Review by Ed Sizemore
This two-disc Collector’s Edition is based on the manga by Masamune Shirow. Screenplay by Kiyoto Takeuchi; directed by Shinji Aramaki. Available on Warner Home Video, list price $34.98 US, complimentary copy provided for review.
The planet has been ravished by conventional warfare that reshaped the geological and political landscapes. Out of this chaos has arisen humanity’s latest attempt for global peace and harmony, the city Olympus. A city inhabited by humans and cyborgs, but whose main population is bioroids, genetically altered humans who feel no hatred or anger. However, terrorism and regional conflicts still plague the world.
Olympus has developed the ESWAT team to combat and destroy terrorism anywhere on the earth. They’re an elite military troop of soldiers that have proven their efficiency over the years. The movie opens with the ESWAT team rescuing high-ranking EU delegates from a group of cyborg terrorists. During the rescue, Briareos, a cyborg, is injured and his partner Deunan, a human, is given a new partner, Terseus, a bioroid created from Briareos’ DNA.
After an attack on the international security conference held in Olympus, the ESWAT team discovers that humans, cyborgs, and bioroids are being turned into terrorists by electronic brainwashing. They discover an entity called Halcon is the puppet master behind it all. Halcon wants to create world peace by mind control. Briareos, Deunan, and Terseus set off for Halcon’s central base to put an end to the organization and its schemes.
Appleseed: Ex Machina at its core is a futuristic military thriller. It’s an original story that takes place within the world Shirow created in his manga, a fascinating vision of the future that the film makers have a wonderful job of exploring. The story is well-written with engaging characters. The writer has done a good job of balancing action sequences, investigative work, and personal moments. The opening sequence grabs your attention immediately, and the rest of the movie keeps you locked in. It’s a great film that makes sure you’re never bored but never overwhelmed either.
The one flaw in the storytelling is the romantic triangle between Briareos, Deunan, and Terseus. Deunan and Briareos are both partners and lovers with a long history together. The question subtly suggested is the physical aspect of their relationship given Briareos’ cybernetic body. We’re suppose to wonder if Deunan will leave Briareos for Tereus. Tereus after all is a essentially a clone of Briareos who not only looks like him, but even acts very similar to him. However, that tension never develops. They do such a great job of establishing Deunan’s love and devotion to Briareos that you never believe she’s tempted by Tereus. He’s simply a distraction that she overcomes quickly.
The movie is beautiful to look at. The CG here is top notch. The character designs are gorgeous. The motion and facial expressions are very lifelike. The attention to detail is amazing in this movie. Every brick, every sign, every background character is fully rendered. The backdrops and layouts are stunning. It would take a hundred layers of cels to accomplish the same level of detail and perspective that you have here. Olympus really comes alive and each time I watch the film I find some new nuance that I missed. Shirow is known for the meticulous detail of his artwork and mecha designs and they have stayed true to his spirit in this film.
I watched this movie both subtitled with the original Japanese language and again with the English dub. The dub here is well done. They hired ADV, one of my favorite anime companies, to do the English script and dub. It’s amazing how little they changed. About 90% of the dub is simply a translation of the original dialogue. The other 10% is where the English dialogue makes explicit feelings or thoughts implied in the Japanese script. (For the hardcore fans, these are actual subtitle and not dubtitles.)
There is a commentary track with one of the producers, Joseph Chou, and Jerry Beck from Cartoonbrew.com. Also on the first disc are two short documentaries about the making of the film. One of the most interesting things you learn from these special features is how hard Aramaki worked to make this film accessible to a Western audience. His goal was to make a film that would appeal to Western sci-fi and action fans as well as anime fans. He had hoped to expand the market for anime films. Since Warner Brothers didn’t do a theatrical release for this movie, Aramaki’s dream looks to go unfulfilled unless the DVD generates a massive buzz. I’m sorry that Warner Brothers didn’t have the same faith as Aramaki in this movie.
I’m conflicted about the second disc in the collector’s edition. Given the purpose to reach a more general audience, the disc works well. But it would have been nice if the documentaries on this disc also had something more for Shirow fans. The first documentary is a history of the Appleseed manga and some background information on Masamune Shirow. There’s nothing new for those who have followed Shirow’s career. There is one misperception I would like to clear up. Watching this documentary, you might be led to believe that Dark Horse was the company that brought the Appleseed manga to the US. However, it was Eclipse that introduced Appleseed and Shirow to US comic readers. When Eclipse fell victim to the 90’s comics collapse, Dark Horse took over the rights to Appleseed and are now the sole publisher of Shirow’s manga in the US today.
The second documentary is a look at anime fandom in America. To be honest, I’m not really sure what the point of this piece is. Perhaps it’s to serve as a way of making anime fans less ‘mysterious’. The documentary talks briefly about the history of anime in the US and how the fandom got started in the late 1970’s. They try to explain the appeal of anime. They even briefly explain cosplay. The documentary isn’t going to really change anyone’s mind about anime fandom. If anything, it will just add more fuel to the fire for those who already mock the fans.
I highly recommend Appleseed: Ex Machina to anyone who loves a good sci-fi movie. However, unless you’re a completist, there is no need for the collector’s edition two-disc set. The single disc DVD will give all you need to enjoy the film.