Appleseed Alpha (Japan 2014)

Rating: **
Review Date: 7/22/14
Director: Shinji Aramaki

I love Masamune Shirow's "Appleseed", but why is it so hard to adapt to film? Ever since the original OAV, the stories have strayed further from the source and gotten progressively worse, and "Appleseed Alpha" is a huge disappointment. It attempts to reboot the entire franchise by exploring what Deunan and Briareos were up to after the war, and places them in the ruins of New York City as a couple of mercenaries employed by a crime boss named Two Horns. A chance meeting with a cyborg named Olsen and a young bioroid named Iris puts their lives in danger, but provides a clue to the fabled existence of Olympus. A nasty cyborg named Talos wants to use Iris to activate a doomsday device, and Deunan and Briareos naturally have to stop this from happening, which is basically the same plot device as the last three or four "Appleseed" films. Really, isn't there some other story we can tell with these wonderful characters?

Nearly everything about the film is a travesty. First of all, it's in English, which is a terrible mistake. Secondly, Deunan's character model is completely wrong and looks like a well-worn Miley Cyrus, which makes her difficult to look at. Additionally, her breasts are too large and she inexplicably doesn't wear any body armor or protective clothing. Thankfully, they didn't add any exaggerated breast physics to her movement, which is the only thing that would make her presentation even more tasteless. The one good thing I can say about her is that her motion capture performance was performed by an actual soldier, so her movements look very natural and realistic. Normally, Japanese mo-cap performers tend to create lots of overly exaggerated movements and ridiculous gestures that work against the character. Briareos looks more stocky than usual and his ears are especially short. His voice is forcefully rough, but completely unfiltered, so you don't get any sense of his cyborgness. There's no chemistry or connection between the two of them, which is a crime because that's the cornerstone of the entire series. The other characters are absurd, unlikable, and overly cliché, and will probably only appeal to a pre-teen audience. Iris is interesting only because she looks like a ten year old Shu Qi. On the plus side, the music score is nice and surprisingly subdued, which gives the film a more personal and human touch.

The story is overly predictable and the dialog is embarrassingly bad. This is typically what happens when a Japanese production tries to appeal to western audiences, which is clearly what director Shinji Aramaki had in mind. Unfortunately, the film suffers tremendously as a result of this kind of misguided international marginalization. It's a shame that so much money and effort was put into the animation, while the story is so weak and pedestrian. It's essentially the exact opposite of "Appleseed XIII" in terms of production and content, but it's equally disappointing. I prefer the tone and stylings of Aramaki's original "Appleseed" the most, and would like to see more of Deunan and Briareos in that world as members of ESWAT, fighting against political terrorism and cyber-crime. It's their partnership that makes "Appleseed" so enjoyable and endearing, so why not build a series on that rather than continuing to tear it apart?