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Masamune Shirow Seishisha is probably most famous for creating the Ghost in the Shell universe. Not only does he provide the art (which, more often than not, involves impossibly perfect nubile young women in various states of undress) but he actually creates a whole new world with a tangled and complex background that is almost incomprehensible to everybody but him. Although this makes his graphic novels quite difficult to digest (his second Ghost in the Shell collection is simply unfathomably complicated) it also creates a totally immersive environment—one which is simply ideal for anime. This is probably why we now have not one, but two Ghost in the Shell movies, along with a TV series that is on its second run. But prior to all of this he wrote another series of graphic novels - Appleseed—which was also picked up to be made into an animated movie. Earlier this year saw the release of a remade CG version of Appleseed, but back in 1988 the original was unleashed on fans across the world and it is this version that I am here to review.

Appleseed

Film


It is the future. World War III has devastated the world. The Earth is a quieter place. In the aftermath, a new superpower takes over—the Technocracy—who believe that the only way to create a perfect society is to create perfect people. To this end a new race is created: the Bioroids (half human, half robot), who are in charge of administering justice. They also build a city, Olympus, which is supposed to be a Utopia for everybody, but not everyone is so keen on having their future mapped out for them and a band of freedom fighters rises up to combat the dominating establishment. Amidst all of this, an elite security unit is busy trying to prevent U.S. and Russian terrorists from destroying their great new city. On the frontline we have Deunan and her partner Briareos, two top-level (E)SWAT members who, while following up a terrorist lead, uncover a plot that could change their whole thinking about the establishment that they are a part of. Will the new unstoppable security robots be unleashed upon the city to take away even more of its inhabitants' liberties or will the resistance succeed in overthrowing the Government?

Appleseed is classic Masamune Shirow. A lithe, nubile young lady running around with a gun and a tough, robotically enhanced partner while combating terrorist attacks—I could be describing Ghost in the Shell—the only major difference would be a distinct lack of nudity here. We do get robot battle-suits, giant robot gun platforms and conspiracy mapped upon conspiracy. Despite this not being anywhere near as complicated as Shirow's Man-Machine Interface concepts, Appleseed does still have its problems. For some reason, it was decided to abbreviate the original material into what we have here—an hour-long compression of a much bigger story. Unfortunately this leaves a lot of things unexplained and a lot of questions unanswered, making the end result a movie which only staunch fans of the original books will full comprehend and appreciate.

Appleseed
Still, this movie can be appreciated at face value—interesting protagonists, enemies who are more than what they seem, superiors with an agenda and lots of shootouts and chases sequences involving either robots or robot-suit-wearing humans. It is great fun and fairly pleasing on the eye over its reasonably short run-time. Fans of Ghost in the Shell will recognise the same sort of look, feel, story structure and characters, and will enjoy this production for that very reason. Fans of manga/anime will similarly be entertained and those who have already read the Appleseed novels will probably love (and hate) this vision. Since there is a more recent remake of the material, it is definitely worth checking that out to see if it is more coherent, but fans of it will probably need both the original and updated versions for completeness.

Video


Appleseed is presented with a non-anamorphic 1.33:1 aspect ratio fullscreen transfer that is fairly good considering its inherent, un-enhanced limitations. The detail is reasonable, with the character definition always at or above a perfectly acceptable level. There is no noticeable softness and no significant grain, despite their being a light 'mist' in some scenes. The colour scheme seems moderately faded, but most of the colours retain a fairly fresh look and blacks are quite solid. Overall, whilst for later animes we have come to expect better presentations, this is probably a reasonable way to watch this early effort.

Audio


There are three different audio tracks for this release: a Dolby Digital 5.1 track for the dubbed English and stereo tracks in both dubbed English and the original Japanese. Whilst I would normally just recommend the six-speaker surround sound effort over the alternative, hands down, it is worth noting that the methods used to record the two languages differ so as to make not only the lip synch significant but also the very enunciation of the dialogue. The Japanese mix sounds much more natural and corresponds in tone to the on-screen action, whereas the English dub is largely inferior in that department (as is further explained in the commentary). Still, most viewers will prefer to hear this presentation in surround sound and the English track is not a bad effort, with dialogue clearly at the frontal array, a very cheesy Eighties score and some interestingly dynamic action sequences. If you do give the Japanese a shot, you will find the English subtitles are perfectly adequate (although they are basically just abbreviated versions of the English dub, so don't expect any further insight from them).

Appleseed

Extras


First up we get an audio commentary with the voice of the lead, Deunan, Larissa Murray (who was also the voice of BattleAngel Alita) and Jonathan Clements, the author of the Encylcopedia of Anime. They talk at length about the original comic book series and where the movie differs (huge chunks are missing) and try to fill in the gaps as best they can. They also discuss the two techniques that are adopted for dubbing—the Japanese actually record the vocals first and then try and map the animation around them whereas the English dub is obviously just synched-in as best they can. Furthermore, the English vocal cast have not normally read the script before they are called upon to do the dub, making their portrayals at times fairly random. Listening to the commentary actually explains a great deal of things that go unanswered in the movie—clearing up a lot of ambiguous plot strands - and it is a shame that these two weren't asked their opinion before the film was put together and released.

There is also an Appleseed photo gallery, with twelve images that are mostly taken from the comic books, highlighting the subtle differences between the book characters and their animated counterparts. Character biographies further assist in any confusion over the main story, with detailed background into the heroine, Deunan and her partner Briareos, along with the key to the resistance, Hitomi, politician Athena and terrorist Sebastian. Finally we get trailers for other manga/anime releases including the visually opulent Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and the superior second season of the Ghost in the Shell series.

Appleseed

Overall


Appleseed is a decent early anime conceived by the imaginative and innovative Masamune Shirow. Fans of his later work should investigate this further and those who are familiar with the novels that it is based on will be both pleased and disappointed with this interpretation of it. The transfer is just about what you would expect from old, classic anime, and the myriad audio tracks should provide something for everybody. The extras are surprisingly nice—the hidden audio commentary (it is not on the special features menu) is a fount of information about the production. Overall it is a recommended rental for fans of anime and probably a must-have for fans of Shirow—just don't expect it to look quite as polished as the 2005 remake.


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