AppleseedReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/14/05 07:35:44
When anime first crossed over from Japan to America, it proved to be a breath of fresh air for animation buffs because it demonstrated that the art form could be used to tell stories that didn’t revolve solely around fairy princesses and anthropomorphic animals–genres as diverse as broad comedy, intimate drama and kinky pornography could be depicted as well and the results were not necessarily aimed at the kiddie market. For example, Satoshi Kon, perhaps the most intriguing person working in anime today, has utilized animation to depict an introspective mood piece (“Millennium Actress”), a sentimental comedy (“Tokyo Godfathers”) and an Argento-like psycho-thriller (“Perfect Blue”, still the greatest non-Miyazaki anime I have ever seen). With all that variety, it is incredibly frustrating that, with the exception of a Kon or a Miyazaki, the only anime films that manage to get a theatrical release in America these days are the ones that tell the same old story about human beings and human-looking robots interacting and debating what it means to be “human” while lots of stuff blows up around them. “Appleseed” is the latest stab at that particular subgenre–a tired and listless exercise in which some attractive animation is unable to overcome the basic fact that this is something that even the most casual anime fan has seen many times before.Set at a time after some far-off “global war”, “Appleseed” opens with one of those scenes in which we see a hot-looking babe appear and are then supposed to be surprised when she single-handedly decimates an entire squad of ginormous killer robots. This time out, our heroine is the legendary soldier Deunan and as the opening sequence concludes, she is knocked unconscious by some powerful force. When she comes to, she learns that she is in the utopia-like paradise of Olympus, a city that has somehow managed to avoid the ravages of that pesky global war. She also learns that her old commander/lover Briarios, long feared dead, has actually been transformed into some kind of robot as well. Sadly, even paradise needs an army and Deunan has been brought there to help protect the city.
At least I think that is why she was brought there–the film is one of those things were everything is wildly over-explained and yet still never makes a lick of sense–but it is a good thing that she has been, for there is trouble brewing between the humans and the humanoid robots, or “biroids”, that is threatening to destroy not only Olympus but mankind itself. Much of this revolves around some bit of programming devised by Deunan’s scientist mother that allows the biroids to reproduce that anti-biroid groups want to destroy and pro-biroid groups want to implement. Inevitably, the search for this McGuffin leads Deunan to make some shocking discoveries–not only about herself but the real reasons behind the human-biroid conflict. Again, there is a good chance that I have wildly misinterpreted much of this, though I would prefer that no one write in to correct me in minute detail.
Perhaps my trouble with “Appleseed” stems from the fact that it borrows so shamelessly from other works without contributing anything of it own that I found myself spending more time mentally listing the sources of inspiration instead of following the plot. Obviously, it cribs a lot from classics such as “Blade Runner” and “Metropolis” (both the 1926 Fritz Lang classic and the 2002 anime epic)–not just the visual sense of an oppressive city filled with impossibly high skyscrapers but the use of humanoid robots struggling to understand what it means to be human. Those films, however, had interesting things to say about the subject and did so in a way that worked both as philosophy and pulp fiction. “Appleseed” has the surface details done but none of the heart or emotion–more than a little ironic when you consider the subject matter. Other references are a bit odder; the city of Olympus seems to be run by a group of aging men who seem to have been equally inspired by the Krypton jury at the beginning of “Superman” and the condo board at Del Boca Vista.“Appleseed” doesn’t work as philosophy, it doesn’t work as science-fiction and it isn’t even particularly memorable on the simple level of eye candy. The only level on which it provides any entertainment value, I fear, is as an unintentional laugh riot. There is plenty of ridiculous dialogue that may be the result of a less-than-stellar Japanese-English translation, unless the filmmakers intended for the character to say such lines as “Legislative patsy ” and the soon-to-be-immortal “For a legendary soldier, she’s awfully cute when she sleeps.” There is the repeated uttering of Deunan’s name (pronounced “Doooo-nan”) which should provoke a chuckle from fans of “Caddyshack.” There is the character who gets stuck with no fewer than three separate deathscenes throughout the film. And perverts in the audience will no doubt be heartened to see this film and discover that even in the aftermath of the next global war, women’s fetishwear managed to survive and thrive.
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