Stephen reviews: Appleseed α (2014)

appleseedalpha_1Appleseed α [アップルシード アルファ] (2014)
AKA Appleseed Alpha

Starring Luci Christian, David Matranga, Wendel Calvert, Chris Hutchinson, Adam Gibbs, Brina Palencia, Elizabeth Bunch, Joshua Sheltz

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


Welcome to the last, or at least most recent, Appleseed film. I’m glad to finally be here because that means I don’t have to keep watching this stuff any more. I’ve gotten more than my fill of Appleseed this past month. I held out a bit of hope that this new one would be an improvement, but that was a false hope. Appleseed α is pretty much the same as the others. Except for that whole part about not having the Japanese audio. Yeah, that was a rather unpleasant surprise.

I poked about for an explanation, and the best I could come up with is the same explanation Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust had, that the Japanese audio wasn’t finished yet, and may still be in production as far as I know. I didn’t look very hard, though. Unlike Bloodlust, Appleseed α isn’t all that great of a film. Bloodlust‘s crappy dub was a tragedy, but Appleseed? Eh, who cares? It’s not worth getting bothered over. The good thing is that, also unlike Bloodlust, the actors in Appleseed were actually trying to act. I grew up with anime in the 1990s, and I will never ever get over the initial fear when watching an English dub that it’ll sound like shit. I know the industry standard has improved since then, but at this point it’s a knee-jerk reaction that I’m never going to grow out of.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed α (2014) →

Stephen reviews: Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007)

tk73wZ7JF3GlIDYnhkbT9lxDJFKAppleseed: Ex Machina [エクスマキナ] (2007)
AKA Appleseed Saga: Ex Machina

Starring Ai Kobayashi, Kouichi Yamadera, Gara Takashima, Miyuki Sawashiro, Naoko Kouda, Rei Igarashi, Takaya Hashi, Yuuji Kishi

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


I suppose Appleseed: Ex Machina is a sequel to the 2004 film, but there isn’t any carryover between the two films. They’re basically two completely unrelated stories about the same people in the same place doing the same stuff. Athena is clearly younger than before, though, so make of that what you will. Maybe plastic surgery in Olympus is really awesome. I would say that it’s a good idea to watch one of the prior films just to have an idea about the characters, but honestly things here are so unrelated and formulaic that there’s no real point. The background and setting are pretty much irrelevant in this film. It’s a future police action movie; that’s all you need to know.

They also nabbed John Woo as producer, and they’re quite proud of that fact, even blasting loose with a flock of pigeons when his name pops up in the opening credits. I’m not sure how much he was involved with things, but I can definitely see the difference his influence made. The action scenes are a lot more over-the-top and intricate than the 2004 film, despite having the same director.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007) →

Stephen reviews: Appleseed (2004)

20052694156.7577495Appleseed [アップルシード] (2004)

Starring Ai Kobayashi, Jurouta Kosugi, Mami Koyama, Yuki Matsuoka, Miho Yamada, Takehito Koyasu, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Yuzuru Fujimoto

Directed by Shinji Aramaki


It took 15 years for someone to make another Appleseed film, and this one is pretty much the exact opposite of the first. They both center around Deunan and Briareos, members of Olympus’s S.W.A.T. team in the wake of World War III, facing off against terrorists and traitorous elements of their utopian society. But where the original film focused on tactical and strategic combat without any real attempt at characterization or explanation, the newer adaptation of the tale is chock full of explanation while dumbing down the action scenes to just look cool rather than have any thought behind them.

The other big difference is the animation. The original film was low-budget and looked rather dated even for its time. This version, however, came after the colossal success of Ghost in the Shell, and producers were a lot more willing to risk cash on Masamune Shirow’s other properties. So the new version has sleek CG animation, which astonishes by actually not looking like total shit. Just partial shit. Pixar this ain’t, but I have seen a good deal worse. In fact, most anime CG from the 2000s does look like total shit — anime has always lagged behind its western counterparts in terms of digital functionality — but it’s clear that Appleseed had a lot of loving care put into its production design. That doesn’t mean I like it. I still hate CG productions like this, but when you knowingly jump head first into a full CG film, there’s not much reason to rant about it being CG. So I’ll restrain myself and focus on the film’s other features instead.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed (2004) →

Stephen reviews: Appleseed (1988)

appoavAppleseed [アップルシード] (1988)

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.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Appleseed (1988) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008)

ghostintheshell20_1Ghost in the Shell 2.0 [攻殻機動隊 2.0 Kôkaku kidôtai 2.0] (2008)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kouichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Tamio Ohki

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


I was not looking forward to the final entry in my journey through the Ghost in the Shell films. In fact, I almost decided to skip it over entirely. But in the end I decided to tough it out and watch this thing just for completion’s sake, or perhaps to give a warning to prospective viewers that might try to see this version instead of the original. Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is a touch-up of the 1995 film, much like what George Lucas did to the Star Wars trilogy just prior to the release of the prequels. (So it is strangely appropriate that Lucasfilm did the audio post-production here.) And just like Star Wars, the “upgrades” are useless at best, and obnoxious the rest of the time.

It could have been worse. I was expecting the entire thing to be redone in pure CG, but only a few scenes were desecrated that way. Most of the film does use the original cell animation. This means that most of the film is still intact and still enjoyable, even though the changes make it far less so than the original. With Star Wars you could make the argument that younger viewers would be unwilling to accept the old special effects, and maybe those retooled versions did attract some new fans that otherwise would have never watched them. But with Ghost in the Shell, there’s just no reason. The quality of animation has always had more to do with the amount of effort put into it than the technology available at the time. Just look up some of Max Fleischer’s Superman films from the ’40s; they’re extremely well animated even by today’s standards. Likewise, Ghost in the Shell is a gorgeous film already. Tinkering with it is a complete waste of time.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (2006)

solidstatesociety_1Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society [攻殻機動隊 STAND ALONE COMPLEX Solid State Society] (2006)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kouichi Yamadera, Kazuya Tatekabe, Masuo Amada, Osamu Saka, Takashi Onozuka, Taro Yamaguchi, Toru Ohkawa, Yutaka Nakano, Yuya Uchida

Directed by Kenji Kamiyama


When I started this journey through the Ghost in the Shell films I fully expected them to go straight downhill and never recover, and even though I still think the original 1995 film is the best, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the franchise has held its quality. Solid State Society keeps that tradition going with another good blend of cyberpunk thrills and intellectual depth. I think that’s what holds the series up and keeps it from grinding to a halt. It has never drifted so far into action fluff that it becomes mindless, but it has also never forgotten to keep that visceral edge honed sharp.

Unlike the previous Stand Alone Complex films, this one is actually meant to be a film. It is not a compilation, or even an adaptation. The story was intended from the start to be a movie, and that has helped it avoid the flaws that brought down Individual Eleven. I was hoping that would translate into better animation, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. It still looks about the same as the other Stand Alone series. That’s no terrible insult or anything, but it would have been nice to get a visual boost.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (2006) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd GIG: Individual Eleven (2006)

individual11_1Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd GIG: Individual Eleven [攻殻機動隊 S.A.C. 2nd GIG Individual Eleven] (2006)

Starring Arsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Ooki Sugiyama, Osamu Saka, Rikiya Koyama, Sakiko Tamagawa, Taimei Suzuki, Ken Nishida, Takashi Onozuka, Taro Yamaguchi, Toru Ohkawa, Yuko Sumimoto, Yutaka Nakano

Directed by Kenji Kamiyama


As the title might suggest, this is a sequel to the previous Stand Alone Complex. It’s also a compilation film just like The Laughing Man. Because it’s a part of the same TV series, it has the same solid animation, though a little heavy on the CG for my tastes, and the same great dramatic Yoko Kanno scores. But somehow Individual Eleven didn’t entertain me as much as The Laughing Man did. It was a bit less action packed and more explanation packed. And this is in a franchise that is already very explanation heavy in the first place.

It doesn’t help that it mimics the opening scene of the original Ghost in the Shell film not once, but twice over the course of the movie. Yeah, I know, it was a cool scene, but I don’t need to see it reenacted all the time. After that opening that I’ve basically seen before, it dives into a very long fictional history lesson to set the groundwork for the events of the film. I can’t say that this was unnecessary, but it really dragged down the first part of the film. Things thankfully pick up from there, but I couldn’t get into it as much as the previous film. It may have just been that opening breaking the mood, but I wasn’t so fond of some other factors either.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd GIG: Individual Eleven (2006) →

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