Appleseed is one of Masamune Shirow’s earliest major works. It was a rarity at its time, bypassing serialization to release solely as a collection of collected volumes. The series was an immediate hit, snapping up the 1986 Seiun Award for Best Manga, and spawning a feature-length OVA in 1988. While it diverted from the manga, the OVA proved to be a strong contender that would resonate both with fans and abroad.
Then came the silence. For almost twenty years, the franchise remained dormant. The manga was over, and the OVA was a one-shot, leaving many to move on to other titles. The series received a shot in the arm, though, in 2004, when Shinji Aramaki helmed a new CG-animated film based on the property. From this, Aramaki crafted a new story and mythos that, while familiar, gave the world a much different feel and tone. Suddenly, the world seemed so much darker, and the situations far more dire. The sterile sheen of the world seemed to hide the filth of corruption and violence that lurked just below the surface. At the same time, the eye candy was incredible, with beautifully choreographed fight scenes and breathtaking camera-work that oozed atmosphere and style. it was followed up by the similarly acclaimed Appleseed: Ex Machina three years later, which continued the tale of Deunan and Briareos and built upon the work of the first film.
Unfortunately, Appleseed XIII is nothing like either of the previous adaptations.
Appleseed XIII, instead, places Briareos and Deunan as lovers and partners in the ES.W.A.T. paramilitary force. ES.W.A.T. is an elite organization. ES.W.A.T. is an elite force within the city of Olympus that’s deployed whenever the normal police forces aren’t enough. Corrupt politicians, terrorists, and major conspiracies are just part of the job, as the two battle to protect their own slice of heaven in the gleaming city.
Their skills are soon put to the test, though, as the delicate balance of powers that keep the city running is threatened. A radical group known as the Human Liberation Front and its terrorist connection The Argonauts, aim to overthrow the ruling powers. In their eyes, the idea of genetically engineered humans ruling over normal people, is a disgrace that warrants nothing short of a total cleansing.
When I first started watching Appleseed XIII, I immediately disliked it. The fact that it had diverted so far from its animated predecessors created somewhat of a shock, as I started to question what the hell was going on. Everything felt wrong, from the characters to the sometimes garishly colorful set-pieces. The animation looked shoddy, and the relationship strife felt like it was out of character for the two leads. I was ready to dismiss the show entirely, and be done with it.
Then I watched it again.
Appleseed XIII isn’t meant to be seen in the same way as its forebears. The real attraction to the series is in the relationship between Briareos and Deunan, who are tasked with being both partners on the battlefield, as well as in life. And, like normal couples, they fight, they argue, and they make up. They relish the good times, and they endure the bad. They get jealous, and they have moments of weakness that test their relationship. They take joy in the little moments, and protect each other in the heat of duty. Frankly speaking, they’re human, even if Briareos is a seven-foot-tall robot with four eyes and bunny ears.
The actual conflicts, in comparison, feel uneven at best. Some of the plots, which include Deunan sneaking off to meet with a gun dealer, to a zombie apocalypse, are quite enjoyable to watch. They do a great job of building the cast, while providing a compelling conflict that will draw viewers in. Others, though, will be enough to put the viewer to sleep
Possibly my biggest complaint about the series, though, is the animation, which is jerky to a fault. Even the simplest of gestures seem to be delivered in distracting stuttering motions, to the point that it’s able to drag the viewer out of the experience. Characters make odd gestures and walk with unusual gaits, which drive the experience straight into the uncanny valley. Once the show kicks into a fight scene, though, these problems seem to melt away. Suddenly, everybody acts with military precision, as characters move fluidly through impressively choreographed scenes.
While it’s not the best adaptation of Shirow’s classic, Appleseed XIII is worth a watch. Briareos and Deunan are fantastic characters, who really grow on the viewer after a while. And, while the action isn’t as intense as previous iterations, the strong choreography and fantastic execution do help to provide the tension where it’s needed. With a bit more attention to the animation and a more consistent quality to the episode plots, Appleseed XIII would be a solid must-buy series. In its current form, though, I’d say “try before you buy.”
Thanks to FUNimation for providing a review copy!