Director: Shinji Aramaki
Writers: Marianne Krawczyk
Cast: Luci Christian, David Matranga, Elizabeth Bunch
Despite a long, successful and highly influential lineage, the golden age of creativity for Japanese Manga/Anime has surely now long since passed. Anime in particular has fallen a hell of long way since the heady days of the 80s and 90s when a slew of seminal films, including the original Appleseed, gained a significant global audience and inspired many of Hollywood’s creative minds for the next few decades.
Audiences in the West were drawn in by obvious influences derived from their own culture but seeing familiar themes and concepts bent radically out of shape by levels of artistic freedom they could only dream of is what kept them coming back looking for the next Akira or Ghost in the Shell. The Japanese seemed not to limit themselves with formulaic boundaries. All this has now changed following a long period of commercial decline, the growing influence of Western style, and some serious creative stagnation.
This year saw a rebooted Appleseed appear which reflects the new breed of Japanese story telling which falls way short from the past. Like many of its contemporaries Appleseed embraces American/Western influences to the point that all originality and unpredictability has been snuffed out.
It is a symptom of a wider trend, as Japanese game developers and film producers struggle to expand in the West they have fallen into the trap of thinking the only way forward is to imitate the Western Hollywood style, resulting in laughably corny and childish imitations derivative of so many uninspiring video games and children’s cartoons.
The story structure of Appleseed Alpha more closely follows the formula of an unimaginative video game shooter. Characters are briefly introduced before they set out on a linear road trip, moving from one destination to the next looking for a new mission cue from whatever extraneous characters they happen to bump into. In-between the animators are free to convolute whatever action set pieces they wish, a process repeated until the adventure progresses to the point where a conclusion is required. At this juncture a mysterious girl and her guardian are dropped into the story carrying with them a top level secret and a reason to go into a major battle.
Its a classic convoluted template for any Final Fantasy story but taking far less time to establish a viable back story or build up to an exciting climax.
Orbiting the journey of the hero party is a group of masked, personality-less enemies, who periodically drop onto the scene and take their turn to do battle. They offer little to distinguish themselves other than a unique novelty weapon and armor paint job. Apart from being an obvious visual reference to the Spartan soldiers in the Halo series (yet more evidence of the video game influence), the purpose of these antagonists seems purely to act as an end of level boss fight, and their periodic deaths have no impact on anything.
Toward the end of the journey we are treated to a colossal end of game boss, complete with a giant super weapon mounted on its back, and threatening to destroy the ruins of a city we have no idea why anyone should care about. The cliche comes complete with the obligatory ticking countdown until apocalypse, which conveniently gives the hero’s just enough time to mount a desperate assault on the super weapons only known weakness. It turns out that the impregnable titan (admittedly a very cool looking one) can only be stopped if its defensive shields are brought down just long enough to deliver the finishing blow from inside. May the force be with you, always…
Characterisation – admittedly never a traditional strong point of anime – is here non-existent, and again seemingly imitating the level of a generic shooter game. Each CGI character model looks like the product of ten minutes spent in an JRPGs character customisation screen. Take the same generic base, select class type, add some hair, choose hair colour, place scar or tatoo, choose from 5 different clichéd voices – and you have your distorted representation of a human.
The resulting CGI puppets are limited to a couple of lines of painful dialogue in between each shooting section, much of what they say being the kind of random gibberish philosophising which the Japanese seem so fond of indulging in, and which provides barely enough context to make sense of anything.
Listening to characters interject with such dense one liners such as: “Hope… what a concept!” is just embarrassing but Appleseed pronounces proudly them as insightful meditations on the human condition.
The casual disregard for proper writing is as pitifully laughable as it is painful to endure. When the action isn’t moving fast enough characters will instantaneously change their minds in the blink of an eye, completely contradicting everything they have just passionately argued for. When no-one is quite sure what a character should be saying the voice actors are given horrifically cringe worthy wise cracks, which sound vaguely reminiscent of something someone might have slurred in the 80s, to fill the gaps.
It’s not just embarrassing – it is physically repellent, to the point where you are writhing in awkwardness. It can only be hoped that an amateur team of translators was responsible for some of the clangers on offer bu judging by the poses and wry facial expressions of the characters it is clearly just a god awful script.
As tragic as it is to admit, through all this tripe there is some base enjoyment to be gleaned from the hyper exaggerated action sequences. Though operating at the level of 80s cartoons like Transformers and the Thundercats in terms of their orchestration they still provide momentary thrills which appeal to inner 10 year old. It may all been done before, many times, and to far better effect, but to our utter shame it still manages to raise the odd smirk of satisfaction, but this serves only as a humiliating reminder of how easy we are to please.
The most surprising weak point of this big budget anime is the animation itself. Instead of classic hand drawn cells with their beautiful atmospheric touches and unique Japanese signature look, we are treated to a CGI experience which befits the generic nature of everything else on offer. Generally the backdrops are full of impressive detail but are spoiled by the incredibly primitive looking human characters with their crude facial expressions and unnatural movements.
Appleseed Alpha fails in pretty much every department, paling into insignificance when compared with some of the masterful classics which have come out of Japan. The experience is akin to sitting watching somebody else play a creaky old computer game with substandard writing and graphics.
As a film it doesn’t stand up at all and comes as another milestone in the rapid decline of the once vibrant art form which is in major need of returning to its roots.