Appleseed (2004) Movie Review

“Appleseed” is a mixture of CGI and traditional anime, and is based upon an early manga by Masamune Shirow, creator of the seminal “Ghost in the Shell” and its sequel, “Innocence”, amongst others. The comic had previously been adapted for the screen back in 1988 as an anime, and while it covered the complex material well, it now looks rather dated. This new version is a huge leap forward in technical and visual terms, far exceeding the previous benchmark for computer animation, the dull and generic “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”. Thankfully, just as much attention has been paid to retaining the unique feel of the manga and in translating its multi-layered narrative and themes into a coherent, streamlined film.

The plot of “Appleseed” has been watered down somewhat from the original manga, though it is still a great deal more elaborate than the average film. Set in a war-ravaged 2131, the story centers on Deunan, a female soldier who is rescued from the violent ruins of an old city and taken to Olympus, a utopian metropolis. Here, she is reunited with her old partner, Briareos, who is now a cyborg. Olympus is a complex society, a mixture of humans and the near-indistinguishable bio-droids, with both sides locked in a constant power struggle. Deunan and Briareos are soon involved with a plot that threatens to destroy the delicate balance and bring about a terrible genocide.

To be honest, I’m simplifying things a great deal, because the story contains complex politics, factions within factions, betrayals and revelations. Suffice to say, concentration is needed when watching, and it probably helps if you have read the manga or at least seen the original anime. The main change for fans of the original is the relationship between Deunan and Briareos, though this is fairly minor and develops as the film progresses.

Shirow’s themes are still present, tackling the question of what it means to be human and the nature of the human soul. These are presented somewhat differently from “Ghost in the Shell”; here the philosophical detail is lessened, and there is more attention to the effect of technology on human society as a whole, as opposed to a single human soul. Although the focus is more on action and spectacle, “Appleseed” is still a highly cerebral film that lingers in the mind long after viewing.

The film’s visuals are absolutely stunning, having been rendered using a new process of 3-D cell shading and animation. Every frame of the film is beautiful, with some truly jaw-dropping images the likes of which I have never seen before. As opposed to live-action films that incorporate CGI effects, “Appleseed” is like one long, flawless vision of a credible future world. Characters are brought to life convincingly, looking and moving like real people. All of this is a far cry from “Final Fantasy”, which spent all its time animating the hair of the female lead and forgot about the rest of her body. Since the characters are as well written as they are animated, the viewer actually cares about what happens, and from this “Appleseed” achieves what many live-action films do not.

Shinji Aramaki directs with a great sense of vigor, keeping the film moving at a great speed, perfectly balancing its intellectual and visceral sides. The action is often breathtaking, evolving the now-common tricks seen in films like “The Matrix” to awesome new levels. The first ten minutes of the film, where Deunan faces off against a platoon of robots, are amongst the most exciting I have ever seen. Aramaki fully exploits the power of the visuals, generating a real atmosphere of awe and wonder, helping to create a fascinating yet believable future society in Olympus.

The soundtrack is also excellent, a pounding collection of electronic beats that provide a perfect accompaniment to the dynamic action scenes. The voice acting is also of a high standard, performed by a cast of anime veterans. I hope that when “Appleseed” finally gets an overseas release it is released with the original Japanese voice track intact, as bad dubbing has been the ruin of many Western versions of anime classics.

Overall, I would rate “Appleseed” very highly, as it provides gorgeous visuals, thrilling action and an intelligent, thought-provoking story. It not only raises the bar for anime and CGI features, but for science fiction films in general. I only hope that it gets the wide release it deserves so that it can be seen in all its glory on the big screen where it truly belongs.

Shinji Aramaki (director) / Masamune Shirow (comic), Haruka Handa, Tsutomu Kamishiro (screenplay)
CAST: Ai Kobayashi …. Deunan
Jûrota Kosugi …. Briareos
Yuki Matsuoka …. Hitomi
Yuzuru Fujimoto …. Uranus
Mami Koyama …. Athena
Takehito Koyasu …. Hade

Buy Appleseed on DVD