Appleseed XIII: Tartaros (Japan 2011)

Rating: **
Review Date: 1/20/12

I'm not clear on all of the details surrounding the "Appleseed XIII" animated series, but I do know that the DVDs are outrageously expensive. I couldn't justify shelling out $500 for all thirteen episodes, so I decided to get the ninety minute compressed movie version of the first half, called "Tartaros." That said, it's completely incomprehensible and the lack of subtitles doesn't help. The series is supposed to be a more faithful retelling of the original manga, but I saw no similarities. It's simply another tale of Deunan and Briareos going up against a terrorist who is trying to destroy Olympus, with some relationship drama thrown in. I could do without the drama, as I enjoy "Appleseed" most when Deunan and Briareos are happy and working as a team. Their relationship is the cornerstone of the series, and putting it in jeopardy always sours the experience. In this regard, I think the characterizations in the original OAV were closest to the source material.

What's most striking is the visual style, which abandons the cel-shaded look of the previous two films in favor of a more stylized video game aesthetic. The character designs are very close to Shirow's original designs, and the animation rendering employs an interesting hand-drawn watercolor texture. Briareos looks absolutely stunning, like a drawing come to life. Unfortunately, Deunan and the other human characters don't look so great, and I can't even tell you why. There's just something a bit unsettling about them, and Deunan in particular looks overly plastic and waxy. It's almost as if virtual idol Yuki Terai were in the starring role. The color palette is also heavy on the pastel side, which doesn't really fit the environment or the story.

The characters draw a lot of attention to their mouths, which are impressively lip-synced, but that's also a major source of distraction since the rest of the facial animation is flat and emotionally dead. Additionally, the lack of motion blur makes character movement seem jerky and unnatural. This may also be the result of a lower frame rate during character driven scenes, since the movement in the action scenes fares much better. The landmates look great, but there's not as much mecha as you would expect from the series. There's not as much socio-political intrigue, either, but that might be due to the condensed script. The action scenes aren't particularly exciting or memorable, which is a shame, and the whole thing feels like an experimental film. This may be the future of anime, but I don't think it's ready for prime time yet. I'm just hoping that the series gets a domestic release, because I'd like to see the whole thing (with subtitles) some day. But given its unusual and unconventional style, I wonder if anyone is going to take a chance on it?