By most standards, the “Appleseed” series has a long history. Starting as a manga series in 1985, Masamune Shirow’s creation has seen the original 4-volume manga collection, three feature length films, a video game adaptation, and a 13-episode TV series.
Now there’s a new feature length film, “Appleseed Alpha.” This CGI-animated prequel is set in the gutted cityscapes that remain after the Global War, and explores the early days of the beautiful, jutting soldier Deunan and her companion, the cyborg warrior Briareos.
At this point in their shared history, Deunan and Briareos are just guns for hire for the cyborg warlord Two Horns, in the remains of New York City. On a final mission to clear their debt to him, they rescue a young woman named Iris and her bodyguard Olson from a drone attack. In addition to being from the utopian city of Olympus, they find that Iris is also the key to a massive advanced weapons system sought by the villainous Talos in his bid to rule the re-building civilization. When Talos and his assassin henchwoman Nyx take Iris hostage, Deunan and Briareos go to her rescue.
I can’t pretend to know enough about the series’ history to say whether “Appleseed Alpha” is faithful or aberrant or whatever. So I’m watching this as a standalone, and long-time fans will just have to be patient with me.
There should be enough to reward those fans here, or even casual anime fans. The CGI and motion-capture is extraordinary, highly detailed and fluid, with a real sense of weight and presence in the character movement, and astonishing varieties of light and texture. Look carefully at the gradations of skin tone, or the hair movement on Deunan’s head, or the shading and movement of Iris’ face at the campfire. We’re not out of the uncanny valley yet, but this sure isn’t Tom Hanks in “Polar Express.”
The action sequences are briskly staged by director Shinji Aramaki, and edited with enjoyable flair, balancing the believable and the preposterous in equal measure. The visual look has some derivative elements here and there (spot the borrowed stuff on your own time), but keeps its own gritty personality, and the reveal of the mobile weapon in the last reel is worth the wait, even if it did bring back some unpleasant memories of the dire Will Smith-starring “Wild Wild West.”
I wish I could say I was surprised and disappointed, but the dialogue is a predictably uneven blend of clunky exposition and humor, and character development that never really develops, relying heavily on past familiarity. They’re battle-scarred and tired, and just want to get out of the city and you know the rest, they seem to be saying. Given these script limitations, the voice characterizations are blunt but effective, and the pace rolls right over a lot of the biggest clinkers.
“Appleseed Alpha” may entertainingly answer some origin questions for long time fans, and keep neophytes involved, as well. But the question of why a female soldier would wear cleavage-exposing body armor is best left unanswered, I think.
The Blu-ray of “Appleseed Alpha” is 1080p, in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This disc looks fantastic, detailed and focused, and filled with memorable ‘pop’ moments of color, explosions and flame and glowing diode eyeballs. The incredible animation is well-served here. There are subtitle options for English, English SDH, Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Korean, Spanish, and Turkish. The Blu-ray includes code for access to an Ultraviolet digital copy.
The audio track is a solid, well-balanced 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. There are audio options for French, and German in this set-up, and English audio description and Spanish in 5.1 Dolby Digital.
- A lengthy and detailed making-of, broken into eleven segments, consisting mostly of interviews with a large number of the Japanese filmmakers, and not just the usual above-the-line types. I found the motion capture segments the most interesting.
- A filmmakers’ commentary track, with director Shinji Aramaki, producer Joseph Chou and some guy from Sony Pictures whose name I didn’t catch. It’s all in Japanese, with subtitles, and dull enough to probably only be worth it for completists.
Suffering from predictable dialogue and characterization problems, but with energy and CGI pizazz to spare, “Appleseed Alpha” is an enjoyable, action-packed prequel adventure for fans of the series and newbies, too.