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Friday, January 14, 2005
Anime style still
Japanese artist Masamune Shirow, creator of the manga "Ghost in the Shell," is getting a lot of play lately. Now the anime version of his manga "Appleseed" is getting a major makeover.
In a completely new retelling that changes much of the original 1994 anime, the film is set in the year 2131 after World War III has decimated the planet. Lethally efficient soldier Deunan Knute, wandering in the wastelands, has been cut off from the main action and so doesn't realize that the war ended several months ago with no clear winner.
She's attacked by mysterious androids but a host of other unknown soldiers intercede. They stun Deunan and haul her back to the city of Olympus, which arose as the seat of political and military power.
In Olympus, a woman named Hitomi becomes Deunan's guide. Hitomi is a bioroid, a genetically engineered human whose reproductive and emotional functions have been suppressed. Bioroids feel no love, hate, anger or jealousy -- the very emotions that cause humans to go to war. Thus they serve as a "balance" to the human race and help keep the peace; bioroids comprise more than half of Olympus' population.
But there are those who detest and seek to destroy bioroids, the main opponent being General Uranus, head of the city's armed forces.
Adding to the mysteries of the city is the sudden reappearance of Deunan's former partner and lover, Briareos. A member of the city's E.S.W.A.T. team (separate from the regular armed forces), he is also now a cyborg, with the majority of his body replaced by metal parts after a serious war injury. His cold, aloof manner toward Deunan confuses her.
At the controls of the city are a supercomputer named Gaia and a council of elders, who are directly wired to Gaia. Handling things on a more day-to-day level is the bioroid Athena, the city's prime minister.
Deunan gets caught up in the power struggle between bioroids and humans. Her repressed memories are unleashed and she becomes key to the future of humanity.
"APPLESEED" gets its name from the story of Johnny Appleseed, a Massachusetts pioneer born in the late 1700s. He wandered the wilderness of the West, planting apple trees to fulfill his dream of a land of plenty in which no one went hungry.
In the same way, Deunan is like Johnny Appleseed: Through her, humans may finally reach what they believe is utopia.
"Appleseed" is your typical sci-fi flick that questions the future of the human race. However, the various known and unknown factions working with, against and independently of each other provide twists that make this movie more than just a warning of impending apocalypse.
The extensive references to Greek mythology provide some obvious and not-so-obvious metaphors without foreshadowing much of the ending.
But, of course, the movie's main draw is its much-touted new style of animation known as "3D live anime," which blends motion-capture technology and computer graphics, topped off with so-called toon shading to make it look more like traditional cel animation.
So the question is: How does it look?
The verdict: As with any new technology, it's hit-and-miss. The new character designs bear little resemblance to Shirow's artwork. Certain things are done well, most notably water, weapons, mecha, earth-shattering destruction and explosions -- all the things you can't do in real life without major monetary or human cost. And the use of motion capture as the basis for animating characters means movement is often very smooth and realistic.
Other times, however, motions are stiff and unnatural. And Deunan's hair and face are just about the only such ones that have any iota of naturalness; most everyone else has molded hairstyles that look like they came out of a Lego set, and facial expression is either perpetually angry or nonexistent.
But the fact that Deunan is the most expressive also says something about what life in Olympus has become.
This remake has a much darker, intense atmosphere than the original, focusing more on Deunan's background and the self-destructive nature of humans. The bioroids exude a false cheer and optimism.
But ultimately, "Appleseed" is about hope -- hope that humanity can still save itself from oblivion.