Appleseed: Ex Machina (Japan 2007)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 3/16/08
Producer: John Woo
Director: Shinji Aramaki

A bit of a let-down after the jaw-dropping "Appleseed" (2004), but the characters' personalities seem to fit with Masamune Shirow's manga much better this time around. A cyborg terrorist plot is hatched in Olympus and ESWAT cyborg Briareos gets wounded in the line of duty. In his absence, Deunan Knute gets a new partner in the form of a bioroid named Tereus. She is none too pleased to find out that Tereus was cloned from Briareos and has the same looks and personality as Briareos before he lost his body. He also has feelings for Deunan, which creates a troublesome love triangle. Things get even worse for Briareos when he ultimately gets infected by the terrorist virus, and it's up to Deunan and Tereus to save him - and the rest of the world.

First of all, the animation is top notch and beautiful to watch. The level of detail has been ramped up since the last film, and while the characters are still cel-shaded, they look more human and have more weight and depth. I'm still undecided as to whether I prefer this look or the more stylized designs of the previous film - both techniques have their pros and cons. Having John Woo involved in the film is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that he is a revolutionary action director with incredible vision and visual storytelling skills, but a curse in that his style is imitated so often that you know exactly what you're going to see. His angles, themes, and visual flourishes are easy to pick up on and feel a bit clichéd. Still extremely stunning and satisfying, though. The mecha design is superb and the combat sequences are exhilarating. The emotional themes tug at the heartstrings, and the characters pull it off beautifully, if not a bit melodramatically at times. Unfortunately, the plot is weak - especially for something in Shirow's complex universe. The pacing is also a bit tedious, and the final showdown in the zero-gravity Halcon laboratory is just a little too extreme and too surreal. The soundtrack is also really disappointing. While the symphonic arrangements are good, the more modern sounding techno tunes are truly awful and ruin the flow of the action scenes. Perhaps the strangest contribution to the film is Deunan's wardrobe, designed by Miuccia Prada herself. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine seeing "Prada" stamped on a Japanese anime production. Sadly, the two dresses she wears are not attractive at all, and I don't really see Deunan as a follower of haute couture. Still, her involvement really makes the film come together as a multi-national, multi-cultural production, and speaks to the international impact that Japanese animation has had on the world. Let's hope for more "Appleseed" movies in the future!