No bad apple, and very few pips.
The aftermath of World War III. The rise of techno-oriented megacities. Police in robotic power armour. Where would animation be without the Japanese, eh? There are workaday pencil pushers in this world of wide-eyed, gun-totin' guys and gals, and there are legends of Anime. One such legend is comic book and OVA auteur Masamune Shirow, and one of his most legendary serials is Appleseed. One of the first wave of Manga video releases in the UK, Appleseed's animated translation is often granted snorts of derision by purists of the craft, but this reviewer for one finds it massively entertaining.
Set in a post-apocalyptic time when governments have joined forces to create the perfect city, the events of Appleseed transpire in the sprawling metropolis of Olympus. One of this new utopia's selling points is it's inclusion of Biodroids; half-human, half-machine hybrids fabricated to carry out administrative duties around the city. Rather than affording the human populous freedom to pursue other matters, a band of disgruntled (and frequently comical) terrorists view the system as oppressive and seek to attain liberation by bringing down Gaia, the city's central computer system.
Stealing the plans and technical data for a new and massively powerfull government war machine called the Multipede Cannon, chief shit-stirrer AJ Sebastian sets about engineering the premature shutdown of said system, stirring the interest of local law enforcement renegades along the way. Step forward Nat Deunan and her robotically enhanced, virtually unpronounceable partner Buliaros Hecatombcales. Never ones to let a little red tape get in the way, Nat and Buliaros become entangled with Sebastian when their intervention in the terrorists' initial raid fails to prevent his escape, and so they set about apprehending him and foiling his nefarious plan by their own unorthodox methods.
Weighing in at a mere 68 minutes PAL runtime, it's amazing anyone even finds the time to criticise what is admittedly, for the most part at least, a fairly shallow exploration of already well-trodden themes. There's not a heck of a lot of character development, and another ten or fifteen minutes of such material might well have given the critics a little less to moan about. That the reason the characters are so thinly portrayed is due to the runtime being absolutely ram-jam with quality action should present you with some idea of the pacing of the picture. Writer-director Kazuyoshi Katayama clearly counts on his audience already being familiar with his protagonists through their exploits in Shirow's comic series, and concentrates instead on a wonderfully insane race against time between the police and Sebastian that is portrayed with such wild and gay abandon you'll be lucky to notice anything like a plot deficiency before the credits get slung in your face.
That Appleseed takes such glee in ignoring pacing convention is not it's only strength. Blessed with a frequently comical English dub, the movie takes on a life of it's own when viewed outside the constraints of it's original language presentation. There are innumerable moments of inspired delivery from the cast, and a handful of lines are so brilliantly put forth that I still chuckle to this very day after god knows how many viewings. Quite who supervised the English translation I don't know, but they deserve some kind of award for moments such as a gun-toting criminal chortling at the police "If we don't get what we want then you can whistle Dixie!". Trust me when I say it's a lot funnier than it sounds.
For all the slapdash enthusiasm and verbal eccentricity, there are still a couple of moments of measured humanity here, mostly in the interaction between our two crazy cops and the biomechanical Olympians Sebastian would seek to destroy. Of course it's nothing new and has already been trodden on better a million times before, but that Katayama san finds time for it at all when he could easily have just chucked in another couple of bouts of gunfire is admirable indeed. Some will no doubt pour scorn on this as merely paying lip service to thematic depth, but Appleseed never sets out to be anything other than brashly entertaining and I for one prefer to see it as a glass half full rather than a glass half empty.
As much as I enjoy the Manga scene, I've always been a bit of a surface dweller, only really checking out the most accessible and commercially available titles. Maybe it's this comparative "newbie" knowledge of the whole thing that renders me unable to criticise Appleseed as much as many others seem fit to do. Then again, maybe it's just that I approach these things without preconception or expectation and am subsequently pleasantly surprised when they turn out to be so damn entertaining. And correct me if I'm wrong here, but aren't movies, animated or otherwise, supposed to be entertaining?
Disko awards this much-maligned effort 4 out of 5 Whistlin' Dixies.
Bill Roberts (Buliaros Hecatombcales - English dub)
Vincent Marzello (AJ Sebastian - English dub)