Reviewby Theron Martin, May 3rd 2010
In a dystopian future where mankind has descended into ruinous ongoing war, one shining beacon of hope exists: Olympia, a city whose peacefulness is stabilized by the presence of Bioroids (artificial humans with restricted reproductive and emotional capabilities) and directed by the great computer Gaia and a council of elders. Protecting the peace is the ES.W.A.T. team, for which highly-capable warrior Deunan Knute is specifically and forcibly recruited. Although her new duty gives her a chance to reunite with an ex-lover who has become a cyborg and don her own spiffy battle suit, it also brings her into a conflict between the city's Bioroid leadership and its military's command, some of whom see the Bioroids as a threat to human existence. But who is really pulling the strings here, and what might Deunan's past have to do with this new present?
Geneon originally licensed and released this 2004 all-CG reimagining of the original 1985 OVA, but it did, of course, languish when Geneon collapsed back in 2007. Section 23 picked it up and rereleased the regular version in mid-2009, and now the movie becomes one of Sentai Filmworks' first forays into Blu-Ray releases. If you have not previously picked up this movie, this is the version you want to get, and among those who do already own it, even those who are not videophiles may find it worth their while for a double-dip here.
Unlike with many of Funimation's Blu-Ray releases, this is not merely a case of just slapping the regular release content on a Blu-Ray disk and upconverting the visuals. Its 1080p High Definition resolution offers a distinct upgrade in visual quality over earlier regular DVD releases, including brightening a bit some scenes (especially towards the beginning) that were on the needlessly dark side in the original. While this release does not offer lossless audio, it does add in an English DTS audio track that was not present in the original Geneon release (which had Japanese DTS but only 5.1 for the English track), which allows the already-boisterous soundtrack to truly boom along; this also represents a distinct upgrade. Although it does include the original Geneon-sponsored Animaze dub as an audio option, Sentai Filmworks has also used its Seraphim Studio to redub the movie using the same cast as was used for the sequel Appleseed: Ex Machina; this is the default option and the one which gets the DTS treatment. It also uses entirely new menu screens. Amongst Extras, this release lacks a couple of minor features seen on the original Geneon release (which no one will probably miss anyway) but retains the director/producer commentary and staff profiles and adds one meaty new one: “The Birth of 3D Live Anime,” a 35 minute “making of” piece which will be of greatest interest for its depictions of how motion and face capture technology was used in the character animation; amongst the most interesting tidbits, all of Deunan's movements in action scenes were done by a stunt actor and the seiyuu had to remove their make-up, and had limited head movement, for the face capture work.
Whether or not the new English dub is better than the old one will largely be a matter of personal preference. Luci Christian is a fine fit as Deunan, as she finds a good balance between her character's tough and emotional sides, while Hilary Haag is suitably soft and wistful as Hitomi without sounding as much like a teenager as Mia Bradley did in the Animaze dub. David Matranga's raspy rendition of Briareos impresses far less and definitely requires getting used to; this is the one place where the original English dub is clearly better. The two dubs are a wash in most other roles. Whether the vocal performances in either are the equal of the ones in the Japanese dub is also a matter of personal preference, as the Japanese dub was hardly among the best out there. The script for the new dub also deviates significantly from the one used for the first English dub, resulting in some lines being significantly different when the versions are compared.
The movie itself, in retrospect, can be looked upon as a landmark on the road to better things. The visuals do not impress quite as much in light of more recent similar fare like Ex Machina and Vexille, as facial expressions and some of the more delicate animation work – such as one scene where characters pick up glasses – look stiff by comparison. However, this is still one fine-looking effort which can still dazzle with its elaborate, briskly-paced, and finely-detailed action sequences and wonderfully rich background art. Duenan is still beautiful and sexy in a convincingly athletic way; there is no question that the title character of Vexille was at least partly modeled after her. (If you do not understand why this is a big deal, consider how many female anime action figures you can actually name who legitimately look like athletes.) The only scenes approaching fan service are ones of a strategically-covered Hitomi in a medical tube, but the visuals do deliver a fair amount of blood splatter with their violence.
The soundtrack stocks itself heavily with juiced-up, techno-leaning rock themes for a bold and brassy sound that is, at times, a little too bold and brassy. The assignment of pieces to particular scenes could be better, too, although most of the time the numbers satisfactorily support the action. Arguably the strongest number is the one which plays during the closing credits.
Sadly, the plotting and storytelling are not up to the same standard as the visuals (or even the audio); unfortunately this seems to be a common trait of all-CG efforts coming out of Japan. The rather generic plot primarily exists to give the movie excuses for its plentiful action sequences, thus resulting in no real sense of depth or thorough development. Characterizations beyond Deunan are very basic and limited, and even hers feels like it could have been a lot richer. The 105 minute time limit does keep things moving along at a brisk pace but also results in a compacted feel, leaving one wondering what this movie might have accomplished story-wise if it had instead been a 12-episode TV or OVA series. Even Masamune Shirow's trademark philosophizing gets watered down into merely a plainly pessimistic view of human nature. The story does get points for its frequent use of Greek mythology in its naming conventions, though.
But who is really going to watch this one for depth or development of story, characterizations, and philosophy anyway? Appleseed was intended to be a slam-bang action-intensive work, and taken solely on that criteria, it succeeds pretty well. You will need to look elsewhere for your regular dose of substance, though.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Impressive animation, oodles of intense action sequences, nicely-done Blu-Ray specs.
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