Masamune Shirow is one of the most prolific manga artists of all time. His works such as Ghost in the Shell, Dominion Tank Police, and Black Magic have all proven to be popular. One of his more successful franchises, however, has been Appleseed.
Originally released in manga format during the mid-80s, Appleseed took readers to a future where humanity's wars have ruined much of the planet. In an effort to save the species and home world, another race known as Bioroids was created to balance out the population. The Bioroids were more or less artificial humans without the powerful emotions, thus they would never start war. There was obviously more to the story than just that, and much of it is explored in the animated film of the same name.
To date there have been two Appleseed films, and the first was a license held by Geneon, which was a publisher that died out a couple years ago. With the shifting sands of the anime industry the license now falls into the hands of Sentai Filmworks, who has recently released the original on Blu-ray.
The 2004 Appleseed film follows the storyline of the manga closely, and it's accessible for those who don't even know what the franchise is all about. Taking place in the year 2131, the film focuses on the exploits of a soldier named Deunan Knute. She's a tough as nails warrior who has carved a legacy out for herself and has earned the respect of everyone she serves with. In the beginning of the movie she's in the middle of a decimated battlefield, and is eventually picked up by ES.W.A.T. members from the citadel of Olympus.
In this modern era Olympus is essentially the apex of the world. It is the place where humanity and Bioroids co-exist in an effort to control all that happens on Earth. It's a place of high technology and understanding, and the war that has torn the world apart outside its borders doesn't touch this place. It's here that Deunan meets up with an old partner and lover, Briareos. Things are somewhat different now, however, and since the last time they met Briareos lost his body and became a cyborg.
Soon after arriving in Olympus, Deunan encounters some robots blathering on about Appleseed. She has no idea what they are talking about, but soon enough it's revealed that the Appleseed is something which will restore reproductive capabilities in the Bioroids. From here on out the film follows Deunan and Briareos as they strive to save the human race, stop a mad plot, and attempt to bring an end to a coup. It's no small task, I assure you, but if anyone can do it, it's these two.
Appleseed is a solid flick from start to finish and it has plenty going for it. The script is light enough to keep things moving, and the pacing never really gets stuck on one thing or another. There's also plenty of action, pretty CGI to look at, and interesting character developments. The original concept of the manga is faithfully represented here, and the direction by Shinji Aramaki keeps things on task.
Fans of the Appleseed manga or OVA will definitely want to pick this release up if they haven't seen the film before. Sentai Filmworks went back and did a brand new dub for this release with the cast of the sequel film, Ex Machina, which helps tie the two films together quite nicely. From top to bottom Appleseed is a recommended movie that's totally worth checking out.
Presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio 1080p high definition with use of an AVC codec, Appleseed looks solid on Blu-ray. Before we delve into the quality of this transfer, it's worth noting that the animation and artwork used in this film is dated by today's standards. Some of the movements are stiff and awkward, and colors are often pixilated and unnatural. This is to be expected from dated source material, and to be fair there are many areas in Appleseed that are jaw-dropping gorgeous. Just don't expect Pixar quality and you won't be disappointed.
With that out of the way, how does Sentai Filmworks' transfer stack up? The transfer here is taken from the digital source and for the most part the picture is razor sharp. Details really stand out, colors appear accurate, and all around the image is free of grain. Some strong color gradients are present from time to time, there are jagged edges, and there's the occasional blip of aliasing, but otherwise the transfer here is very solid. These nitpicks probably have to do with the source material anyway.
Appleseed hits Blu-ray with English and Japanese DTS 5.1 tracks as well as English and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital selections. There's no TrueHD source of lossless presentation here, so audiophiles are going to be left wanting in some respects. The quality of the presentation isn't necessarily bad, per say, but the audio just isn't as defined or immersive as it could have been. The DTS is the better of the two offerings with improved clarity and presence on the soundstage. As stated earlier in this review Sentai Filmworks also went back and made a new dub for the film. Both dubs are included here and it's interesting to switch between the two and see which crew did a better job.
For bonus features on this release, Appleseed presents the original audio commentary with Director Shinji Aramaki and Producer Fumihiko Sori. The track is presented with subtitles, and is definitely worth checking out if you want to learn more about the film's original production. This is the same track that was available on the DVD release of the film. In addition to this there are also production staff profiles and an alternate English dub.
The highlight of the bonus feature section comes in the form of "The Birth of 3D Live Anime" (35:54). This featurette is an original Japanese production that looks at the making of the film and creation of the various computer generated effects and elements. It's interesting to watch from a technical standpoint, though it's not necessarily the most informative about the creative process of the franchise.
Appleseed is a solid action anime piece that will entertain newcomers and Shirow fans alike. The story about a post World War III Earth is fascinating, and the atmosphere is unlike any other. Occasional hiccups in the plot keep the experience grounded, but overall this is a decent flick that's worth checking out. The Blu-ray edition presents better quality than the previous DVD release, and the inclusion of a new English dub is certainly appreciated. This is a quality title that will find a welcome home in the Blu-ray collection of any anime fan. Recommended.