Appleseed is an often times overlooked franchise. The manga debuted in 1985 and a one-shot OVA was produced in 1988. Some have criticized its clichéd plot and characters, yet without its original success, Shirow Masamune would not be the renowned manga-ka he is known today. In a way Appleseed was Shirow’s grounds for experimentation and its initial success allowed Shirow to work on other projects such as Dominion and Ghost in the Shell. The downside is that Appleseed was left behind, largely unfinished and soon became eclipsed by his later works.
I’d imagine the story of Appleseed to have been fresh and intriguing for its time. It’s strengths lie in its quite realistic portrayal of humankind in a broken down world on the brink of either destruction or redemption. It has about as extensive a back story as Ghost in the Shell, perhaps even more so. Many credit Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell adaptation as the last true harbinger of cyberpunk to the anime world, yet many of Shirow’s trademark talents in storytelling saw its origins in Appleseed. It just so happened that Ghost in the Shell saw a big-screen adaptation first. Still, with Oshii’s 1995 film taking the states by storm, Appleseed quickly became overshadowed. It wouldn’t be until 2004, 16 years after the OVA, and 19 years after the original manga, that Appleseed would be brought to the big screen.
Appleseed 2004 Most people these days probably had their first exposure to Appleseed through the Shinji Aramaki movies in 2004 and 2007 respectively. The 2004 Appleseed was a loose adaptation of the manga, perhaps moreso that the 1988 OVA. The one problem with the two movie adaptations is that the story was took the backseat to the showcasing of visuals. Aramaki’s use of cell shaded CG were great for explosions, mecha battles, high speed chase scenes, and all around action, but it ultimately failed to capture such fundamental things in anime such as characters and emotions. Furthermore, Appleseed was once again overshadowed by Oshii’s GITS: Innocence, which opted to use 2D characters over CG backgrounds.
Appleseed 2007 (Ex Machina) More Aramaki chicanery, this time with John Woo. Things blow up. Nothing really makes much sense concerning the story. This supposedly takes place several years after the first movie which implies that either Ex Machina is canonical or that Appleseed 2004 is an alternate universe. Whatever the case, I don’t think it fits anywhere into Shirow’s official Appleseed timeline.
Appleseed 2011 (XIII)
Oh boy, here we go. Directed by Takayuki Hamana. Original story and designs by Masamune Shirow. Produced by Production I.G. Take four (or take two depending on how you look at it). I’ll skip over the obligatory episode recap and go straight to whining. Here’s the thing with Appleseed XIII. I had hoped to gather several key points (good or bad) and go over them. What ended up happening was that I found one good point, one bad point, and a plethora of things that seemed…weird.
THE GOOD: IT’S APPLESEED!
Yeah, I’m cheating here a little bit. But the fact that I get to see my second favorite manga retold yet again has to at least account for something.
THE BAD: Drunk Deunan toppling over at 29.97 fps.
Aramaki what have you done. Did you, in your infinite mech-designing wisdom choose full CGI so them Landmates could easily rotate their torsos and forelimbs at the same time? Or did you do it because you couldn’t find any competent animators? Or perhaps it wasn’t even your decision, perhaps the suits at Geneon/SEGA decided to do something “different” and then keep it for Ex Machina because John Woo needs his 17 minute action sequence. Whatever the reason, Production I.G, along with whoever is involved with this new project, seems to be following suit.
I have no problem with CG, especially when done as a labor of love. Hosoda does it, Rikka does it, Mamoru Oshii and Production I.G. have been doing a lot of it. In fact, one might as that EVERYONE is doing it, except those who disregard everything and acquire currency (aka Miyazaki). But that’s beside the point. CG, when done right, does have its merits. It brings many things to the table, things that either enhance or ease the process of animation as a whole. If combined with traditional animation, the results can be glorious (Ghost in the Shell, Macross Plus, RahXephon). The 2007 Appleseed Ex Machina, for example, made use of the CG to create those enjoyable single-shot aerial sequences. Action, movement, multi-angle panning shots, and “distance” shots all benefit from CG.
Which brings me to the first episode of Appleseed XIII. Aside from several short ghosting sequences and quick final chase scene, there really wasn’t much at all in the form of action. There’s the obligatory heli shot at the start, which looks about as good as a CG heli can get. Totally being serious here. Just take a look at dat helicopter from Golgo 13, then at the Yamadori in Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. We’ve come a long way since then. The memorable Landmates also make their return.
Besides that, however, we see a lot of “still” scenes where Duenan and Briareos or Deunan and Hitomi are simply talking to each other. This is where the CG really breaks down in my opinion. In a typical manga, a character’s facial expression changes from panel to panel, but they lack movement. In a typical anime, you get movement depending on how well-funded the show is (otherwise it’s the mouth flap animator’s time to shine). Live action has the ability to show both movement AND facial expression but is, of course, confined to a certain degree of realism. How does CG animation compare to all this? Well, it doesn’t. It’s as if by opening up the “third dimension,” suddenly the expectation have risen that much higher. Static images no longer look convincing, we’ll start wondering to ourselves if our monitors suddenly froze. However, unless rotoscoping is involved, it won’t look convincing on the other side of the spectrum either. Appleseed XIII lies somewhere in between. Strictly concerning scenes where no real action is taking place, the characters in Appleseed XIII look neither stylistic nor realistic.
As if one can’t tell already, I’m accepting yet very skeptical when it comes to computer generated anime. Animation is not in the business of portraying realism, it succeeds by merely suggesting it. Even the cel-shading technique that many people seem to be praising, I’m not too fond of. Cel-shading or “toon shading” is just a computer rendering method that makes computerized imagery appear 2-dimensional. Just imagine Hiroyuki Imaishi on a computer; less gradient, more block shading. It’s great for video games, I’ll give SEGA that. But for animated features, less so. It’s quite interesting how in western cinema, movies are quickly jumping on the 3D bandwagon. Meanwhile, 3D “CG” anime movies such as Appleseed 2004 employ cel-shading to achieve the opposite effect.
I Don’t Like change. I why’d hard when they changed Bri and Deunan’s back story for the 2004 movie. That quickly turned into outright facepalm during Ex Machina’s sad attempt at a love triangle. I let out a huge sigh of relief 30 seconds into Appleseed XIII when it showed both of them together, the way they’re supposed to be. Unfortunately, the sighs of relief turned into regular sighs after about 5 minutes. The thing that bothered me most was the overall conflict initially presented.
The manga presented an amalgamation of conflicts. There was the decimation of Earth due to World War III which resulted in a grand reshuffling of world power. There were the immediate threats from outsiders as well as terrorists from the Sacred Republic of Munma. There was also the looming power struggle between Olympus and Poseidon. Then there is Olympus itself, a Utopian nation seeking to become a beacon for the new world. It is here in Olympus where the internal conflicts between different factions play out for much of the story’s first half. Conflicts such as how does one govern the nation which lead to the presence of Bioroids (half human half cyborg) and the artificial intelligence GAIA (mediator between human figures such as Athena and the Bioroid council).
At the heart of these conflicts lie Deunan and Briareos, two former outsiders who were “picked up” by Hitomi and are now working as E-SWAT members within Olympus. I already praised the show for spending time on developing character dynamic. However, it’s not the same when they aren’t the same characters! Deunan and Bri originally chose to go to Olympus on a whim. In the anime, however, they make it seem as if they were searching desperately for “Eden.” They finally think they’ve found it in Olympus but after seeing the dangers associated with E-SWAT, Deunan begins having second thoughts. WHAT. WHY? First of all, why join E-SWAT in the first place if danger in Utopia is supposedly the “End of Eden?” Hell, at least the 2004 movie accounted for that fact by having Deunan feel as if she needed to fight in order to maintain her identity. In the manga version, Deunan originally bought a Guges Landmate on impulse and was more or less forced to get a job to pay off the debt. In fact, a recurring struggle throughout is the caging effect of Utopian society on a wild personality such as Deunan. The bioroids and humans also parallel the reason vs. emotion struggle present throughout a lot of anime these days. This is, in essence, Deunan’s “Eden.” A place to be free, not a place to settle down per se. She questions the existence of Olympus because it’s “too safe,” not because it’s too dangerous.
While I’m on the topic, this incarnation of Deunan cries a lot. I counted at least two times in the present and several more in flash back mode. Something tells me that it’s easier to convey sadness in CG (tears) than it is to convey anger. But let it be known that the original Deunan would never cry as much in such a short span of time. She’d either pout, get visibly angry, or go into 80’s moe mode, and that’s only when she’s not busy kicking ass. If anything, she was the insensitive one, going as far as to stick banners of defeat on fellow soldiers during training exercises. Everyone was less…how do I say it? Overtly emotional? Did they choose to completely rewrite the characters or something?
As mentioned before, the CG style may benefit the action aspect, but what about the artistic point of view? I can’t help but cringe sometimes during poorly drawn CG buildings. It’s as if someone used the fill tool in Photoshop and called it a day. For example, Olympus looks very “clean,” as it should. However, the latter half of the manga goes beyond the confines of Olympus, into the war-torn wastelands of 22nd century Earth. Cyberpunk in general, maintains that gritty feel and tension as technological advances bring about social disorder. This inevitably raises the question, is Appleseed really cyberpunk/post-cyberpunk? Or does it resemble more of a post-apocalyptic setting? Most importantly, will the CG be able to effectively encapsulate such an atmosphere to its fullest? Personally, I just don’t see Appleseed XIII succeeding in that department. Is this an intentional move to somehow play off the sense of Utopia or are the creators just cutting corners? Did the pile of dirt, rubble, and broken buildings in Ex Machina really look all convincing? To me, it looked like the cleanest pile of rubble ever. When the time comes and those gun platforms wreak havoc on Aegis and Olympus, will we see the same Olympus, shiny as ever? Or will we see a true punk setting such as Akira’s Neo Tokyo?
It’s still too early judge, yet I can’t help but wonder what direction the creators intend to take with this series. Generally speaking, they could go about this two ways. Either make it a firm adaptation of the manga or make it a tie-in with the manga. The latter option falls very much in line with Production IG’s previous Shirow adaptation, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, where the characters, setting, and premise exist, but the show is primarily episodic with an occasional overarching plot. While I thoroughly enjoyed SAC, they’ll be hard pressed to make a SAC-esque police procedural work with a mere 2 movies or 13 episodes. I would be very pleased if they decide to take the former route. To this day, Appleseed lacks a faithful adaptation. Also, the way the series is structured, with the two compilation movies, it seems as if this is how it will be done.
On a side note, I have a feeling the Japanese weren’t all that excited about Hitomi’s character design for the 2007 movie. For different reasons, I also was not very excited. Alright, I’ll come clean. It was the for the exact same reason. I’m glad they decided to return to Shirow’s original designs…somewhat.
ONE LAST THING: The Music
Not sure if this is anything significant, but the music that plays during the opening (during the rotating constellation sequence) seemed peculiar. In the credits, it lists Conisch as the artist/composer. Of course, I know nothing of that name. It seems, however, that the tune is more or less a half-octave higher rendition of the theme from Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor; the Polevtsian dance number titled Song of our Homeland. Certain anime fans may recognize the same song as it was the recurring tune that Qwon was singing in RahXephon. Much of RahXephon’s music was, in fact, influenced by Polevtsian dance (see Garden of Everything, Yoko Kanno incoporates the same tune from Prince Igor into the song’s chorus, sung by none other than Maaya Sakamoto, VA for Deunan Kneute). And now here it is again in Appleseed XIII.
Prince Igor was a 4-act Russian opera first performed during the late 1800s. Short version: it’s like a highly romanticized retelling of a Russian Prince’s campaign against invading Polovtsian tribes in 1185. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? Hell if I know. I’m sure some monocle and top-hat wearing scholar somewhere can tear it apart. Right now, all I can take away from this is the realization that both Borodin and Shirow are quite similar. Both focused their attention on one single aspect in their respective creations and their work suffered because of it. Borodin did not complete a libretto (scenario) before composing his music, thus the opera lost its narrative structure half way through. In a similar vain, it seems that Shirow spent a great deal of time world-building in Appleseed, but also failed to construct coherent plot/cast to utilize said world (or maybe because Ghost in the Shell and Galgrease kept his crazy mind busy). Yes, despite me being a die-hard fan of Appleseed the manga, there have been times where I’ve thought to myself, “Oh shit Shirow, what are you doing?” Anyways, Prince Igor was left unfinished at only 4 acts and Shirow’s Appleseed was left unfinished with 4 volumes.
Now someone is bound to ask me. “If all these faults are present in the Appleseed manga, the supposedly GOOD version of the story, why then do I hold it in such high regard?” I guess it’s more of a personal preference than anything else. People who enjoy Russian opera, I’d imagine, aren’t as concerned with a well-constructed plot as much as the moments in between where the music, dances, and cultural beauty are displayed. Under RARE circumstances, this may also apply to anime and manga. I can only speak for myself when I say that despite its current jumbled and unfinished state, I still think Appleseed is beautifully crafted, well-thought out, well written (at times), and VERY well drawn. I do hope the new series does it justice.
In any case, It’s still only the beginning of the season. It’ll be a while before this show finishes and I plan to see it through to the end. I guess when all is said and done, my final impressions after watching the first episode: