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Movie Review: Appleseed – Ex Machina

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In the first Appleseed movie, we were introduced to Shirow Masamune’s creation that featured Deunan Knute, Briareos, and the city of Olympus where cyborgs and engineered Bioroids walk side by side with human beings. In this latest installment of the saga, a crisis has hit Olympus. A virus has infected a technological gadget that a vast majority of the population uses almost constantly.

This virus is transmitted through an unknown frequency, turning its wearer into a violent zombie. Though hardly a heavy-hitting storyline, it is much easier to follow than the previous film. Appleseed: Ex Machina continues to improve on what was given with an even higher grade of animation, a clear plotline, and exquisite music.

When I first started watching this film, my jaw dropped with the opening sequence of the E.S.W.A.T. deployment. Where the CG is still a bit clunky outside the action sequences, the level of detail in the design is astounding. The opening scene takes place in a cathedral where you can see the individual stones in the walls, segments in the stained glass windows, even the nuts and bolts in the armor and cyborg attachments. In later scenes you can see the texture of the characters clothing like the grain in Briareos’ leather jacket or in Deunan’s high heeled shoes. In one touching scene it is raining and you can see the condensation on Briareos’ head.

This layer of texture is only accentuated to a greater effect during sequences using producer John Woo’s signature tactics such as the slow motion, flying doves, falling shell casings, and the unique gun battles which look more like a ballet than a standard gun fight. All in all I was well impressed with the quality of the artistry in the movie.

Character development is much more prevalent in this film in both the story and the animation. A new character is introduced in the way of Tereus, a Bioroid created from Briareos’ DNA, making him practically a clone of what Briareos used to look like. This makes relationships a bit strained when he is paired up with Deunan. As for the animation, not only is body capture CG used but also facial capture. This means there is more definition to a character’s facial expressions. For example, when someone talks their jaw moves along with their lips. This makes it quite difficult for the dub actors and translators to match the “lip flaps” since each word is more distinctly pronounced by the lips. Dub fans, though, will be happy with the actors chosen to portray the characters. With such staples from the industry as Luci Christian (Full Metal Panic!, Negima?!, One Piece [Funimation’s version of Nami]) as Deunan, David Matranga (Saiyuki, Orphen, Chevalier D’eon) as Briareos, and Illich Guardiola (Saiyuki, Chevalier D’eon, Pretear) as Tereus, the movie has a quality to the dub.

There have also been changes in the character design. The first film had a more “anime” look to the characters; with the big Bambi eyes, the animation looked more like shaded cell. Here the look is abandoned for a more natural look with 3-D shading effects. This might be to the chagrin of hard core anime fans but has the potential to draw in a larger audience.

A running theme throughout Ex Machina is individuality. In the overall plot, the antagonist wants to unite people – think the Borg from Star Trek – so there would be no war, no fighting, etc. The theme then runs rampant in the side plot, the relationship development between Briareos, Deunan, and Tereus. Briareos has a cyborg body, the only one of its model, and Tereus is a Bioroid clone of Briareos. So the question hanging over Briareos’ head is will he eventually be rejected by people, specifically by Deunan, (they never do clear up what exactly their relationship is so you can only assume through the hints writers give you throughout the movie) because of his unique body? As for Tereus he knows what he is; he is a prototype and the powers-that-be can just make another one of him. Also is he truly an individual to begin with when he has all of Briarios’ skills and mannerisms? Is he as they say “just a copy”? So the question runs throughout the film as to what makes us individuals and whether individuality a good thing for the survival of the human race.

Available on Blu-ray, HD, single-disc, and two-disc collector’s editions, Ex Machina is well worth the money. The collector’s edition has bonus material that includes interviews with John Woo and director Shinji Aramaki, a look at the making of the film, a history of Masamune’s Appleseed over the years, and the American anime revolution. Appleseed: Ex Machina with its impressive action sequences, dramatic use of architecture, and computer generated effects, is a must-see for any fan of the cyberpunk genre.

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About Lindsay Beaumont