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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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02/28/2006 Archived Entry: "Anime review: Appleseed SE"

Appleseed SE
Distributed by Geneon

Review by Kelly Taylor

First, let me get the hype out of the way -- Appleseed is more than a movie. It's the future of anime!

Okay, just had to get that off my chest.

What makes this movie so special is a technique that the creators call live 3D animation. To be completely fair, live 3D animation not actually a new technique as much as it is a very inspired combination of old techniques. The "live" aspect comes from the fact that they make extensive use of motion capture. Lots of big name animation studios use motion capture for bodily movement. What makes Appleseed stand out is that they also used motion capture to generate facial expressions for the characters. It's hard to put into words how much this added realism intensifies the viewer's emotional involvement in the narrative. Let me hasten to say that by "realism," I do not mean that the creators have abandoned traditional anime character design motifs. The characters are not drawn in a realistic manner. They still have oversized eyes, undersized mouths, and small, pointed noses. However, the motion-capture gives them a new level of expressiveness that makes them absolutely fascinating to watch. I was so captivated by the characters, I felt as though I was watching anime for the first time.

A shining example of the virtues of using facial motion capture technique comes in the portrayal of the character Hitomi. She is a bioroid -- that is to say, a genetically engineered clone. In one scene, she asks the heroine what it's like to be in love. Her expressions and movements are so sweet and wistful that you just want to kiss her on her perfect little forehead. This moment of bonding turns out to be important because later in the story characters make decisions on the basis of their desire to protect Hitomi. If you don't care about the character, those parts of the story fall flat.

It goes without saying that all the mecha look simply marvelous. They gleam with an abundance of detail and texture designed to make any fanboy with a pulse wet his pants in delight. Because they are mostly CG creations, they move... Well, what can I say other than they move like mecha -- too precise to be human and too graceful to be entirely machine.

Another design element that is served well by the combination drawn/CG-rendered approach is the backgrounds. Both the murky battlegrounds and shining city of the future come alive in vibrant, mood-setting color and amazing detail. Because all this color and detail are contained in a computer model, the camera is free to pan, zoom, and linger creating the sort of epic sense of place that traditional anime films seldom achieve. You never have the feeling you get in some anime that the entire scene is taking place in front of cardboard cutouts hastily constructed by preschoolers.

One disadvantage to having the most impressive graphics to come along in a long time is that the story gets a little overwhelmed. I had to watch the movie a second time before I calmed down enough to notice there was a plot.

Appleseed is an adaptation of Mirasume Shirow's 1985 manga series of the same name. Perhaps because the story was so popular at the time of its publication, it contains a certain amount of anime conventions that have gotten a little worn and hoary in the intervening years. Appleseed is an action-packed story of brave women, noble men and big, shiny mecha fighting for survival of the human race in a post-apocalyptic utopia on the edge of disintegration. If this scenario sounds a little familiar, it's only because you've seen it a few hundred times since 1985. Still, Shirow's plot is a masterly melodrama with enough twists to keep the attention of the most jaded viewer.

Packaging and Extras:
The version that I viewed is called a "limited collector's edition" -- which means it comes with the sort of extras you'd expect from the DVD release of a non-anime movie. I'm being a bit unkind here. This double DVD set comes in a beautifully decorated metal case. The primary disk contains the movie with all the normal language options. The extras disk features a long "making of" documentary that goes into every aspect of the production. Being the CG geek that I am, I enjoyed this documentary as much if not more so than the movie itself. The extras disk also features an extensive image gallery that includes not only still images and conceptual art, but information on the lead designers and early CG test renders as well.

There are, of course, trailers for the theatrical release in both Japanese and English. I was disappointed that there was only a link to the preview for the Appleseed game instead of a trailer for it. For fun, they also included a music video of Boom Boom Satellite's song "Dive for You" from the film and a glossary of terms from the story.

Bottom Line:
If you are fan looking for a movie that not only satisfy your anime itch, but will make even the most hardened anime-hating scoffer in your circle of friends stop and go, "Wow!' then Appleseed is a definite buy. Pick it up today and get a glimpse at the beautiful future of the art of digital animation.

Replies: 1 Comment

I just saw the trailer for this and was very impressed. I will have to watch it.

Posted by Tom @ 03/13/2006 07:38 AM PST

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