Recent anime movies have raised the visual bar through use of CGI. Appleseed goes the whole hog with a combination of 3D rendered sets, 3D cell shaded characters and motion actors to provide realistic movements and cinematography. Some say this introduces a new genre beyond anime – but what we really want to know is “Is it a decent movie?” Well in a word, yes!
Directed by Shinji Aramaki’s, who was incidentally once a character designer on the cult 80s TV series M.A.S.K, Appleseed is set in 2131 after the Third World War. It tells the tale of Utopia, a world in which 50% of the population is made up from Bioriods (man made humans). These Bioriods are restrained on emotions and are seen as the ideal solution to balance the human thirst for war and thus maintain the peace.
Enter, human Deunan Knute, a SWAT trained, lean, mean, killing machine who has been plucked from the war zone – in which she was still unwittingly fighting. Her quest is to find the Appleseed, the final code, which will allow the Bioroids to reproduce and maintain the same lifecycle as humans, and deliver it to the legitimate owner. A rip roaring, robot-blasting quest unfolds in which she unlocks secrets to her own existence alongside her 75% mechanized lover Briareos.
Based on a comic by Masamune Shirow (also a writer on Ghost in a Shell: Innocence) this movie is an intense visual delight. The backdrops and robots are beautifully 3D rendered with the 3D cell shaded figures approaching near perfection. I say “near perfection” as I found some of the character movements a little clunky. However, this can easily be forgiven as the move to 3D models allows for mind blowing cinematographic effects simply not possible using traditional hand drawn backdrops and figures. In fact you could easily argue that the word backdrop does not apply to such a movie – these are virtual sets.
The action sequences are superb and attention to detail on the mechanical models of robots, buildings, transport and weapons are truly awe-inspiring. In one scene a sexy looking ninja assassin robot brandishing an electronic whip slices open a car engine block revealing all the inner workings. This is just one example of the kind of level of detail you get throughout the film.
It’s not all good news though. Although visually appealing the plot is somewhat complicated, it seems to unfurl, as they do in many of these films, in a scene of dialogue between two of the main characters. I’d advise a crash course in speed-reading for those watching the subtitled version. Miss this and you can pretty much give up hope of understanding what is going on. Not that you’ll be bored as there is plenty to see.
The theme explores how much we can create a “Utopian” world (along the lines of many Asian mega-cities such as Tokyo or Singapore) and to have such control do we need to balance off on human emotions? The Bioroids with their limited emotional state being the metaphor, if they can breed then surely this would spell the end of humanity as we know it. No wars but possibly no love either. These kind of questions seem very apt in a time when technological advancement is growing ever faster and ‘democracy’ spreads via the turret of a Humvee.
High concentration levels are definitely required, if you wish to take in what’s going on and appreciate the overall beauty unfolding on the screen. There is really no let up, with intense dialogue only broken by just as intense action set pieces. The whole thing left me somewhat mentally strained.
That said it’s great to be stimulated both visually and mentally – Armageddon or Men in Black this is definitely not. But I can see how this may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
With a well fitting soundtrack provided by the likes of Paul Oakenfold and Basement Jaxx the overall package worked for me. It really does nudge the anime genre to the next level, albeit in a different way to movies such as Ghost in Shell: Innocence, and the fantastic Korean anime, Wonderful Days.
For anime and science fiction fans alike this is definitely a must see and surely a breakthrough movie that can only be regarded as a milestone in animated story telling. As the first full CG anime, no doubt it will be superseded (at least technologically) at some point in the future. But the fact that it’s arrived at all ensures that the next few years will surely be an exciting time for anime fans old and new.