Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
In a future post-World War 5 world, Deunan Knute lost her mother to a racially-motivated assassination at an early age, so her father trained her to be tough and capable so that she could survive. Many years later a young adult Deunan and her cyborg companion/boyfriend Briareos (a soldier who knew her father and was personally asked to protect and look out for Deunan) have found their way out of the ruins of the old world to Olympus, a shining example of civilization governed by the computer Gaia and managed by Bioroids, artificially-created humans who make up the majority of the city's population and exist to ensure the well-being of humans. There Deunan and Briareos serve in the elite E.S.W.A.T. team, combating terrorists, protecting dignitaries, and otherwise serving duties above and beyond the purview of the police. Although Deunan chafes at being protected and looked out for, as she would much rather have Briareos as an equal (and thus more legitimate love interest), threats abound even for a veritable Eden like Olympus, and some of those threats wind up coming from sources uncomfortably close to home.
Masamune Shirow's original Appleseed manga has thrice before been adapted into anime form (once in the late '80s and twice in the mid-2000s), but this is the first time it has ever been made in TV series form. And given that the series is made all in 3D CG, it is a quite ambitious endeavor indeed, to the point that it sometimes bites off more than it can chew.
So ambitious is the artistic effort, in fact, that director Takayuki Hamana (The Beast Player Erin) and his Jinnai's Animation Studios team farmed the elaborate CG out to 13 prominent Japanese CG studios, one per episode. As a result, while the series has unified design themes and detail work, the textures and animation quality can vary significantly from episode to episode, though in many cases this is only readily noticeable if one is specifically looking for it. This primarily shows up in character movements, as in some scenes characters moving normally have somewhat awkward gaits or postures, while in other places (especially action scenes) the movements and sense of dynamic, free-flowing action are absolutely spectacular. Due to the use of motion capture technology, the series does animate a higher degree of body shifts and movements than normal and makes at least an attempt for a greater range of facial expressiveness, though results on that front are quite mixed. Visuals are awash in incredible detail on armor and armaments, trippy scenes involving broken statues and stained glass window depictions of myths, and CG wonders, and succeeds at making character look distinct without being outlandish; design efforts on racial features and skin tones are especially well-handled by anime standards. Characters who have appeared in previous incarnations of the franchise retain their same basic looks, though Deunan looks a few years younger here than in the 2000s movies. The one negative on this front is that the builds of female characters vary very little, but the series has virtually no blatant fan service to exploit the typically ample bosoms. Despite a lot of violence, the graphic content is also kept to a minimum except for one episode with a vampire/zombie apocalypse-type theme.
The story is equally ambitious, though not as smoothly-executed as it tries to be. The first several episodes at first look like they are mostly stand-alone affairs, and only late in the series does the way in which they are linked become apparent. The Greek mythological themes seen in the earlier incarnations are utterly pervasive here, as not only are the naming conventions largely drawn from Greek myth but the first twelve episodes are also heavily patterned off of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, to the point that each episode is themed after one of the Labors, the overall plot is partly patterned after Hercules's story, and the symbolism which makes the plot relevant to Hercules's story is laid on so thickly that viewers are beaten over the head with it and then kicked in the sides for good measure. In some cases this does result in some interesting observations, such as how the Lernaean Hydra-themed episode compares the way revenge born of hatred can only breed more hatred to the way the Hydra's heads are replaced by two more when chopped off. The series also has some interesting things to say about the sociological and psychological interactions of humans and Bioroids that are not quite run-of-the-mill fare, but those only typically come up when the writing briefly steps outside its sometimes-cumbersome symbolism.
The story told here is a total revamp of that told in previous incarnations, especially with regard to Deunan's background. This time around Deunan is multiracial, as her mother was a light-skinned African and her father was white (though she still has the same fair-skinned, short-bond-haired appearance she always has), and her father was effectively a hard-nosed survivalist instead of a scientist. One episode does reference the mobile turrets event from the first CG movie, though there is no suggestion that any of the other events from that movie took place. The relationship Deunan has with Briareos is more developed here and has firmer romantic leanings. Most significantly, Deunan is decidedly less of a bad-ass here than in any previous incarnation and decidedly more sensitive; calling her more feminine would not quite be accurate, but the writers definitely made an effort to soften her character and rein in her prodigious ability. In some senses this is a blessing, but it also makes the action scenes involving her less impressive. Never explained is how exactly the pair got to Olympus and became part of ESWAT, which leaves a gaping hole in the otherwise-well-developed backstory.
Music and sound production in the series is its most consistent effort, and it proves very effective at adapting to the different settings and moods in the series. Music director Conisch makes eclectic, synthesizer-influenced choices similar to what he does in the Mardock Scramble movies, but with greater and more even impact here. Neither the opener nor the closer stands out beyond them being abnormally short; the opener only clocks in at about a minute in length (1:30 is more typical) and the closer is a mere 30 seconds long.
Funimation's Blu-Ray release of the title is hard-subbed, so playing the subs and dub simultaneously is impossible and thus makes the accuracy of the script difficult to determine, though it seems to stick a little closer to the subs than Funimation dubs normally do. The voice acting certainly has no flaws, as David Matranga and Luci Christian capably reprise their roles from the Sentai dubs of the movies as Briareos and Deunan, respectively, and nearly every other role also hits the mark. Extras include English commentaries for episodes 7 and 12, clean opener and closer, Japanese trailers, and a series of thirteen “Inside of” featurettes that are roughly 10 minutes long each and focus on each of the CG animation studios who worked on each episode. The Limited Edition boxed set includes both the Blu-Rays (two disks) and the DVDs (three disks), each in their own separate cases with reversible covers and included in a sturdy artbox. The visual quality on the Blu-Rays is so distinctly sharper that the DVDs (which are also hard-subbed) are virtually an outdated afterthought. Sound production is great on both versions, though, with the 5.1 TrueHD sound on the Blu-Rays being particularly impressive.
Ultimately Appleseed XIII suffers from the very uneven quality of its episodes in virtually every respect; the submarine episode, for instance, is one of the weakest, while the zombie apocalypse-styled one (which is connect to the human-eating Minotaurs of Greek legend) is one of the best. The final episode even inserts in a bit of humor which is so utterly unexpected that it can be jaw-dropping in how bizarrely incongruous it is. While the series deserves credit for its ambitions, less ambition in exchange for more consistent writing quality and a smoother delivery might have served the series better.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Spectacular actions scenes, excellent musical score, some interesting uses of symbolism and quality individual episodes.
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