Masamune Shirow’s groundbreaking Appleseed is one of the most influential and admired manga series ever created; a sci-fi sociopolitical satire set in a post-apocalyptic world of men, machines, and hybrids of both. It’s translation to anime has been a bit rocky, however, with 1988’s clumsily plotted and poorly animated “Appurushido”, followed nearly sixteen years later by 2004’s ambitious-yet-flawed CG/Anime hybrid, also titled Appleseed. Now, two decades later, Appleseed Ex Machina looks to right the wrongs of previous outings and finally deliver an anime worthy of Shirow’s beloved classic.
The Utopian city of Olympus is on the verge of brokering a multinational treaty that would result in an unprecedented sharing of power and resources. As the representatives of the countries hammer out the details of the proposal, a series of mysterious terrorist attacks by the usually benign cyborg and human population of Olympus has the members of E.S.W.A.T. working overtime looking for the cause. Meanwhile, E.S.W.A.T.’s resident maverick, Deunan, is furious to find herself saddled with new partner, Tereus – a bioroid culled from the genetic material of her current partner/lover, Briareos, who is currently laid up in the hospital recovering from a raid gone awry. Deunan and Tereus must put their differences (or, in this case, Tereus’ genetic similarities to Briareos) aside, as the source behind the terrorist attacks makes its presence known, and threatens to destroy their city.
Produced by John Woo, and directed by Shiniji Aramaki, Appleseed: Ex Machina is an astonishing technical achievement that seamlessly merges CGI and traditional animation techniques. The result is one of the most visually stunning pieces of animation I’ve ever witnessed, achieving a look that borders on photo-realism, but still managing to deliver the outlandish and over-the-top experiences that only an animated feature can deliver. While a basic knowledge of the Appleseed universe certainly makes following the film easier, Ex Machina isn’t nearly as convoluted and technical as many anime features, and the script goes out of its way to make sure that Appleseed neophytes are brought up to speed by the time things really get rolling – and oh, do things get rolling. This is one non-stop barrage of mind-blowing action, jaw-dropping visuals, and knee-slapping fun.
Warner Brothers presents Ex Machina on Blu-ray with a 1080p VC-1 transfer that has to be seen to be believed. While we’ve all seen how great CG looks in high definition, Ex Machina takes it a step further with its use of real world textures (snakeskin, battered metal, leather, etc), photo-realistic landscapes, and insanely detailed weapons, robots, vehicles, and buildings. The result is the sort of eye-popping 3-D experience that only the best Blu-ray titles have offered, made all the more effective by Ex Machina’s already impressive visuals.
The film is presented in both English and Japanese, both featuring Dolby 5.1 soundtracks that (while not on par with the uncompressed audio the majority of Blu titles sport) are effective and powerful. The surround mix is handled nicely, with strong imaging, beefy bass, and crystal clear dialogue that never seemed to have to fight to be heard over the film’s near-constant action.
Supplements include over an hour’s worth of featurettes (all in HD!), with Team-Up: John Woo and Shinji Aramaki and Revolution: Animating 'Ex Machina' focusing on the making of both this film and it’s 2004 predecessor, while The Appleseed Chronicles and East Meets West deal with the Appleseed manga (with input from reclusive creator, Masamune Shirow) and the impact of Japanese pop culture worldwide. The latter two features are especially entertaining, especially for those new to the world of Appleseed, as they offer a lot of insight into both the craft and the culture that led up to this film. Extras are rounded out by a feature commentary by producer Joseph Chou, and anime aficionado, Jerry Beck. Overall, a very nice selection of goodies.
Visually striking and immensely entertaining, Appleseed Ex Machina is, in my opinion, the perfect anime film for people who don’t necessarily like anime to begin with. Sure, some of the plot points will have a few folks scratching their head, but it’s a much more straightforward and coherent film than most of its ilk, and the visual payoff is well worth a little confusion. While the lack of a lossless audio track prevents this from being a true reference quality disc, you’d be hard pressed to find a better looking title to show off to your friends.