For my latest review, I’m jumping into the CG military cyberpunk film, Appleseed Alpha. Having been a fan of Appleseed for a few years now, my only hope going into this was that it captured the feel of the manga a little better than the previous efforts had. That’s not to say that I disliked any of the previous Appleseed anime, simply that they were missing something for me. So, how did it do? Let’s find out.
Background: Produced by Sola Digital Arts (Starship Troopers: Invasion and the Tekken 7 opening movie) and directed by Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed and Space Pirate Captain Harlock), Appleseed Alpha is an alternate origin story to not only the previous CG runs, but Masamune Shirow’s original manga too. It originally released in the USA in 2014, then branched back into Japan in 2015.
The story follows Deunan Knute and her cyborg lover/partner Briareos as they journey through a 22nd century post-apocalyptic New York. Barely scratching a living, they are hired by the cyborg warlord of the city, Two Horns, to take out some bipedal combat machines left over from the war. During the gun fight, our heroes meet Iris and Olson, two fugitives on the run from a war hungry cyborg named Talos. From there, things go from bad to worse, and Deunan and Briareos soon end up wrapped up in a battle they didn’t want any part of. But hey, if it gives them a clue as to where the fabled utopia of Olympus is, how bad could things get?
The Good: The first thing that I want to mention here is the quality of the art and animation. Both Appleseed 2004 and Appleseed Ex Machina were good, but the style of animation in each felt slightly off-putting at times to me. While the Appleseed XIII series improved upon this, it still seemed a slight step behind some of the other CG features out there. Here though, the team have opted for something closer to the Final Fantasy CG films in terms of style, and it works wonders. Despite the odd little unnatural looking movement, the film is visually really nice. The action comes fast and heavy, the character designs (in particular for the cyborgs) are really nicely done, and the actual environment is near photo-realistic, right down to small stones and blades of grass. Oh, and of course, we have a suitably impressive spider tank to view. What would a Masamune Shirow piece be without one, eh? Seriously though, this truly is a major improvement, and I for one hope that the quality continues with any further instalments.
The story itself is a pretty good one too. It’s got enough of an intrigue to it in terms of the way the world is set up to keep most viewers interested, yet succeeds in not coming across as a pretentious piece of tries-too-hard. On top of that, with a 93-minute run time, the pacing is kept swift with nothing really screaming filler. Between the interesting character interactions and the effectively placed set-pieces, there isn’t really any time to get bored with this effort, which is great to see.
Having the characters set at an earlier point has meant that the setting can shift from utopian to dystopian, and that opens some doors in terms of what can be portrayed. With the characters clearly frustrated with their lot, there is ample opportunity to use set-pieces to not only add to their plight, but to push them forward in terms of character progression. Where this shines the most for me is with Briareos. I’m a big fan of his and Deunan’s relationship, and to see it at an earlier stage here is certainly interesting. At the start of the film, Briareos is not the usually calm, dutiful soldier that we know, but is instead a jaded warrior with a tendency to get angry when pushed by his partner. Why, at one point in the film, he makes the poignant statement, “We fought a world war, and at the end of it all, who won? No one, that’s who. It is all pointless.” By the end of the film though, he has regained his hope and is set on ensuring that he and Deunan reach somewhere that they can call home. Between this and Deunan’s wavering faith, it’s a marvellous addition to the story.
The Bad: There isn’t really too much to say here. If I want to get nit-picky, I would say that while the voice cast does a good job, I am left with a similar dilemma that I faced in the previous Appleseed CG works. That being that neither the English nor the Japanese VA’s for Deunan hit the mark for me. Neither of them are bad, both perform decently, but neither has the tone that I’ve always pictured Deunan having. How you feel may vary though.
As stated above, some odd movements feel a little off in the animation. It’s never more than a second or two here or there, and it doesn’t really take you out of the story at all, but if you notice them, they will make you think twice. That’s not too big a deal though as, like I said, the overall quality is very high.
I would have perhaps liked to have seen the movie extended slightly to show a little of the previous connection between Olson and Talos. I think that an expanded story for Talos’ companion Nyx would also have been a nice addition, if for no other reason than that she comes across as eerily crazy to me.
Subbed or Dubbed: Both versions are good, but I’d definitely pick the English dub over the Japanese subbed version. David Matranga is a perfect fit for Briareos, and Wendel Calvert does a phenomenal job as the quirky Two Horns. Meanwhile, in the battle of the Deunan’s, Luci Christian just comes across as a little better for me.
Final View: Easily the most visually stunning entry into the franchise, and by far the most efficient at capturing the feel of the source material, Appleseed Alpha is a quick watch that never lets up and does plenty to draw viewers in. If you’re new to the characters, I highly recommend hitting this one up first and then moving on to the 2011 series Appleseed XIII.
Final Score: 4.5 / 5