appleseed ex machina

Categories: anime


Ghost in the Shell style meets You’re Under Arrest romance development with a touch of zombie fanboy love and plenty of Patlabor.


When I was asked to write a review for Appleseed EX Machina by one of Warner’s marketing groups, I was a bit confused. Scratch that. Extremely confused. Wait, are you sure you want someone who writes stuff like “minami-ke vs. otome wa boku, dr jack style” to review this? I don’t remember anything from Appleseed OVA… I hazily remember watching it on Encore Action like six or seven years ago, and I might have been totally hammered at the time. I’m also not exactly a connoisseur of the cyberpunk genre. However, one thing really intrigued me. It was that the DVDs were bestsellers in Japan beating Minami-ke… or more specifically, the Minami-ke DVD that had this episode on it. (Both trounced Clannad‘s movie… which I’m not shocked by at all.)

So I was a bit intrigued, visited their official site, visited Wikipedia’s entry, and then proceeded to go back banging my head against my table due to the Kyonko infestation that has overtaken my readers. When I finally started watching this movie, three things really struck out at me in the first five minutes:

1. Why isn’t Masamune Shirow’s name pimped more?!?

2. I had a huge, huge urge to find some caramelldansen for Major Motoko.

3. The whole movie is in CG.

I’ll get to these points later, but first, what the heck is this movie about? As I stated earlier, the Appleseed OVA isn’t exactly fresh in (or even in) my mind, and both the official site and Wikipedia touts the movie as a direct sequel to the 2004 movie. I didn’t even know there was a 2004 movie. Egads. Now I was worried, but as I found out, it’s something that one can jump right into, and the story stands alone, much like how GitS Innocence doesn’t really require knowledge of GitS to be enjoyed properly. And that’s where we’ll begin, Masamune Shirow.

Shirow is the writer of Ghost in the Shell, and a lot of elements from that series exist in Appleseed. It’s a very familiar setup with an elite team of cybernetic-enhanced counterterrorists led by (surprise!) a kick-ass female commando patrolling a world that’s both utopic and dystopic. The twist from GitS is that kick-ass female commando, Deunan, is the human of the story, not the cyborg. Her partner, Briareos, is the one who has the Major-like body (though he reminds me a lot of Rad from Mai Otome). It also feels like Appleseed is GitS-lite, and that might not be a bad thing.


The main plot thread is both typical and atypical Shirow, and the story has four distinct phases. The first was the Ghost in the Shell phase, where we’re introduced to the characters in an all guns and cybernetic limbs blazin’ kind of way. Deunan and Briareos chase down a plot that strongly resembles Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig. And when I say strongly, I mean I’m substituting one key word (that I won’t type since it is a spoiler, but you’ll figure it out in the first fifteen minutes) for “Individual Eleven.” Which is odd since Shirow didn’t directly write 2nd Gig, but I digress. The plot itself really isn’t that complex, and I’m pretty sure by the twenty minute mark, even people who haven’t watched 2nd Gig would have figured out what will happen.

What’s interesting about this phase is that the action sequences are really well done, and the choreography and gunplay do remind me of Hong Kong cinema. This phase also shows off the CG prowess of the many studios involved, and we’ve come a long way even from Advent Children. The characters move naturally, and the backgrounds are very realistic. I do have a complaint in that the faces of the characters are a bit plain, and they don’t sweat. They’re fighting for their lives! They should sweat! (Yes, I know, but I’m the same person who complains about blinking in Kimikiss.)


The second phase is the You’re Under Arrest phase where the plot becomes very similar to typical antics of the Bokuto Police Department. I felt this was very atypical Shirow. A really, really weird and awkward love triangle forms between Deunan, Briareos, and a clone of Briareos. I can see Shirow inserting this storyline as it provides the backstory for the two main leads, but it’s really awkward. It really did feel like Miyuki, Ken, and Ken’s awkward clone took over the movie for about 15 minutes. At least, on the bright side, we got to see Deunan stumbling around in a cocktail dress and high heels (see, the Major glides around in high heels). I guess YUA fans would enjoy this phase, but, do they exist (besides me?)?


The third can best be described as Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. When I say this, about the time when Deunan and Briareos figure out the twist (about thirty minutes after everyone else), the entire movie suddenly reminded me of the Haruhi Suzumiya extra feature where they showed the people lining up, pushing, shoving, and trying to storm into the Haruhi concert.


The last is Patlabor. I think after watching Appleseed EX Machina, the real comparison is not to GitS but to Patlabor‘s second movie. The final sequence where Deunan, Briareos, and his clone infiltrate the big boss’ HQ brought back memories of when the Patlabor team stormed the artificial island at the end of that movie. I think this movie was really geared towards casual anime fans and watches of Encore Action, but I can also see it appealing to Patlabor, GitS, and fans of the original Appleseed as well (this one I’m guessing at as I don’t remember the original or have seen the 2004 movie, but logically makes sense). I just don’t see this movie appealing to the more hardcore fanbase of Clannad, Minami-ke, or spice and Wolf fanboys.

Okay, now that you have the gist of the plot, I’ll go through my original points. (People who haven’t watched YUA or Patlabor are probably still a bit confused, but go watch them! They’re great series.) One thing I really don’t get about this release is that it has a twenty minute feature on John Woo and Shinji Aramaki, and the DVD and promotional material and the website endlessly promote John Woo and Shinji Aramaki. I know John Woo’s a big name, and the first gun battle was definitely a homage to him (as are the evil doves). But Shinji Aramaki over Masamune Shirow? I don’t know who Aramaki is, but I do know who Shirow is. It’s just my opinion, but “John Woo and, the creator of Ghost in the Shell, Masamune Shirow” sounds a whole lot better than “John Woo and Shinji Aramaki.”

The second point on Motoko caramelldansen (which I still haven’t found) is that Ghost in the Shell is actually light on the action but heavy on the philosophy. Appleseed EX Machina is the opposite. It seems more Hollywood in that there’s a lot more fights, a lot more conflict, and a lot more action, but there’s very little philosophizing. They could have done a bit more with this aspect as the plot is setup for it, as I think philosophizing about the human condition is a pillar of the cyberpunk genre. AkiraGitSPatlabor… Blade Runner… all had some philosophical underpinning, and I felt this aspect was ignored in this movie. Very disappointed that there wasn’t more depth to the typical existentialist angst of cyberpunk.


I already touched on the CG work earlier, but watching this movie got me wondering if full CG anime will be the next wave. All modern anime is all created digitally, but only portions are done in CG (a la the girl in Clannad). The movements and the detail of the CG work is at the point where as I watch it, I’m not thinking of the CG but rather focusing on the story or wondering, “Which dress did Prada design for this movie?”

And a few miscellaneous points…


Can we get Prada to work on some dresses for Kallen?

(When I saw Prada getting attributed to Deunan’s dresses, a lot of questions raced through my mind. Above all, is this acceptable? Or should I be disappointed that Nia’s wedding gown wasn’t a Vera Wang original? And how does a government employee be able to afford Prada dresses?)

(IGN explains the Prada connection. OIC.)


I watched the Japanese voice version with English subtitles, and I noticed pretty quickly that the subs weren’t exactly matching what’s spoken. The subs are really closed captioned subs of the English dub, and I was disappointed in this aspect. It felt like watching a R2 Ghibli movie, as that’s the last time I remember watching anime with closed caption subs instead of real subtitles. Oddly, there is a separate subtitle track called “English Closed Caption,” but the content of this one and the other English track is the same except they call out names and sound effects in the closed caption version. But I figure the target audience will be watching the English dub and could care less.


There’s a lot of unintentionally hilarious dialogue. While I’m not a connoisseur of cyberpunk, I am a connoisseur of unintentionally hilarious dialogue. One gem: “If you don’t tell me where he is, I’ll just ask myself.” Another gem: “They are civilians! Don’t use excessive force! But stop them by any means necessary!”


My favorite: “Someone bought it years ago, but now it’s abandoned.” They’re referencing the building that used to be a mental health hospital / research center that is now the source of all the trouble. Unfortunately, this “building” is a levitating fortress. I don’t see how it was a research center let alone a hospital to begin with. Looking at it from the outside and the inside, how does any work get done in there? Utterly inexplicable. The funny part is that someone bought it?! “Hey guys, if my subprime mortgage is approved, I just purchased this floating cube! We’ll have parties there! It’ll be awesome!”


Another cyberpunk stable: declaring independence and kick-assery by riding a bike. Sadly, I don’t think it worked for the Bubblegum Crisis girls.


I like the soundtrack a lot, especially the music during the first gun fight and the birthday party.


By far the most awesome scene in the movie. I will not argue this. End of discussion.


If watching Clannad has taught me that throwing parties and playing sports solves life’s ills, Appleseed EX Machina has taught me that the back of the neck is a weak point. I counted at least four instance where someone had to inject, destroy, flip, or otherwise manipulate something on the back of someone’s neck.


The regular release DVD has the special feature on John Woo and Arameki, a “Making of” featurette that has too much of a focus on the English dubbing than on the CG creation, and an audio commentary track that I skipped. I never listen to these, unless Kevin Smith is involved.


The DVD extras for the special edition release features a short ~20 minute segment about Shirow, which I think was interesting, and a ~20 minute segment about Japanese culture that was more horrifying than interesting. Genshiken, these are your North American counterparts. I don’t think they should have put these two features on a bonus DVD as I can’t say either are a must or even casual watch. They should have included something like a few chapters of the manga, the soundtrack, or something else as the carrot for the special edition.


The odds of this movie showing up on Encore Action in seven years has been taken off the books in Vegas. I can’t wait to be flipping channels and stumbling across this thinking, “Man, maybe I’ll finally finish watching the dubbed version.”

Lastly, I was graciously provided with three DVD copies of the movie to give away. If you’d like a copy, details in another post.

18 Responses to “appleseed ex machina”

  1. Wasn’t the artificial island the first Patlabor movie, rather than the second?

    Disappointing to hear about the subtitles, but since my Blu-Ray copy should be arriving in the post any day now I guess I’ll be watching it anyway. Should be nice eye-candy, at least.

    On all the Masamune Shirow comments – I don’t know if you’ve read any of the Appleseed or GitS manga, but whilst the kind of content is similar to the kinds of stories he writes, the tone is really, really different to what you see in the animated versions. His books have a lot of humour, and the Major is practically a different character. Although there’s elements of the original work the animated versions of Appleseed, it’s pretty much the same case – manga Appleseed is actually a pretty weighty work. Anything which makes it feel like GitS light is undoubtedly the effect of the production staff working on the individual shows.

    Also, it’s not surprising that the features don’t talk about Shirow too much – he’s not the kind of give interviews or the like.

  2. It’s a chick flick with some random acrobatics. Heck, even Vexille is better, at least that one had some interesting technology and animation.

  3. “By far the most awesome scene in the movie. I will not argue this. End of discussion.”

    Death. Graves. Military salute. OF COURSE you’re LOVING it. …and now back to our regular scheduled sand nigger torture.

  4. “The first was the Ghost in the Shell phase, where we’re introduced to the characters in an all guns and cybernetic limbs blazin’ kind of way.”

    But GITS properties don’t start with guns-a-blazin. They start with a CG build-a-woman sequence.

    Also, I refuse to believe this is a Shirow property until a woman jumps off a building. Preferably naked.

  5. Regarding the back of the neck, according to the R2 Vampire Hunter D (first movie) commentary, it has some kind of significance in Japan. Because of kimonos. Or something; it’s years since I rented VHD and my memory’s patchy.

    Vague factoid of the day.

  6. >Also, I refuse to believe this is a Shirow property until a woman jumps off a building.

    Done, in Appleseed (2004) ala Priss-style (Bubblegumcrisis)

    >Preferably naked.

    Unfortunately not.

  7. I loved the film, no question about it. My only complaints are that it felt a bit rushed, that the romantic subplot felt forced, and the technical explanation for the zombie crowds was less realistic than the rest of the film.

    Oh, and I saw Vexille as well, good tech demo, horrendous plot with too many wild ideas at once.

  8. I’d say that Rad was more the tribute/knockoff of Briareros than the reverse given how old the property is. And with Deunan and her partner being ex-military, it should be no surprise that there’s more action here. Plus, if John Woo DID have anything to do with the film… it should be no wonder that action sequences in the film look like Hong Kong cinema.

    And I’d have to argue with whoever said none of the animated adaptations have Shirow’s sense of humour in them – the movies may not have, but the Stand Alone Complex series did, minus the rampant lesbian sex and naked Major fanservice. Just check out episodes like ‘missing hearts’ to see it (Motoko hacking Batou to knock himself out after he teases her for sticking with the same general model of body and boasting about the greater physical strength of his chassis).

  9. … and that shows me for not reading posts through. DOH!

  10. Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that the anime versions of Shirows works were completely devoid of humour – it’s pretty hard to ignore the Tachikomas in SAC, and then there was the old Dominion OAVs – but it’s hard not to notice that the actual tone of Appleseed and all the GitS adaptations is very different from the manga.

  11. That’s pretty much a given with most manga-to-anime adaptations. They change because of Director(ial) Fiat, because it wouldn’t suit the sponsors, or because the team doing the adaptation got lazy (see Negima’s various adaptations). The humor’s different… but that’s to be expected. Oshii REALLY mucked around with it, though – he made an art movie with heavy doses of philosophy out of what was originally an action manga with some philosophy, large doses of various types of fanservice, and some weird humour.

  12. I just hope this one is better than Vexile.

  13. Hi Jason,

    The reason for the focus on Woo/Aramaki is that they were the producer/director for the film. They even had movie posters with the main characters doing the trademarked (TM) Woo double pistol style.
    Shirow may be more well-known but he’s shy and has yet to show his face on any media. (Shirow is a nom de plume.) Yes, you can hype him more but without an interview, the hype would be hollow.

    Ex Machina animation is getting better for people. Example:
    The animation for the first CG Appleseed movie wowed me until the camera panned to a person. =/ At least, Ex Machina looks less plasticky.

    “But GITS properties don’t start with guns-a-blazin. They start with a CG build-a-woman sequence.”
    Does that make Shinku Makoto’s predecessor?

    Cyberpunk anime always make me think back to the 1990s where it was all the rage then. This just feels like a graphically-updated version. =/

    This kind of post is a surprise though…. Whatever happened to Wolf & Spice?


    PS. Exploitable!

  14. Jason, post a link to the review. I want to see how it differs from a normal Derailed post (I hope it doesn’t!). I’m thinking there is a Derailed reader out there with some real pull…

  15. Hey, at least Oshii’s not involved in this one. I approve.

  16. Don’t worry Jason. YUA fans are still around!

  17. The subtitles are bad. The English subtitles are not a translation of either voice track. Maybe that’s a feature of the movie – three stories for the price of one. Fail.

    John Woo’s direction is very obvious and getting stale. Any time I see a dove in any movie I think of John Woo. Damn you. Fail.

    Appleseed was Shirow’s precursor to GiTS. So you’ll find a lot of similar ideas between the two with GiTS clarifying and expanding a lot of ideas. I actually liked the Appleseed universe more as it dealt with more themes than GiTS.

    I haven’t checked, but, I doubt Shirow wrote the the script to this movie. The script felt like it was spat out from one of those random movie script generators – then edited to be worse. Fail.

    The previous two movies weren’t very close to the manga. I guess they’re carrying on that tradition. Fail. Still hoping for a decent adaptation.

    Prada costume designs? Let’s take a hot chick, put her in a hoodie and make her look like some lame character from Final Fantasy Tactics. Fail.

    Isn’t Briareos supposed to be black? His relationship with Deunan is supposed to be an understood and unspoken love for each other. It doesn’t make sense that Terius has the exact same mannerisms as Briareos. Fail.

    Did anyone find it weird that in the opening scene when ESWAT was sneaking into position that their outfits kept jingling? Is it a requirement for them to carry spare change for parking meters or something?

    The CG is much improved from the last. Olympus looked so lickable. I hope it gets even better in future. I wonder if GiTS will ever head this way in terms of CG animation.

    Having said that, if I ignore everything I already knew about Appleseed, then I would say I enjoyed watching this movie.

  18. >Having said that, if I ignore everything I already knew about Appleseed, then I would say I enjoyed watching this movie.

    And also if you ignore the first movie. Briareos wasn’t black there either, regardless of what the original Appleseed says.

    I think its best to think of this movie as taking place in an alternate AS universe. The original AS storyline would be better suited to a 52-ep anime rather than a movie.

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