Starring Masako Katsuki, Yoshisada Sakaguchi, Toshiko Sawada, Toshio Furukawa, Nobou Iwamoto, Mayumi Sho
Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama
Masamune Shirow didn’t only make Ghost in the Shell, he also created the less well-known Appleseed. There have been a host of films made for this franchise as well, but most of them have been relatively recent. This first attempt is the only version from the twentieth century, and it handily proves just why Appleseed is less well-known than Ghost in the Shell.
Firstly, I should point out that 1988’s version of Appleseed is rather low-budget. The animation feels much more like an early ’80s anime rather than a late ’80s one. It’s low-detail and low-frame rate. This isn’t to bash the film — I don’t judge a production by how much money someone shoved at it — but with the sleek, shiny Ghost in the Shell as the face of Masamune Shirow’s work it’s easy to expect similar production values from Appleseed as well. That, however, would be a mistake.
The real problems of Appleseed have more to do with its clumsy plot than its clumsy animation. I remember being rather disappointed with the original manga as well, so it might be something to do with the source material, but it is undeniable that Appleseed‘s first film adaptation has some serious flaws in its execution.
Now despite this concept, Appleseed is not a dystopian future per se. It has some issues, but by and large Olympus is in fact a nice place to live and the government’s mission is to preserve the peace and prosperity of its citizens. It even selects immigrants from the post-apocalyptic wastelands to join the society at large. This includes the main characters, Deunan and her cyborg (not bioroid) partner, whose name seems to be spelled differently in every available source (sometimes even in the same source). Since I no longer have the DVD with me to verify which spelling it used, I’ll just stick with calling him Briareos.
You’re given a few action scenes to chew on while you mull over the confusion of it all, but it takes the first half of the film to even have a grasp on the basic situation. This isn’t helped any by the fact that Deunan and Briareos aren’t given much depth. Character development is dropped in favor of more confusing plot stuff that’s hard to figure out, so you wind up without much investment in the main characters, and that’s always a bad sign.
The terrorist’s motives, however, are left almost completely ignored, which does put a damper on things. All we are left with is the traitor police officer, Calon, who becomes the real star of the film by virtue of the fact that he is the only character given any kind of characterization. Despite how lovely Olympus is, his fiancée wound up depressed and bored to the point of suicide, and in his loneliness and despair Calon decides to blame it all on Olympus. Calon becomes the glue that holds the entire film together, and I remained intrigued to see just how far he would fall in his quest to bring revenge on the society that he sees as having killed his fiancée.
With all the flaws piled up in this anime, it’s hard to give Appleseed a recommendation. It has a few good moments, and the action can be quite clever at times, but the clumsy plot drags it down to the point of mediocrity. The worst part is that it was trying to work with some intriguing themes of human nature and living in a regulated utopia that could have elevated the film to high art, but it never manages to address those themes in any meaningful way, leaving its story and characters floundering. Those looking for Masamune Shirow’s signature take on sci-fi concepts will only find a dim shadow of it here. Only hardcore fans and those dying to see the franchise in its entirety need apply.