As I write this review, I'm listening to Led Zeppelin. Love or despise the band, there's no question that their albums captured the raw, unbridled passion of rock music. Fifty years from now, rock enthusiasts will have forgotten many pop idols, but they will still study what made Zeppelin fly. That same passion for the manga form exists within the work of Shirow Masamune. With a distinctively beautiful style, an attention to detail that could put blueprint artists to shame, and a mind for complex plotting and dialogue, Shirow has created an entire niche unto himself. With cyberpunk titles like Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed, Shirow explored the depths of humanity's essence while entertaining his audience with great storytelling and artwork. Unfortunately, watching the Appleseed anime is like listening to a bunch of local cover bands recording a Zep tribute album. The basic notes are the same, but the fire's gone.
The 70-minute OVA from 1988 follows the basic outline of the second manga, which starts with a young woman throwing herself out a thirtieth-story window. We soon realize it is part of Carin's nightmare as he nightly revisits his wife's suicide. He's a member of the police force of Olympus, a city created out of the midst of WWIII to be a perfect utopia for biodroids and humans to live together in harmony. But Carin blames the city's rule by robotic androids for his wife's death, since she couldn't cope with this blank concept of nirvana. Carin winds up plotting with notorious terrorist A.J. Sebastian to kidnap an influential biodroid and steal a new weapons system in a plan that could bring down the city and its entire leadership.
Enter Deunan and Briareos, two tough cops who got their shot at utopia after being rescued from the squalor of the post-war world. Deunan's a blond fireball who'd give Ripley from Alien a run for her money; Briareos is a half-robotic man with bunny-like ears who was given cybernetic implants to survive his war injuries. Together, they will take on the seedy underground of Olympus in their search for clues to stop Carin's scheme for mass anarchy.
The animation on this film is hard to rate properly. On a basic level, it's adequate. There are some bad sequences, but some of the action scenes come off nicely. It looks like an average OVA from its era. But how it destroys Shirow's beautiful artwork! Although the controversial animated version of Ghost in the Shell has its problems, its look is far more faithful to Shirow than this mess. Appleseed's characters look just like typical OVA characters from 1988, and that's a sin. Shirow's designs give us some of the most detailed, realistic, sumptuous humans ever drawn in a comic book. The changes made here are just unforgivable for any fan of the original manga.
From a plot perspective, the creators of the Appleseed anime really didn't get it. They take the essence of the original plot from the manga and make it into a standard cop story. The subtleties, politics, and emotion are simply all missing. There are some shows where I can honestly say that if you've never read the manga, you'll never notice the differences. But here, you will. In this variation, Appleseed becomes too simple for any audience outside of junior high school. Although mecha fans will likely enjoy the action sequences, which were enough to pull this out of a "D" grade (just barely), the rest of it will just bore you.
Then there's the matter of the dub. Although I'd watched it in raw Japanese many years ago, I wanted to make sure that I had the plot down, so I borrowed a friend's copy from Manga. Boy, was that a mistake. Not only does the dub distort certain parts of the story, it is filled with so much added profanity that it would have been rated R by the MPAA on that alone. In fact, there are some lines that are intentionally "dirtied up" with phrases new to the catalog of bad language! I admit I laughed a few times at these changes since they were so far out there, but obviously for the wrong reasons.
Right now, you can buy the first volume of the Appleseed manga, one of the true joys of the graphic novel medium, for the same price as the DVD of this weak imitation. You know where your money should go.
Appleseed -- violence, extreme profanity in the dub, suicide -- C-