Back in mid-2002, pretty much out of nowhere, I came across word of Appleseed figures that came with DVDs for a new Appleseed project. I quickly tracked them down and found them to be short, 4-minute trailers that showed Deunan and Briareos in combat routines as well as soldiers leading an assault out in a ruined city. On top of that, this was done with some sort of 3D cel-shading for the characters that wasn't something that I had seen before in any real fashion. As exciting as that was though, there really wasn't anything known about the project.
In time, it came to be known that a full-length movie, directed by the relatively unknown Shinji Aramaki, was in the works featuring this innovative visual style and Appleseed fans everywhere rejoiced that someone was bringing them some new Appleseed goodness. After two years with very little word beyond that, Appleseed finally opened in Japan in April 2004 and Geneon started talking up a US theater release, which happened in January 2005, with a May 2005 DVD release, bringing us to now, where I've finally gotten a chance to see the final product.
Okay, I'm just gonna say it right up front, those of you hoping for an even somewhat accurate retelling of something from the original manga are in for a disappointment. In turning this into an action-heavy movie, the story diverges sharply from anything in the manga and completely reinterprets what few scenes it does borrow. Actually, its much like the relationship between Ghost in the Shell's manga and movie, though with decidedly more action and less musing than Oshii's philosophy-heavy offerings.
At its core, the movie revolves around humanity's unease over coexistance with Bioroids, the artificial life forms created to help run Olympus. In particular, the head of Olympus's military, General Uranus, is concerned that the bioroids have it out for humanity and hope to, well, take them out before the bioroids have a chance to end humanity. Like the manga, the movie kicks things off by bringing Deunan into Olympus, where she is immediately drawn into the conflict and struggles throughout to find her place in this new world. As much as I'd like to say more, things diverge greatly from here on out, and I don't want to spoil things.
Undoubtably, this is a visually ambitious film that, I think, succeeds in presenting the 3D cel-shaded look it set out to achieve. From the opening sequence in a ruined city, to cruising through Olympus in Hitomi's car, to the impressive action sequences, the attention to detail is amazing. Where the environments end up feeling like they went for a more realistic visual approach, the character animation is really what all the buzz is about with Appleseed.
As I mentioned earlier, Appleseed features a 3D cel-shading technique for its characters and mecha that is far above and beyond any uses I've seen of the technique previously. I'll just let the screenshots in here speak for themselves though, its really gorgeous stuff. While I haven't had a chance to go through any of the special features to see whether or not they used motion capture to do it, the characters move about the screen in a very fluid fashion. Sure there's a few things that don't work quite right, but for the most part, it is a very beautiful(and unique) film to watch.
Seeing as I'm not really an audio guy, I really can't speak with authority about this part of the movie, but I'm gonna share some of my thoughts on the matter anyhow. The Japanese voice actors sounded just fine to me, and fairly refreshing, as I was mostly unfamiliar with the prior works of the Japanese voice actors. About the same can be said for the Englsih dub, it actually sounds pretty decent with actors I haven't heard much from before, with my only complaint being that Hitmoi's voice is a bit too high-pitched for my tastes. From what I could figure, the sound effects worked just fine as well, and as to the soundtrack, well...
With contributions from artists like Boom Boom Satellites, Paul Oakenfold, and Basement Jaxx, the soundtrack provides plenty of energy to accompany the heavy amounts of action in the movie. In all honesty, the soundtrack in Appleseed reminds me somewhat of the Matrix movies, though with a punk-pop flavor to its electronic beats rather than The Matrix's metal leanings. Having first listened to the soundtrack many months ago, I was worried that the music wasn't going to match well with the movie, but with the tone of the movie, I thought it was a decent direction to take, and works really well at some points. That being said though, the soundtrack does rely a bit too much on these beats, and ends up overshadowing certain sequences, and failing to deliver enough tension to others.
In mid-late 2002, a series of three Appleseed figures was released, with each figure sporting a 4-minute DVD trailer of an Appleseed 3D CG Project. As I mentioned above, it featured Deunan and Briareos running through some combat routines, as well as some heavier action, but none of it actually ended up in the final movie, so it serves as more of a tech demo than anything. As there really wasn't much to them, I don't have much more to say, so enjoy these old screenshots showing an early look at how the modelling looked: