Rating -

Cast & Crew info:
Toshio Furukawa
Nobuo Iwamoto
A.J. Sebastian
Masako Katsuki
Dunan Nats
Yoshisada Sakaguchi
Toshiko Sawad

Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama; Based on the story by Masamune Shirow

Animated Japan); Not Rated; contains blood and gore and mild language; Running Time
71 Minutes

Official Site

Review Uploaded

Written by DAVID KEYES

People tend to underestimate the power of Japanese animation, not so much for the actual artistic style but for the imaginative, elaborate and often bewildering stories they throw at us. Think of the mind-numbing and twisted thrills of “Akira,” or the compelling fantasy world of “Princess Mononoke.” Feature cartoons don’t have to be visually superior to those of the mainstream in order to be better, nor, for that matter, do they have to restrain themselves to material that would only attract the eyes of a child. Until our moviegoers are willing to understand that, mainstream animation will always be considered a youth market, made up of elaborate imagery but stories with limited appeal.

“Appleseed,” one of the latest releases from Manga Video, the lead distributor of anime in the states, is a prime example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Granted, it’s choppy and simple, with characters inked underneath hard edges, but little of that matters when you compare it to the compelling premise. In it, mankind has suffered a great relapse in population, a result stemmed from the disasters of World War III, which not only reduced their numbers, but destroyed much of the planet itself. To preserve what remained of their civilization,diffused governments from around the world constructed a large metropolis called Olympus, which was, at the time, considered not just an ideal habitat for survival, but a utopia of perfection for all of its residents. There, citizens are showered with equality, wealth, employment, and are even given the opportunity to live in specifically manipulated climates and environments. Unfortunately, such elements are what make some humans feel like they’ve been imprisoned in a plastic society, and in the plot’s turning point, a terrorist named A.J. Sebastian conspires to bring the city down and restore man’s independence, even though the obstacles against him are numerous.

The city itself is not ruled by humans, but rather “Biodroids,” which are described as half human, half machine, programmed to live specifically in the manipulated environments and serve mankind down to the last aspect. But biodroids don’t appear to be doing that at all; in fact, the city’s Management Director, Athena, is a capitalist who cares little about human beings, other than using them to achieve her goals and keep the city stable and intact. She enlists the help of two members of ESWAT, the primary defense system of Olympus, to track down the terrorist known as Sebastian and eliminate him, along with anyone else who supports his cause. But should these two humans even follow those orders, especially when they seemingly agree when one character notes that they “no longer live, only exist?”

“Appleseed” is being released alongside another anime film called “Black Jack,” which, like this one, centers on an individual’s somewhat-questionable attempts at expanding humanity’s vitality. But whereas the latter is blanketed in very vivid storytelling and characters, certain qualities about this release prevent it from being the great product it could have been. For one thing, many of the story’s central characters are greatly underwritten, sometimes serving merely as vehicles to transport us from one plot point to another. The movie is also very short, too, clocking in at 71 minutes (including the credits), preventing us from seriously getting into the plot. And then there’s the biodroids themselves, which is an intriguing concept, but suffers in the end because the movie never makes a clear visual distinction between them and ordinary humans. When someone walks on screen, we aren’t sure of who they really even are or who they’re working for.

But what is lacking in those areas is more than compensated for by a highly fun-filled story, which maybe, just maybe, could have inspired parts of both “Dark City” and “The Matrix,” if you think about it. “Appleseed” is not one of those great anime projects like “Princess Mononoke” or “X,” but for those who would just like to try and gradually break into the genre, it serves as a fine starting point.

© 2001, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
All published materials contained herein are owned by their respective authors and cannot be reprinted, either in their entirety or in selection, without the expressed written consent of the writers.

© 2007