnants of ID-only material are a collaged gallery of monochrome drawings created for various production purposes, and a short section (that honestly feels tacked-on) comparing miniature rough page sketches of Book 4 with their final published appearance.

Undoubtedly, the single most compelling aspect of Appleseed ID would be the short story, "Called Game," the first new manga chapter created since the end of Book 4. As previously suggested, "Called Game" is something of a palette cleanser, relating a small episode in the lives of the title's main characters, Duenan and Briareos, who get called into action when an arms-dealing terrorist attempts fleeing the (at times) utopian city of Olympus. The story itself is trivial, serving as little more than an excuse for a bit of humor and a few quick action sequences; taking the manga-ka's own comments into consideration that external forces spurred the original Databook into being, one can almost imagine Shirow cranking-out these pages purely to provide that compilation with some new material of substantive value. Ostensibly, this story was drafted during a period when Shirow still intended continuing the series; so while the chapter's happenings aren't particularly significant, its relaxed tone functions almost like an epilogue, conceptually putting to rest the previous volume's sweeping events, wiping the slate clean for forthcoming adventures. Shirow's art is also in a transitional phase, bridging the gap between his sparse, clunkier 1980s style and the sleeker, more detailed aesthetic associated with works like the initial Ghost in the Shell manga; it's not at the level of his modern endeavors, of course, but the progression in skill is clearly evident. Ultimately, however, though "Called Game" might not be rave worthy, its sole importance as the next installment in the unfinished series makes the chapter a must have for any true Appleseed collector.

Which bring us to the central concern surrounding Appleseed ID (similarly for the also already released Appleseed Hypernotes): this material is meant to be read after Book 4, when to date only the new edition of Appleseed Book 1: The Promethean Challenge has appeared on retail shelves. Keep in mind, Dark Horse positioned this product as part of its line of reissued Shirow manga, bestowing upon ID the same physical dimensions, basic cover design template (including the goofy, semi-transparent arched graphic that I hate so much), and price point as other titles in this collection; it even follows suit with The Promethean Challenge by returning the original ID/Databok front piece (for whatever reason, Dark Horse was all about mixing and matching back-in-the-day, with none of this series' books featuring their intended Japanese covers).

Why ID is being offered so far in advance of the four main Appleseed volumes is both perplexing and a question only Dark Horse themselves would reasonably be able to answer. Either way, the book is now something of an anomalous release here in the States, making it an awkward edition for the totality of American readers. Seasoned Shirow followers who either: desire a truly complete collection, missed the original Databook, or are double dipping on these more authentically manga-styled reissues will want to grab a copy of Appleseed ID, especially since Dark Horse has done a fine job domesticating the title.

Conversely, those new to the series face a difficult decision. The book tries to be many thingsan informative guide, an art book, a mangabut in the end individually manages none well enough to themselves warrant a purchase; at the same time, given how tardy Dark Horse has been with these reissues and even assuming Book 4 manages to make its prospective November 2008 release date, by that point ID may be a scarce commodity. So although I dislike recommending this type of supplementary material to the under initiated, I will say anyone with a taste for Shirow's dystopian fruit will eventually want their own copy of Appleseed ID: Illustration and Data.



Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: All
Released By: Dark Horse
MSRP: 14.99
Pages: 144
ISBN: 978-1-59307-690-0
Size: A5
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Appleseed: Illustration and Data