Masamune Shirow is well known, amongst other things, for his technocratic, highly-intricate future worlds as seen in the likes of Dominion and, more famously Ghost In the Shell; however, as far as I’m concerned, Appleseed remains the strongest of his works; dealing with the construction of the perfect society in the aftermath of World War III, Appleseed‘s narrative is highly philosophical and science-heavy without being so Apolloian as to neglect the smooth integration of humour and strong, involving characterisations…..
….at least in manga form!
Animé adaptations of Shirow’s works tend to be unpredictable in terms of success. Whilst an adaptation like the original series of Dominion Tank Police worked well as an excellent elaboration and improvement on the original source material, productions like New Dominion Tank Police and the Ghost In The Shell movie are hit-and-miss affairs; the former suffered from a bland and overly-serious central narrative, noticeably out of place with the light-hearted antics of Newport’s finest; the latter adaptation, whilst a fine movie, suffers from a characterisation deficiency, with the characters being mere vessels for the admittedly gripping philosophical ideas that drive the story.
The Appleseed OAV, released in 1988 also loses out somewhat, despite being a perfectly solid piece of animation; the production team saw fit to par down Shirow’s rich world-building and characterisation to a somewhat basic, Lego brick status, with Deunan and Briareos, the protagonists, coming across as two-dimensional in comparison to their manga incarnations; nevertheless, the story remains thoughtful enough to sustain the viewer for the whole 74 minutes…
….and the end theme is simply delicious (for those who like animé J-pop soundtracks)!
As for this latest reincarnation of Shirow’s stellar manga? Well, in terms of animation, it towers far above the 1988 version; a major theatrical release as opposed to a video one, the feature eschews conventional cel animation in favour of CGI and motion-mapping – think of a cross between the look of the gun game XIII and the opening of the Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex series and you’re still not there! Critics have been raving about the animation quite a bit, and it is excellent; however, it becomes apparent whilst watching the film a lot of detail has been sacrificed; the production team may well call this essentialization, but are not facial expressions just as essential in conveying character as motion mapped full-body movements?
As for the rest of it? Well – think of all the things I found fault with in the Ghost In The Shell movie, and previous Appleseed adaptation and subtract the good points! G.I.T.S had flawed characterisation, but at least the story stayed strong, whilst Appleseed ’88 simplified Shirow’s themes without cutting too much meat from the bone. With Appleseed 2004, it seems as if the guys behind it just thought of beautifully-rendered visuals and little else; the film, for the majority of the running time, feels very empty, substantiated by a burst of impressive action here, an enigmatic gaze there and a flashback sequence for every other part; its only in the latter third of the film that things build up pace and substance, with a sinister plot twist worthy of the source material.
The characterisation sins of the G.I.T.S movie are alas repeated here, although I will say that the portrayal of the relationship between Deunan and Bri here is rather touching at certain moments; nevertheless, like Kusanagi before them, both have been stripped of their humour and a certain vitality in their emigration to the CGI-rendered big screen. Deunan has suffered considerably, losing much of the hard-edge which made her such a driving force in the manga, whilst the gruff, loveable Briaerios comes across, for the most part, as mechanical in personality as he is in physiology. A shame really, as these two are one of the best double teams in manga…..
Negativity aside, I’m very glad I saw this film, ignoring the unimpressed opinions that came before mine. I’m sad to say however, that I too cannot rate the film as anything higher than okay or an interesting visual milestone – certainly a feast for the eyes, but very little else. Who would’ve thought that the director, Shinji Aramaki, was one of the main movers behind Bubblegum Crisis?
Oh and won’t someone please gag Hitomi’s English voice actress?