Appleseed XIII

A study in equality, unequal to its task.

Rating: 3

SHIRŌ Masamune (士郎 正宗) is a well known and beloved mangaka, although not one of the most prolific: in thirty years he's published only 8 books (plus many artbooks and some shorts). But most of those books have had a profound influence in both manga and anime: even if you've been living under a rock, you have surely heard of at least Ghost in the Shell. Most of his works share aspects of deep worldbuilding and thematic complexity, that makes them hard to transpose to other media: Oshii and Kamiyama moulded GitS to their views and sensibilities, leaving out a good part of the complexity of the original. Dominion is probably the most easy to adapt, since it is essentially a series of visual gags and jokes, if you ignore the attention to mechanics and weapons. Appleseed, on the other hand, seems to be the hardest one.

Appleseed was published in 1985 in four volumes. It's set in a post-WW3 world, with advanced mechanical and biological technologies that allowed the creation of cyborgs, semi-autonomous artificial intelligences, powered suits, and a genetically designed near-human slave species, the bioroids. The manga (and the extensive endnotes) detail both the technological and political landscapes, delving into the goal and struggles of the various national and international organisations and social classes. All of this while also telling the story of the two main characters, Deunan Knute (a human woman) and Briareos Hekatonkheires (a human-cyborg man), who work as part of a crack para-military team, the ESWAT in Olympus City, to keep the peace, control terrorist organisations, and occasionally saving society from the consequence of its own short-sighted actions.

Appleseed has been adapted to animation three times to date: as an OVA in 1988 (directed by KATAYAMA Kazuyoshi (片山 一良), who had previously worked with Studio Ghibli and Studio Pierrot, and would go on to direct The Big O among others), two movies in 2004 and 2007 ("Appleseed" and "Appleseed Ex Machina", directed by ARAMAKI Shinji (荒 牧 伸志), who worked on Megazone 23 and later Halo Legends), and this new series, directed by HAMANA Takayuki (浜名 孝行); none of the adaptations has been particularly good.

This series seems to be set after the events of the manga, and uses the device of international and terrorist intrigue to tackle one of the big issues in the Appleseed world: bioroids are bred and conditioned to be guardian slaves, given control of the cities infrastructure under AI supervision, but considered expendable and not deserving of basic rights. It could have been great, the mix of sentient species in Olympus City was written exactly for that purpose, but sadly the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Appleseed XIII feels overly fond of its own gimmicks, from the CGI to visual effects to the continuous references to Greek mythology. For example, the first 12 episodes are named after the Labours of Heracles, and their plots tries to somehow reflect each trial. Don't get me wrong, Greek myths have always been part of Appleseed, but here it feels more forced than usual. Another aspect that really hindered my enjoyment of the series is the visual presentation: low-polygon CGI without motion capture has never been a good idea, but nowadays it also looks dated. From the specials included in this release we learn that each episode was produced by a different company, because no one wanted to invest the time and money to create the entire show. Apparently the various companies and studios did not share their 3d models or animation routines, resulting in subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences in the way characters look and move from one episode to the next.

Finally, the actual thematic centre of the story, the tension and contrast between the species, ends up taking second or third place behind the battles and some lovers' quarrels.

I think I'm going to re-read the manga, now.

DatesCreated: 2014-03-19 12:04:18 Last modification: 2023-02-10 12:45:24