You may be surprised to learn that some legendary manga artists enjoy the same level of fame that movie stars generate in the States. Author Masamune Shirow is one such manga icon. The original Appleseed manga created by Shirow is without hyperbole one of the greatest manga stories ever. It was published in 1985 and was Shirow’s official, professional debut work as a manga creator. So far more emotionally engaging than many in the Japanese anime sci-fi stable, the story gradually shuffles human dramas to the side as exhibitions of the latest 3-D software take precedence. When anti-government cyborgs attempt to shatter the fragile peace in Olympus by turning citizens into zombies, the city’s regal leader Athena orders the troops in, with much spectacular butt-kicking performed by Deunan, Tereus and the now-recovered Briareos.
The animation is excellent, the script is compelling enough and the English voice dubbing is adequate. However, with all the action constantly taking place on the screen, I can see where that may have become a distraction. The opening battle between some terrorists and Deunan’s ES.W.A.T. unit is all but a first level, complete with a predictable, minigun-hefting boss. It may be a unique-looking anime import with a mainstay of Hong Kong cinema attached, but Ex Machina is cut wholly from the vapid realm of blockbuster filmmaking.
Well, it’s sort of a sequel, anyway. Ex Machina’s creators are quick to emphasize that it has no real connections to the first film, but the characters are the same. I don’t suggest you have to watch the first one to understand this film, which is much better than the first in my opinion. Appleseed is almost prophetic in Shirow’s depictions of geopolitical conflict, cyber-terrorism, and computer hacking. Shirow, who holds a degree in mechanical engineering, masterfully created the entire world of Appleseed from the city and functions of Olympus, the hi-tech weaponry of ESWAT, the Landmate mecha, as well as the entire timeline of the world’s story and its history.
Appleseed Ex Machina is packed with tense action scenes that make the CG-animated utopia a feast for the imagination. Mechs, robots, cyborgs, bioroids, humans… it’s all a bit complicated to follow the first time through, but the fighting factions help the filmmakers create an intriguing story packed with conspiracy, tragedy, and political ambition. But, there are times when the characters are as two-dimensional as the paper the manga that spawned them was printed on. Your ability to accept these shortcomings will determine your enjoyment of the movie.