Masamune Shirow is the man and quite frankly there's no denying that. With Ghost in the Shell considered alone his genius should be fully realized but when you lump the classics Dominion and Appleseed in as well, then Shirow's mastery is clear as day.
Way back in 1988, Shirow's Appleseed made the jump from the pages of the manga to an OVA that proved to be a good look at the franchise. Throughout the years many felt that there was simply more there and that it could be done better. In 2004 Shinji Aramaki directed a fresh theatrical experience that was beyond anything the original was capable of. With some fancy computer animation Appleseed came to life in breathtaking fashion and stood out as a better rendition of Shirow's manga than the 1988 OVA (that's my opinion at any rate). I, like many others, immediately became excited when I heard that Aramaki had his hands on a sequel.
Anticipation for the sequel only grew once the name John Woo was thrown around in references to Appleseed. Was Woo just a marketing ploy or would his involvement actually yield some interesting results? Fortunately, for the case of Ex Machina the fact that Woo landed a role as producer was a very good thing. His influential style rings through during many scenes in this film and it's hard to deny that the project wouldn't have been as visceral if he were not involved.
The story is quite easy to get into and if you haven't seen the original film from 2004 it's nice to know that the sequel is very self-contained. You need absolutely no prior knowledge of the franchise in order to appreciate what's going on as everything is laid out before you plain as can be. With that being said I do have to say that the film is more about the action than a complex plot. One-dimensional antagonists, an unexplored reason behind the hostilities, and straightforward character development are what you can expect when coming to Ex Machina. The funny thing is that neither of those traits makes this a bad film nor do they really detract from the experience; they just leave an unsatisfied feeling by the time the credits roll.
The year is 2133 and the world is recuperating after a global war that has all but destroyed the fabric of civilization. Utopian cities have risen all around the globe and new technology; along with a fresh way of thinking, have changed how humans govern themselves. With cyborgs being commonplace and massive amounts of technology abound, humanity has also created beings known as bioroids. These people are essentially humans but without our destructive tendencies and hateful emotions. With the bioroids passive and peaceful nature they have taken place at the forefront of governments and make the decisions necessary to keep unity in the world.
It's a fascinating set up that only Shirow could produce but the best moments of Appleseed center on its two main characters; Deunan and Briareos. Both protagonists are police officers who uphold the law and in the case of Ex Machina they are a dynamic duo that takes down terrorists. Interestingly enough while Deunan retains her humanity her partner Briareos has lost about 75% of his body. Despite this they still have a strong bond and love each other which creates an interesting angle for their characters.
Ex Machina throws a third wheel into the mix in the form of a bioroid who was cloned based on Briareos' DNA. Tereus is an experimental bioroid and needless to say his presence creates some awkward moments for our stars. The trio eventually works out their differences and work together to stop the main threat though which was inevitable and predictable. Basically what's going on here is a mad scientist is using a signal to control all cyborgs and humans who use certain pieces of technology. This turns the victim into a mindless drone possessing zombie-like qualities that enact the will of an individual who is an easy comparison to the Borg from Star Trek. The moral of the story is that humans are bad but if they lost their individuality then the world would be a better place.
Ex Machina is 104 minutes of animated glory and there is simply no denying that this film is a stunner. Computer animation technology has come a long way and if this movie is any indicator we definitely have something to look forward to in the coming years. With that being said the pacing of the plot wavers at points and the dramatic elements are never quite as successful as they should have been. Don't get me wrong, Appleseed: Ex Machina is a worthy successor to the 2004 film and it's a great representation of Shirow's original vision. If the story were as fleshed out as the action sequences and artistic vision then we'd be looking at a complete package. As it stands this movie is very entertaining and fans will enjoy it but it spends a little too much time in "popcorn film" territory to really break that stereotype.
Appleseed: Ex Machina is presented with an anamorphic widescreen display as it was cut straight from the digital source. The video quality for this DVD is immaculate and rivals what you'd expect from computer generated animation transferred to disc. The colors maintain their vibrancy and there are no digital artifacts to mar the appearance of the image. Aliasing, grain, and compression are nonexistent which allows the fantastic art direction to come through with blazing clarity. Seriously folks, this film is a stunner!
An impressive array of dubs makes their way onto Appleseed: Ex Machina and beyond English and Japanese you can expect to hear French, Chinese, and Portuguese. Out of these tracks English and Japanese are the only available 5.1 selections which shouldn't really be surprising. With that being said the dubbing quality is just fine all around though I was particular to the original Japanese. On the technical side of things it's hard to deny that the 5.1 offered the greatest sense of immersion; especially once the bullets started to fly.
This review is for the single disc version of Ex Machina which means it's a tad lighter on the extra features. On this release there are trailers, a pair of featurettes, and an audio commentary for the film. With regards to the commentary by Jerry Beck and Joseph Chou it provides some fine detail in terms of what went into producing the movie. Their banter wasn't quite as good as it could have been and the information wasn't as in depth as I would have liked but it was fine just the same. Volume balancing issues were prevalent though as the film came across as just a hint too loud for the track.
The two featurettes that are available here cover some of the interesting topics of discussion for Ex Machina. One takes a look at the animation that went into the project and exactly how everything was pulled off. The other brings Aramaki and Woo's partnership into perspective and offers some insight into both of their visions for the film.
Appleseed: Ex Machina is a success in many ways. Fans faithful to the franchise will appreciate it for what it is but newcomers will enjoy it just the same. Shirow's work is accessible by many and the film put together by Aramaki and Woo turns out to be much the same. This is a fun ride from start to finish but it's one that has a few bumps in it that are hard to overlook. The plot's simplicity makes the film feel very light and the pacing never feels appropriate for the material. If you can look past those nitpicks you'll find a science fiction anime that showcases a breathtaking world and interesting characters. This movie is a great success but in my opinion it doesn't live up to its fullest potential.