This title is an interesting one to talk about in at least two different ways. Not just in terms of content, but from where it was produced. If I told you this straight adapation was produced by Studio Gainax, would you believe me? You know this because I told you that it’s from them, but if I told you that it has no distinct references or fanboyism to other anime series in it and it’s just a straight up half hazard adaptation of a Masamune Shirow work, would you believe me still? Is it getting hard to believe yet? Whatever the case is, that is what this is. An early relic of a studio still finding itself before their first hit, Gunbuster, made it to outside world and helped shape them into what they would become later. I like seeing what studio produce betfore that moment. They are always fascinating in some way.
Appleseed (1988), like the other Appleseed adaptations features the protagonist duo of the super bad ass action girl Deunen Knute and her cyborg boyfriend Briarios. They are refuges from the outside brought in by a Bioroid named Hitomi to join in Olympus and work in ESWAT, the city’s police force in an attempt to calm down their military habits. Bioroids are designed to serve humans in order to keep their activities in control and the Olympus is fifty percent Bioroid and fifty percent other. The other includes humans and cyborgs because there is no distinction in this series. It’s a situation that is supposed to create a perfect society and yet this is the story of it not working as well as it seems for the imperfections that exist within it’s so called perfection.
Unlike the cg Appleseed films of the early 2000’s and beyond pushed by the success of other Masamune Shirow Adaptations like Ghost in the Shell (1995), the story behind this adaptation doesn’t do anything extravagant by telling you the story of Deunen’s backstory and how she’s the chosen one. It just tells a story in the city of Olmpyus with Deunen and Briarios as the main characters. No philosophy, barely any themes of AI, or anything you would expect from Masamune Shirow. Just an action movie. Our pair is close to the character who is a part of the crime, Calon. Therefore, they are also caught in the middle of the scenario and are charged with solving it in their own time or else.
Calon is another human police officer like them. His artist wife recently committed suicide from the lack of inspiration which leads to him being completely disillusioned with the very existence and idea of Olympus itself. Just like Deunen and Briarios, he was originally saved by Hitomi from the outside world too. The three have a decently established relationship because of that fact. Of course, Calon has also been working with the cyborg terrorist A.J. Sebastian from the outside world. So of course, chaos breaks out through the film in a lot of interesting ways. A giant, multi-legged robot might be a part of the plot here too…
The best part of this film is how much it does in a short amount of time. This film is only 70 minutes and while montages weaken some aspects of the film story telling wise, the efficiency of this production is kind of astounding from a story telling level. Everything, no matter the quality, is established somehow. For example, we can talk about the relationship between Deunen, Briarios, and the leader of Olympus Athena. When giving the two a job, Athena didn’t even show up in person which creates tension between the two groups. Of course, that changes as the film goes on and is one of many arcs in the film.
There is a lack of character development in this story, but that is traded by some small, interesting moments that give you an insight into city life and character’s lives. For example, the meeting with Hitomi and the people saved at the bar gives a lot of perspective in why people like Hitomi. Plus, drunk Hitomi is good. Same with Deunen working on police work, Briarios and Deunen eating at a McDonalds which drives how together their relationship is, and a lot of smaller moments involving the mechanics of the Landmates (mecha) people use. Minimalistic, but thoughtful.
Minimalism is where it all falls apart though. If there was a weakness in this film, it’s that it runs a little too smoothly and it can take away from the experience as well. There isn’t any specific moment that would really wow you or make you remember the film in any specific way. Ok, besides Deunen and Briarios eating burgers. With some added things like how Deunen and Briarios are a couple, you can almost just say that this film is a 1980’s buddy cop film told in a shorter amount of time and set in a somewhat cyberpunk setting. For all the things it does to set up the show’s setting and main characters, the villains aren’t as explored and are given moments to relate to our main characters and that’s it.
This is and isn’t a classic case of less is more. Less and more can be good, but it can also take away from things as well. Without boosting the running time, I feel like that an approach where we were able to dive into all the main character’s in the story with a smaller foundation on the world building would make this film a lot more memorable and interesting. The only problem is that the world building is a part of Masamune Shirow’s specialties. We know this world, but it’s still an adaptation that is missing something. That would be a major disservice to his work which was heavily prominent in the late 80’s onward. The only solution would be to increase the length of the film by a little bit which didn’t happen.
That sort of thinking also goes into the visuals of the film. There are some good, fun moments in a see of eh. Besides Deunen and Briarios action and day to day moments, everything else is a far away distance shot, has a lot of masked people moving around at a distance, or a lot of still frames. The city of Olympus is pretty boring looking for instance. It looks very 1980’s with that era’s technology in a supposed super advanced land, so no creativity there. The Landmates are pretty bland looking and uniform looking which can be good for police and military usage, but not anything to make them feel stand out. I suppose this must have been a pretty low budget production considering when it came out. Hmm.
Overall, I think this adaptation of Appleseed is ok, but it’s missing a lot of things. Let’s just say that this film is a very high, ok. It’s shown it’s age in terms of being an adaptation and the visual stuff. A later CG adaptation of Appleseed in the early 2000’s, while being questionably good, is much more memorable then this. At least to those of us from that decade when this came out. Gainax not supporting this adaptation besides just making it didn’t help much either because I at least feel this is a treasure still. Even something bad or unmemorable could be a treasure in some way. If you have over an hour of time, you can find this show in a lot of free places, but especially RetroCrush where I watched it.