Monday, 20 October 2014

Appleseed Alpha

When I was younger I read a bit of manga from time to time. Not much, but I enjoyed a few different ones. My first was Akira, 6 volumes which I managed to read in just two days. At that point I had already seen the film and loved it, but the manga took its time, fleshed out more characters and themes the film simply could not, and was/is generally a better version of the cyberpunk tale. Another manga I loved was Appleseed. Created by Masamune Shirow, who would eventually go on to do Ghost in the Shell, the manga ran for 4 years and became a huge hit in Japan. Like a lot of his work, Appleseed covers familiar ground such as artificial intelligence, post-apocalyptic wastelands, futurism and a literal “ghost in the machine”, in the form of Briareos Hecatonchire.

Though the manga itself didn't drag on for too long, since its 1985 beginnings there has be a few film and TV adaptations. It can get quite muddled for any non-fans of the series. The original manga has been technically adapted three times thus far. First it was brought to our screens in the 1988 OVA, then again in the 2004 film and finally, once more in the 2012 series Appleseed XIII. 2007 saw a sequel to the 2004 Appleseed film adaptation, and this latest entry into the series serves as a prequel to both of those films. Directed by Shinji Aramaki and out now on Blu-Ray (in the US/Australia, next week if you live in the UK/IE) comes Appleseed Alpha, a disappointing prequel to the events that lead up to the Appleseed we all know and love.

Set amid a post-World War 3 world, Appleseed Alpha focuses on the typical series' protagonists Deunan Knute and Briareos. Deunan is a badass female solider, while as mentioned before, Briareos is a little less human and a little more robotic. Burnt in an explosion prior to the vents of Appleseed Alpha, Briareos had his entire body replaced by cybernetics, giving him the appearance of a huge, metallic mech-looking creature. This prequel mainly focuses on that of Deunan and Briareo's journey to find Olympus; a thriving human city that has built itself back up after the events of the war. Amid deathly city ruins, the duo team up with two survivors called Iris and Olson, and together they try and find the safe haven of Olympus, even though they are not sure it even exists.

The first problem with Appleseed Alpha is the fact that newcomers may be slightly lost. You'd think with it being a prequel the creators would try and establish the beginnings of the Appleseed world, especially to newbies. Sadly, this isn't really the case, as here both Deunan and Briareos aren't really that fleshed out as characters. Instead Appleseed Alpha falls down the pit of compensating for a lack of character arcs and narrative with action, action and even more action. Don't get me wrong, the series has never been a stranger to action (it stars a huge robot after all), but after endless scenes of Deunan and Briareos chucking grenades, dropping for cover and unloading clip after clip, it just gets a little boring. While a lot of their past has been dished out before in other adaptations, Appleseed Alpha doesn't even try and refresh the viewers memory. Instead, Shinji Aramaki throws too much at the screen to a tedious effect.

While it has been praised visually many times over, as a fan of the original manga Appleseed Alpha just felt, well, bland. Compared to the first two entries in this trilogy, gone are the rich colours and the anime-esque designs. Instead we get something that, while technically looking gorgeous, feels more like Gears of War than Appleseed. With a basic colour pallet of black, grey and brown at hand, Appleseed Alpha just looks like the all too typical military shooter videogame.

Overall Appleseed Alpha is a disappointment. As someone who enjoyed the original anime and all subsequent adaptations, it doesn't really serve a purpose in the chronology of the series. It's not awful, and hardcore fans of the series may strongly disagree with me, but it's a painfully generic take on what could have been a great film.

Appleseed Alpha gets nuked with a 2/5.


Denis Murphy

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