It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of Masamune Shirow. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a superfan or anything, and I’m sure there’s a lot of people who like him much more then I do. But I do count him as one of the great creators in the mediam of anime and manga. Which is why it’s surprising it took me this long to finally get to see the original Appleseed OVA. I first became a fan of Shirow when I got a chance to see the classic Dominion Tank Police (I’ll review it one day…) in my childhood. I find the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex tv show to be a really good example of cyberpunk anime (one day I’ll buy the DVDs!). And I went out of my way to make sure I could get the long OOP Black Magic M-66 DVD that Manga Ent put out. But the original Appleseed? Didn’t watch it until today. So I’ll have to thank Hayate for reminding me this existed. Because it’s pretty good.
After World War III the world lay in ruins, but the collective minds of the survivors helped to create a truly modern and wonderful city, Olympus. This city is controlled by a super computer, Gaia, that can handle all types of scenarios and continuously makes life easier for the citizens. In addition to the super computer, the founders of the city still rule as the government. Appleseed is about two SWAT officers who end up involved in preventing terrorist plots that could lay waste to the one shining beacon of hope and civilization left after the near destruction of the planet. Before the anime begins Deunan and Briareos were attempting to survive in the harsh, unforgiving, and dangerous wastelands, but they got rescued by Hitomi and brought to the city. Deunan and Briareos of course begin work as police officers and end up in the SWAT devision. I really like the characters of Appleseed, despite the short running time and hence small characterization, you do get a sense that these are real people with real lives and an interesting history. Deunan is a tough female lead, but unlike so many others she still has a feminine side to her, she just doesn’t show it too often. Briareos was badly hurt before the show began and so his head and other body parts where replaced with mechanical pieces and therefore he is a cyborg. Despite being only half human, he’s very carrying and seems carefree and unusually happy. More human then human? A fitting character for any good cyberpunk anime. Hitomi is my favorite character though, a very cute girl who lives a sheltered life and likes to party a little. But how will she react when she gets tossed into the politics off the city and learns she’s the one person who can turn of the super computer? Anyway a terrorist (with the help of a two timing police officer) plans to overthrow the un-elected government, turn off the supercomputer, and maybe even wreak havoc. The only civilized place on the planet is truly threatened, and Deunan and Briareos are there to protect it, in addition to having a personal beaf with the terrorist. As outsiders trying to adapt to the city life, Deunan and Briareos are huge supporters of the civilized life the city provides, and really close friends with the person who brought them there, Hitomi. And when Hitomi is kidnapped you can bet they’re going to try and save her at all costs. The plot has one unexplained point, but I’d caution calling it a true plot hole. I’ll just say it’s a small problem. Other then that however the story is actually well written, and competently directed. I like how the themes are intertwined with the action.
There are two interesting themes that are running through Appleseed in a classic Masamune Shirow’s style. First off it delves (I admit very lightly) into the concept of a non-representative government that’s efficient. You see after World War III, what was left of the population created a city known as Olympus, and ever since the government has been ruled more or less by the same type of people. There’s no democracy in this city, but it’s not exactly a repressive society, although the chances for it to become one are there. And the temptation is clearly there, however no one in the government seems to be making it very repressive. Everyone seems to have basic human rights (although they can be suspended for “special cases”), it’s just that the government is not elected democratically. Everyone in charge of the government is of like minds, so there’s little real debate and things run very smoothly. In essence it’s a very efficient government, and it has large support among the people. However as the terrorist make very clear, these people were not elected. Who are they? What right do they have to rule over the only civilization left on the earth? They may be humanities savoirs, but do they deserve to be humanities rulers too? Shouldn’t the people decide who runs everything now? The other big theme that’s running through this is the idea of the so called “nanny state”. It’s the same concept brought up in Huxely’s Brave New World. As one of the characters make crystal clear, the state could be considered overprotective of it’s citizens. It provides everyone with healthcare, there’s no unemployment, and there’s tons of other beneficial programs run by the state. This sounds like a paradise, really it does. But the character ponders if they really living (which implies a struggle to continue to keep on going forward) or merely existing, caged like a bird ( a common motif of the anime). However there’s a lot to like about a society such as this, some call it a force for good. The government really cares about everyone in the society, isn’t that admirable? I think Masamune Shirow concludes where I would, and not to spoil it but he doesn’t end up where Huxley does. However he gives credence to both sides. Now these deep messages are brought up from time to time, but this is still largely an action flick. So expect explosions and gun fights, with a little light-philosophy now and again. But no heavy thinking here. I respect when a show knows how to handle this, and it’s much better then a show that has nothing to say and brings nothing new to the table, just explosions.
Special attention must be noted for the great, interesting, realistic and well designed mechanical features of the show. I felt everything was paid close attention to, and it shows. Which makes sense when you take a look at the Mechanical Supervisor of the show, none other then Hideaki Anno himself. In fact this is a very early Gainax production, although they worked very closely with Bandai Visual. There’s a real attention to detail here, and I like all the near-future type of tech level they have in this city. It has that “future as looked at from the 1980’s” style that i just can’t get enough of. And I much mention that any anime that has electric typewriters and fax machines everywhere, but not a lot of computers is great. In addition the animators could not envision the explosion of cell phones, but every landline is a video phone. I have to snicker a little at this, but at the same time I do love it! As for the backgrounds, they’re pretty nice to look at but nothing special. I find the color scheme to be a little dull, but it does give it a realistic look to it all. Personally I find the character designs to be really great stuff. It has that late 80’s “manime design” that you really don’t see anymore. The girls are cute in that oh-so-80’s way, the guys are tough brutes, and there’s cyborgs everywhere. Not to mention some real care went into designing each and every character. The animation is actually really good when it wants to be. Action scenes are quite nice. But there’s a lot of stills used when characters are just talking or nothing major is happening. And so I can’t say this is really something impressive. The budget could have been better, considering it’s a Shirow show. Oh well…
The dub was done at Manga Video UK’s studio around 1991, and it shows. Directed by Michael Bakewell (an experienced BBC Producer, theatre director, and Radio Drama director), it uses mostly British and Canadian actors putting on American accents. However unlike many of their later dubs, they didn’t really clean up the script, and so a few British English idioms and sayings get used, which sounds quite out of place said in an American accent. That being said it’s not the only thing to note. In addition the dub was “punched up” like so many of their other dubs, by adding curses wherever they could. Unlike their work on Cyber City it seems a little forced, and doesn’t quite fit. Sure it goes along with the content which is quite mature, but I feel they really went overboard here. I don’t really mind it too much, I just wished they didn’t put the cursing pedal to the medal here. It just doesn’t work too well. One good thing about the cursing here, is at least it’s not badly timed, nor does it make the dub sound clumpy or cluttered (cough* Demon City Shinjuku * Cough* Cough). It’s just there’s far too much of it. However the acting here is mostly good, and that’s what counts the most for me. A few actors give a bad line here or there, but overall it’s solid. Bill Roberts was brilliantly cast as Bularios, who does an amazing job. This is a character where we can’t see his emotions at all, due to his head being robotic, and so the only emotional hook we can have to figure him out is his voice. In addition it would be far too easy to play him as some tough, gruff, mean, old police officer, which he is not. In fact I’d go as far to say Bill Roberts’s nuanced performance makes the character seem pretty human. Larissa Murray plays Dunan and she does an admirable job, but when she curses it just seems so very forced. The main terrorist, A.J. Sebastian was played by Vincent Marzello (who did an amazing job as Sengoku in Cyber City). In this show he just is not impressing me at all. He fits the character I suppose, but half the time he just seems disinterested. I liked Julia Brahms as Hitomi . Julia Brahms phoned in her performance when she played a character in Psychic Wars (A show that I saw for free and still want a refund for), but she’s much better here. All in all the dub here is pretty good, but far from Bakewell’s best efforts ( Cyber City, A Wind Named Amnesia, Dominion Tank Police). I think some minor characters early on sound pretty bad though. The soundtrack here is another aspect to really love. There’s an investigation montage scene, where a very 80’s pop song is playing that just felt so very right to me. And the ending theme is great 80’s pop! I know I’ll be listening to it over and over from now on. The sound of 80’s J-pop really fit well with the cyberpunk scene.
I liked this anime much better then the mediocre 2004 CGI Appleseed Film. I never saw Appleseed Ex Machina but if it’s anything like the 2004 film I can spend my time better organizing my computer room while listening to 80’s music. But this film is quite good. While the plot is straightforward and doesn’t really throw out any twists, it frankly doesn’t need to (nor does it have the time to do it well anyway). However it manages to make convincing and likable characters in a short time frame, as well as bring up some really deep themes along with the whole cyberpunk aspect of it all. Not to mention that I love anything 80’s in style. Manga Entertainment released this on DVD a few times in the US, their most recent being in 2007 when they dumped their entire catalogue out in “Essence of Anime” releases. This is the version I bought, and it’s still quite cheap and easy to find. I’m very glad they dumped their catalogue out before their stuff starting going OOP. It makes sure these titles won’t be hard to find in the years to come. But where’s my Mad Bull 34 on DVD? HUH MANGA!! France got it! Ah-hem…Anyway I definitely recommend Appleseed 1988. It may not be your new favorite flick, but it’s still a great way to spend an hour. It’s a badass futuristic anime with something to say.
3.5 / 5 Stars
Positives: A well written action flick, with something interesting to say. Good characters , 80’s music and style, and great mechanical design.
Negatives: Art can be a little plain, animation isn’t as good as you’d expect, one plot problem, and too much cursing in the dub.