Obviously I think Appleseed is a pretty cool franchise. I'm not the only one, though if you check out the web, it's easy to notice that viewers are divided evenly into two camps, those fanatically positive about the franchise beyond fair criticism, and then those who nearly relish underating the two contemporary movie episodes, giving them disconcertingly poor reviews and picking them apart unnecessarily.
That said, what have the others thought of Appleseed?
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PIQ Magazine (April 2008)Edit
Site Admin's Notes:
PIQ Magazine was an offshoot of Newtype USA, a monthly publication aimed at the US anime/manga market, with significant portions of each issue dedicated to anime-themed gadgets and consumer electronics. Like its predecessor, it was discontinued, in PIQ's case, after about three or four months of circulation. It's premier edition debuted in April 2008, and featured a cover article on the newly released episode of Appleseed Ex Machina by David F. Smith.
- The filmed Appleseed isn't quite the same as the classic manga version. Actually, none of the three motion pictures named Appleseed have anything to do with each other, directly. The 2004 movie was a far cry from the early '90s OVA -- and Appleseed Ex Machina isn't actually a sequel to any of its spiritual predecessors, either.
- Masamune Shirow's creations have always proven surpisingly mutable -- consider the three (or even four) distinct incarnations of Ghost in the Shell. The man himself tore down and rebuilt his Dominion when he wanted to write another story about policemen driving tanks. So what makes an Appleseed story Appleseed, then?
- If Ghost in the Shell is more of a story about ideas -- hence the ease with which it passes the spotlight around between different leading characters -- Appleseed, at its core (har har), is still a story about people. Break it down, and it's almost a buddy-cop movie like 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon. Deunan Knute has the Mel Gibson role, three-quarters professional and one-quarter crazy. Briareos Hecatonchires gets to play Danny Glover, forever complaining about his out-of-control partner.
- Of course, there's a little more to it than that. It's also about the people that fill the world around them, in a future where war has reminded everyone of exactly how much civilization has to lose. Briareos and Deunan are outsiders in the city of Olympus, and the audience sees it through their outsider's eyes. It's a place where genetic engineering has created something like paradise, at no trifling cost in freedom and self determination. The two of them fight to defend it, but that's not to say they're entirely comfortable with what they're defending.
- Ex Machina steps further into territory the manga explored in just a few brief episodes. Shirow designed a new character for the movie's original story to revolve around -- Tereus, a genetically engineered human pattered after Briareos' own DNA. He's a clone, or near enough to one, which poses the interesting question of just what pieces come together to make the man. Briareos himself is a brain kept alive by a mostly mechanical body, but he still feels as much for Deunan as he did before a terrorist bomb destroyed his flesh and blood frame.
- It's the kind of turf Blade Runner covered, spiced with an extra touch of ugency when cyborgs all across Olympus rise up and run amok. With Briareos affected by the phenomenon as well, Deunan and Tereus are left ot track down the cause, while Tereus struggles to deal with the emotions that are second nature to his genetic predecessor.
- If this all sound a little distressingly cerebral, rest assured that there will also be bullets. Executive producer John Woo has a reputation to uphold, after all.
- When he first planted his flag on the landscape of international film. John Woo was famous for more or less one thing. His early films remain landmarks in on-screen carnage, elaborate ballets of men, guns, and thousands upon thousands of squibs going off. Trivia hounds may note that while the new Rambo flick is impressively bloody, Woo's Hard Boiled stills beats Stallone's body count by more than 25 percent.
- A decade and a half later, the one-time king of Hong Kong "blood opera" is what you might call horizontally diversified. His first video game project was one of last year's hit realeses, the next-gen shoot-'em-up Stranglehold. Red Cliff, the latest film he personally wrote and directed, is a cast-of-thousands costume epic based on China's classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Meanwhile, he's just finished leading hte production of Ex Machina, his first foray into the world of Japanese animation.
- Woo admits he wasn't much into anime until recently. The first Appleseed feature from Shinji Aramaki and Digital Frontier was his gateway drug -- Ex Machina's production showed him the firm in hipes of sparking his interest in a followup project. He was impressed, to say the least. "The artwork and design were beautiful," he says; "the emotions were so real. It had an amazing love story, a human story."
- When Woo got on board, the vision for Ex Machina went though a dramatic overhaul. "With John's involvemnet," co-producer Jonathan Chou explains, "the level of the game was upped in terms of budget, visual and creative direction." Old scripts were scrapped and the production shifted into high gear, expanding to encompass an original story with brand-new characters and mecha designs.
- Woo says this won't be his last experience in the animation business. "Actually," he notes, "we've been developing feature animation for a while." Beyond that, though, he has all kinds of irons in the fire. Before Red Cliff, he directed a short movie to benefit UNICEF, the interational children's chaity. He also hasn't said goobye to the video game industry where his production company has at least one more project on the boil.
- Amidst all that, Woo still plans to find time for writing and directing more movies of his own. "In the near future, I'm going to make a love sotry with no action," he says. With a laugh, he adds, "Is that eclectic?" Eclectic it is, and it just goes to show that he has far more in him than blood, guts, and bullets.
- Ever since he made his big splash in the '80s with the first Appleseed manga stories, Masamune Shirow has been one of the preeminent world-builders in science fiction. In its orignal form, Appleseed is not so much about plot as immersing the reader in his vision of the future.
- It's a surprisingly durable vision. Shirow's stories lived through the end of the Cold War and the dawn of a new age of uncertainty, yet they're even more resonant now than they were when they first showed up 20 years ago.
- "The relevancy of the Appleseed universe to our own world," as Jonathan Chou puts it, is one of the tings he'd never want ot lose from an Appleseed movie. Olympus sits on a powder keg of racial tension, terror paranoia, and debate about genetic tinkering. Any of those issues happen to ringa bell out there, perhaps?
- While the last manga story saw release in 1990, the world of Appleseed continues to evolve. Far more of its landscape exists than anyone except Shirow himself has ever seen. (The man is a fanatically prolific designer and researcher -- he created an entire shared universe called Neurohard that would have been the basis for stories in all kinds of different media, but the 1995 Kobe earthquake wrecked most of his work on the project.)
- Ex Machina's producers have been lucky enough to lay eyes on a few bits of the Appleseed that might have been. "He's not drawing more manga, but he never really stopped working," is the way that Chou describes it. "He did a whole new series of characters and mecha, even with the story mapped out."
- While the mythical fifth volume of the Appleseed manga will almost certainly stay that way, Chou hints that more of those extra designs may be put to good use regardless. "I can't fully disclose anything yet, he says, "but we're planning another version of Appleseed incorporating some of these. [Shirow] is very keen on using CG animation as a medium to express his creative vision."
- The manga alone still leaves plenty of ground left to cover. The movie that became Ex Machina might not have taken place in Olympus at all -- an early script, based on a hook from the comic, revolved around the rival nation of Poseidon (which is what they call a re-incarnated Japan in Shirow's future). In short, we haven't seen the last of Deunan and Briareos, and there's no guessing where they might wind up next. It's a big world they live in, and even their most dedicated fans have only seen a small slice of what's out there.