Appleseed is a film based on the work of Shirow Masamune, the Mangaka behind Ghost in the Shell. The film adaptation was handled by Digital Frontier and the now defunct Micott & Basara. The manga may very well be on the same level as the Ghost in the Shell manga, I don’t know since I haven’t read it, but the question is whether or not the film is any good.
Deunan Knute is an elite soldier during a global war. During one battle a strange group barges in and takes her to Olympus, a Utopian society where humans are living a peaceful coexistence with a new species that strongly resembles humans but were artificially constructed and have some distinct differences, called “bioroids.” Deunan quickly learns that not everything is as idyllic as it seems. There are some humans who hate the bioroids and she quickly finds herself entangled in the conflict between two factions, one of which is opposed to bioroids existing and the other which wants to safeguard the society that’s been built with its peaceful coexistence. Things quickly become more complicated as Deunan starts getting hints that there may be something deeper behind this conflict.
The biggest flaw of this film is that the main antagonists’ plan isn’t actually bad. I can’t go into many details since its only revealed in the last ten minutes or so, but as soon as it’s revealed all the tension immediately disperses because even if they succeed it won’t be all that big of a deal. Another problem is with the ending. There’s a huge deus ex moment in order to force a “happy” ending. Yeah, if you can’t figure out a way for the characters to get out of a scenario without making a bigger sacrifice than you want them to, either change the scenario or have the ovarian fortitude to have a tragic ending with some major sacrifices. The deus ex route is the worst way to go. Then we have the romantic subplot. In theory, the setup could work. The problem is that our leads have no chemistry. There’s none shown through the narrative, the animation or vocal performances. Deunan has more chemistry with the bioroid girl who supposedly can’t feel love than with this guy. Hell, she has more chemistry with her pistol. There are also some clunky exposition moments where characters go into information that everyone on screen already knows just because the audience doesn’t and there’s a bit where they have three major revelations in a short span of time and it just comes across as rushed and clunky.
On the positive side, there are some really compelling facets to the world that gets built up in Appleseed. There are also some good ideas behind the various revelations and they could have all really worked if they’d been spread out and developed more instead of clustered together. Aside from the clustered revelations, the pacing works really well and there are a lot of interesting ideas behind the whole thing.
I’ll give the film credit for trying to have complex characters, and none of them are badly done, but most of them just don’t move beyond bland. Deunan is a pretty good character and there are some interesting things going on with Athena as well. Then you’ve got characters like Briareos or the elders who are just kind of generic and characters like Hades, Nike, Hitomi or Uranus who have potential but aren’t fully realised as characters so it gets largely wasted.
The CG in this is kind of stilted and there are a lot of janky movements. There are also some cases of the characters having awkward expressions that don’t really match their dialogue. It’s vastly superior to the CG in the Galerians OVA, but that isn’t saying much. To be fair, it was made in 2004 and you can understand why it looks like cut scenes from a PS2 game since the technology wasn’t really there yet, at least I can’t think of a purely CG movie from that time that did it better, but it’s still pretty awkward.
There are some pretty solid performances. Kobayashi Ai, Kosugi Juurouta and Koyama Mami do particularly well. The music is okay. It’s not particularly good, but it works fine.
There are some scenes, particularly early on, where Hitomi and Deunan seem a bit homo-erotic. Which is a bit disturbing given one of the tidbits of information you get later. There’s also a scene where Deunan hugs Athena and her hands go right to Athena’s bum. I’m not sure if it’s a deliberate yuri moment or just an art fail, though. Since the two of them have barely interacted before that point.
Appleseed is not a bad movie but it’s not a good one either. It has some great ideas, but the story is riddled with problems and the characters are largely just mediocre. Maybe the manga’s better and features more development for the plot line and characters but for the film I have to give it a 5/10. Tomorrow, I’ll continue this week of film reviews with Fusion Reborn.