One of Shirow's older and more popular manga, this was also his first major foray into cop stories. The first volume debuted in 1985, being directly published as a paperback, rather than getting the usual magazine serialization that manga normally saw in Japan at the time(and still sees as the norm today?), following up with the second volume later that year, the third in 1987, and the fourth in 1989. With an ongoing set of stories spanning 4 volumes, in addition to the Appleseed Databook and Appleseed Hypernotes(which I will get to further on), it is readily his longest work, and one that has never truly been finished, though the much talked about volume 5 has never appeared due to Shirow's involvement in other projects. From the sounds of things, it seems Appleseed was destined for at least 10 volumes, though it seems likely we may never see that day.
All is not lost though, we still have plenty of other Appleseed, in the form of the 1988 OVA, a 1994 Super Famicom game, the 2004 CG production and its planned sequels, as well as talk of a television series and possible live action movie being in the works. Yes, none of this is any good for the fans of Shirow's art specifically, but those that like the universe itself should be rather pleased. Shirow did revisit Appleseed with his art somewhat recently, showing off some modern illustrations of what was originally supposed to be Deunan in Intron Depot 3(which drew from the Thrilling calendar), but ended up as just another Shirow girl with the evolution of the image. Shirow does lament about not being able to continue Appleseed in Intron Depot 3, and while happy that he's been able to incorporate some unexplored concepts into his other works, he hopes to continue with new stories someday, though he admits it'll be different with the evolution of his drawing style.
Taking place post-World War III in the early 22nd century, it follows former American S.W.A.T. members Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires as they help police the utopian city of Olympus and try to make a life for themselves. Throughout the series, you'll see pretty much every Shirow trademark, from the lovely girls and highly advanced technology, to Shirow's obsession with detail(both in drawing and description) and tendencies towards heavy philosophy. Of course, there's plenty of heavy action going on among it all too, but Shirow really hits it hard in Appleseed about whether or not humanity has what it takes to reach the ideals of a utopian society. One of the things that also quickly becomes apparent is that there are quite a few references to the people and places of Ancient Greek mythology, though Puto's done a more thorough writeup of that aspect than I ever could.
In the first volume, "The Promethean Challenge," we're introduced to Deunan and her longtime cyborg partner Briareos, now leading the lives of nomads wandering the post-war wastes, scavenging what they can to survive, when a young woman named Hitomi comes looking for them. She tells them that she has come looking to bring them to Olympus, a utopian city-state governed by a supercomputer and genetically engineered artificial humans known as bioroids. An opportunity for a good life in a perfect city, sounds too good to be true doesn't it? Of course the city's not perfect by any means(where's the fun in that), as Deunan and Briareos quickly find out when they become entangled in a terrorist incident and realize that they are pawns in someone else's political game.
Moving on to volume 2, "Prometheus Unbound," Deunan, who has started serving with the regular police force in the city, finds herself headhunted for a spot on the city's E.S.W.A.T. force(Extra Special Weapons and Tactics). Meanwhile the city's leaders are working on unveiling a new computer-controlled weapons platform designed with the intent of defending Olympus from any old super powers looking to overtake the city, and with it, the world-controlling supercomputer at its core. Of course, we all know that making autonomous superweapons is a bad thing, right? Things go haywire and its up to Deunan, and Briareos to stop it all before it gets completely out of control.
The third volume, "The Scales of Prometheus," is more of a mixed bag, covering several smaller plotlines weaved together through the volume. To begin with, there's a rouge bioroid running loose in Olympus after its initial capture in the ruins of New York City. Through the initial hunt for the bioroid, Deunan and Briareos also find themselves entangled in a separate espionage case when a microchip gets planted on Deunan. With both of those problems left unsolved, Deunan and Briareos are sent abroad to bust up some major criminal activity to help show Olympus's willingness to strike anywhere and anytime they see a problem. During all of this, Hitomi's busy with international houseguests and the groundwork for the next volume is laid.
With some E.S.W.A.T. training to lead things off, we quickly move into the meat of volume 4, "The Promethean Balance," terrorists with ambitions of starting a Holy War and E.S.W.A.T. trying to prevent it, with plotting in the background by a third party. That really does sum up the bulk of the volume, which jumps from scenes jammed full of dialogue, to ones sparsely worded and full of fighting. Unfortunately its harder to go into any detail as the fights don't really leave much to talk about and the plot is convoluted enough that you're better off just reading it yourself than having me try to sum it up for you. Suffice it to say though that the volume ends leaving things very much open to further stories, such as what can be found in the Databook and Hypernotes....
The Databook, produced in early 1990, is just as its name implies, a look at the world of Appleseed, from its history to the people, to the various technology found throughout. Early on the book focuses on the state of the world, who the superpowers are, how the world got to where it is(from the 'now' of 1985 to present day in the early-mid 2100s), and things like that. Following that, Shirow gives us some more information on the characters and weapons used throughout Appleseed, as well as giving us some more philosophy on the state of the world and the future. The second third of the book is a broad look at the various mecha, as well as the weaponry again, used by Shirow throughout the story, but described to us by one Hitoshi Hayami, whose background I'm unfamiliar with.
The final part of the Databook is an add-on chapter to Volume 4 entitled "Called Game," a one-shot that continues the counter-terrorism theme of Volumes 3 and 4, and reunites us with a character from the third volume. While Shirow is clearly optimistic here about continuing Appleseed(and trying to bring back more of the sci-fi feel to it), it unfortunately hasn't panned out for us to get our volume 5.
Published in 1996, Hypernotes is something of a compilation of miscellaneous work Shirow had done up to that point. While it has been around for quite some time, Hypernotes was only recently translated and brought over to the US, though in a limited fashion. Dark Horse released it in chunks in their Super Manga Blast anthology over 13 issues, though apparently they aren't allowed to publish it in a collected format(and particularly not as Appleseed 5) As I recall, the pertinent information about that was published on the Studio Proteus website, but since that is no longer availible, there's no way for me to verify that.
It gets the Appleseed moniker on the front because the first 96 pages(about 2/3 of it) is a four chapter tale in the Appleseed universe that ran in Comic Gaia several years earlier. By all accounts, these don't actually make up a chunk of Appleseed 5, but instead stand off to the side as their own separate tale of their own called "Artemis's Snipe." In addition to these chapters, the book also contains concept work for an anime called Bounty Dog, along with various notes and essays on Orion, an interview with Shirow, and various chunks of an obscure project called Ghost in the Machine Head(no relation to Ghost in the Shell).