The second feature anime to be adapted from the popular Shirow Masumune manga (the first was in 1988), "Appleseed" marks a very impressive debut for director Shinji Aramaki, whose previous work as a mechanical and production designer can be seen in such landmark efforts as "Robotech -- New Generation" and "Bubblegum Crisis." Like the similarly-themed and -plotted Korean anime "Blue Sky," which also receives a U.S. release this month, "Appleseed" takes a bravura approach to mixing and matching a wide range of animation technologies. This is in stark contrast to American animation, which tends to compartmentalize, to its detriment, the fields of cell animation ("The Lion King"), CGI ("Shrek" and "The Incredibles") and motion capture CGI ("The Polar Express"). In "Appleseed," it's all thrown simultaneously in the same mold, forging a singular work that is, if nothing else, a visual marvel.
The plot, as best it can be discerned, centers on a post-apocalyptic power struggle for control of the last remaining city, a paradisiacal outpost known as Olympus. The friction is between regular ol' bona-fide humans and their synthetic counterparts, known as "Bioroids." As with the "Blade Runner" Replicants, Bioroids have been created largely to serve human interests, their emotional and reproductive capabilities strictly regulated by a society that maintains a safe, tenuous balance between the two. But even that's not enough to satisfy the suspicions of a paranoid faction of humans who'd like to see all Bioroids wiped out entirely. As with "Blue Sky" and the French-made "Kaena" (among others), there's a high-flying action-heroine in the middle of it all -- Deunan -- whose own personal history somehow figures in the broader political conflict as well.
The most irritating things about "Appleseed" are really the same things that have always been irritating about this particular brand of anime -- the endlessly expository techno-mumbo-jumbo, the silly way in which characters are used to try and explain away preposterous plot contrivances and the general impenetrability of a plot with far too many preachy appendages. Even still, it's impossible to not be awed by the artistry of what Aramaki and his colleagues have done. Like many such pioneering efforts of the past, "Appleseed" may eventually be known best for what it spawned rather than for what it was. Voiced by Ai Kobayashi, Jurota Kosugi and Yuki Matsuoka. Directed by Shinji Aramaki. Written by Haruka Honda. Produced by Micott & Basara Inc. A Geneon release. Animated. Rated R for some violence. Running time: 105 min