Official FAQ for RoboGeisha: It’s from Japan.
That is all.
Overview: Just when you thought Japanese cyberpunk couldn’t possibly get any stranger (or bloodier), evil genius Noboru Iguchi (Tokyo Gore Police) ups the ante… and bloodshed… with RoboGeisha.
Actually most of the bloodshed is in the unrated version; It was added via CGI for the DVD releases since Iguchi was asked to tone down the violence. But that still doesn’t degrade the overall weirdness, even with a sibling-rivalry storyline the would have worked better as standard-issue melodrama.
The Story: Yoshie (Aya Kiguchi) is a geisha’s attendant with dreams of becoming one herself. Her older sister, Kikue (Hitomi Hasebe), is the geisha who takes delight in keeping Yoshie’s dream unrealized. When the president of Kageno Steel Manufacturing discovers Yoshie’s hidden rage and fighting skills he wants to recruit her to join the Hidden Geishas, an army of cyberneticaly enhanced female assassins being trained to kill “corrupt” Japanese officials so the company can create its ideal world. But when Yoshie is given an assignment to kill a group of people whose family members have been kidnapped to become the Hidden Geishas, she soon discovers the company’s plans to destroy Japan.
As if trying to save Japan wasn’t hard enough, Yoshie is always trying to earn Kikue’s respect since she wasn’t getting any while trying to be a geisha. Yoshie does give Kikue a taste of her own medicine when she was chosen for the Hidden Geishas, until Kikue showed a predilection for killing. The two sisters compete as each wants to destroy the other, even though they show respect and love for each other as the company pushes its agenda forward.
1000 Ways to Die… Give or Take. When dealing with cyborgs and androids, you know someone is going to die. The main question is how? Iguchi manages to come up with some innovative ways…
USELESS FACT: About 70% of Japanese adults are lactose intolerant.
When you see it, you’ll shit… shurikens?
“The fried shrimp! They do NOTHING! I STILL CAN’T UNSEE!!!
Too much blood? Iguchi was asked to tone down the violence for RoboGeisha. He did for the theatrical release, but added it back for the DVDs. An interesting strategy, saving time on re-shoots and money on cleanups, but end result doesn’t really add much… other than blood (check this page that shows the comparison between theatrical and home releases). Even so, what was left in still looks cheesy, and even inappropriate at times, like when the giant shiro robot was stomping through town and stops to smash a couple of buildings that bleed.
Can someone get this poor girl a fresh tampon?
To compare to some other Japanese cyberpunk films, the violence in Tetsuo was more social commentary, while Tokyo Gore Police went for shock value. RoboGeisha’s violence tends to be more cartoonish, like Tom and Jerry with more splatter. Combine that with ass-katanas, lactating demon-cyborgs, and enough blood-cheese to rival Wisconsin and you’ll be ROFLMAO Zedong going ZOMGWTFKMFDMBBQ. That or you’ll just ask yourself…
Conclusion: So far, Japan’s track record for TFWO cyberpunk fare remains intact. RoboGeisha may be the best place to start for those who can’t stomach the more brutal stuff. Definitely shows that cyberpunk can have a sense of humor… a dark, disturbing, sick, twisted sense of humor…
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan in the wake of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima I nuclear plant accidents.
“The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they traveled through the computer. Ships, motorcycles. With the circuits like freeways. I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then, one day… i got in.” - Opening lines spoken by Kevin Flynn (Bridges)
Overview: Thirty years is a lllllllllloooooooooonnnnnnnnnnggggg time to wait between movies in a franchise; Lots of changes happen in such a time period, especially in technology. After a concept “trailer” for Legacy was leaked to the nets after appearing at ComiCon 08, Disney gave the sequel the green light. Was it worth the effort?
Visually, Legacy makes the original look obsolete thanks to the past thirty-year advancement in computer and cinema technology. The storyline probably could be better, though the concept of one’s vision of Utopia being usurped in the name of godlike power still makes for some good cyberpunk fare in a virtual world.
The Story: Since taking over Encom in 1982, Kevin Flynn (Bridges) had been dividing his time working on “The Grid,” running Encom, and raising his son, Sam. Then he disappeared, leaving Encom in chaos and Sam without a father. Alan Bradley (Boxleitner) receives a page from Flynn’s Arcade which had been shut down twenty years ago. Sam goes to the arcade and discovers a secret lab in the basement, complete with the digitizing laser that sent Flynn into the Grid. Sam activates the laser and is uploaded into the Grid himself. After being made to play games, he finds his father, who explains why he was stuck in The Grid… and the tragedy caused by Clu.
Eye and Ear Candy. As mentioned before, the advances in computers and movie making has given Legacy a vastly superior visual look. Gone are the clunky looking gray “armor” suits with post-production rotoscope effects in favor of skintight leather/latex jumpsuits with embedded lights. The Frisbee “identity disks” are now chakram-style rings. Light cycles, recognizers, … everything now has a sleeker, updated look. They look more like real models relying less on computer generation… but then again… can you tell the difference?
Even Jeff Bridges gets a CGI “facelift.”
Also, the movies was shot entirely in 3D as opposed to being shot in 2D and converted post-production.
At the End of Line club, you’ll get some brief glimpses of Daft Punk rocking the data block. You can hear their music throughout the movie… that’s assuming your ears haven’t been blown out by the extra-loud crashes and explosions.
Conclusion: Comparing Legacy to the original would be like comparing a modern, quad-core multi-gigabyte machine with a terabyte hard drive and NVIDIA graphics (no offense to ATI fans) to the original IBM PC model 5150. Comparing it to the more recent cyberpunk fare, Legacy is certainly better than what has been coming down the wires lately. Any cyberpunk fan should see it if just for the eye candy, maybe for the story too. Tron fans will definitely want to see Legacy.
Do us a favor Disney: If you’re going to do a Tron 3.0, don’t wait another thirty years. Some of us may not be around to see it.
“It’s like whatever path we choose in this life, this generation has been set up to extinguish itself.” - Christian
Overview: One of several DVDs I have that I’ve been trying to get to reviewing (this one for Quiet Earth, better late than never I suppose), The Gene Generation follows the path taken by Ultraviolet and the live-action Aeon Flux with a gun-totting, leather clad femme fatale working for the government or some group-entity to bring law and order or some justice to a dystopic future. This time around, Bai Ling is carrying the guns, and if you’ve ever seen her photos on the nets, you’ll definitely love her guns.
The rest of the movie, maybe not so much. Not exactly Ghost in the Shell/Matrix/Blade Runner quality level, but certainly a better way to waste 90 minutes of free time. Plus you’ll get to hear aggrotech act Combichrist when they were at their peak with ditties like this:
The Story: Olympia, Washington, US: Hayden Technologies creates the Transcoder, a glove-like device that manipulates DNA to heal… or kill. A Transcoder accident pollutes Olympia, forcing authorities to construct a “wall” around the city to insure that the pollutant does not leave, but the people want to.
To leave, people need to undergo DNA screening to insure that they are not contaminated. This gives rise to the practice of “DNA hacking:” Using a clone of the transcoder and a sample of a clean person’s DNA, a hacker could re-sequence to clean his own DNA, while the “donor” was killed of due to genetic mutation. The government hires assassins to take out the hackers.
Michele is an assassin who is trying to save money from her jobs to get out of Olympia. Unfortunately, her efforts are hindered by her own brother, Jackie, whose drinking and gambling has forced him to take the money in order to pay off a brutal loan shark. Desperate for money, Jackie breaks into Christian’s apartment and takes the transcoder, unaware of what it is. Michele must now track down the transcoder, save her brother from the loan shark, and protect Christian from those looking for him and the transcoder.
Tentacle porn much? When I first announced that I was going to review this movie, I was told that it wasn’t and easy watch. Being a cyberpunk movie, I knew that certain aspects would be a potential turn-off. There is blood… lots of blood flowed throughout, but that was expected. What wasn’t expected was how the transcoder killed people: The target’s DNA was mutated to create tentacles that erupted from within, bursting out of the mouth, ears, nose, and wherever there was a break in the skin. What has been seen…
Fortunately, all the blood, sweat, and city grime makes Michele take showers frequently:
Definitely worth an extra star in my book.
On the downside, a sex scene between Michele and Christian is intermixed with Jackie being beaten by Randall’s henchmen. Do not want.
Conclusion: Difficult to watch, they said. Well, not TOO difficult for me, even with the tentacle violence. Hopefully you’re not too squeamish about tentacles. At least Bai Ling’s eye-candy makes it worthwhile. The rest is on par with Ultraviolet and Aeon Flux (2005), so those who love kick-ass babes will definitely get a kick out of Gene Generation.
Pearry told me that: “This one will be very dark. A hyper realistic / shooting documentary style and lots and lots of body modifications. We’re shooting it mad max style, set in the badlands… outside the cities.” Shooting will start in March with a completion date of September.
By my estimates, that means release will be around the first half of 2011. Stay tuned for future news as they develop…
Overview: Bubblegum Crisis (BGC) is one of the all-time classics of cyberpunk animation and anime in general. With a team of hawt chicks kicking butt in cute mecha outfits, while upbeat songs play in the background, Bubblegum Crisis has developed a franchise and staying power that few titles can match. Quite a number of sequels have been created as a testament to this. BGC is influential in a number of ways. Not only has its character animation been widely imitated, BGC was one of the first shows brought over in the US with subtitles. Overall, while there are some dark moments, the original BGC is an action-oriented, mostly light-hearted affair.
The Story: In 2025 an earthquake destroyed Tokyo. With the assistance of androids and robots created by the omnipresent and ever-powerful Genom corporation called boomers, Tokyo is rebuilt as Mega-Tokyo. Unfortunately, like Bladerunner, sometimes the boomers get out of line, often in fact. Boomers can appear human, but often this is just a fascade for a far more dangerous bio or mecha beast that can break-through the skin. In response to this danger, the authorities have created an under-funded agency called the AD Police, who’s primary mission is to handle boomer incidents. Unfortunately, often the boomers are too strong for the police to handle.
Enter the Knight Sabers. Headed up by Sylia Stingray, the billionaire daughter of the former Genom Corporation scientist who invented boomers, Sylia has advanced the research on her father’s mecha hard suits, and has recruited a team of three other hawt action chicks who, along with Sylia, comprise the Knight Sabers. All of them have secret identities. Priss is a pop singer, Nene is a hacker who works as a dispatcher at AD Police HQ, and Linna is an aerobics instructor. But all four of them have trained to become mercenaries extraordinaire in defense of boomer incidents.
Unlike most OAVs, BGC is designed with each episode being as self-contained story. While many of the stories string together, there are no cliffhangers here. Some of the episodes have at least a modicum of intrigue, but generally, when it gets right down to it, the goal is for the knight riders to kick some boomer ass. Action dominates, which works considering the relatively short time allotted to each story (up to 50 minutes). As the series continues, most of the storylines deal with the Kight Sabers foiling attempts by the Genom corporation to secure even more power. A few of the episodes have complex storylines, but the majority are straightforward, with evil genius types (boomer or human) directing boomer machines who create death and destruction.
For me, my favorite episode is Episode #5, where a two unique bio-based sexroid boomers who need blood for sustenance escape from escape Genaros, the SDPC’s orbital supply station for humanity’s moonbases, and make their way to Mega-Tokyo. The episode is far more complex than most, and touches on similar issues to Blade Runner, in that these Boomers just want to be free to live. Most of the boomers in BGC (other than the major villains) don’t really exhibit any form of sentience, but the ones in this episode (and the continuation in #6) are sentient and multidimensional.
Influential Visuals: Along with Akira, BGC animation has been very influential in transforming anime to the popular style we see today. Characters with overly large eyes and the familiar facial styles are on display in BGC, as are a bevy of experimental looks and styles. The look of anime changed dramatically from the late 80s to the early nineties – BGC will always hold a place in history due to its influence on this change.
Mega-Tokyo: BGC took the Blade Runner city visuals and applied them to anime, which was then imitated by most of the shows that followed. The cityscapes are modern looking with a blue background, with various green and red highlights. Grays and blues are shown in abundance, with occasional orange and red daytime scenes. Most of the shots are from above, focusing on the overall city-scape, but there are a number of ultra-modern buildings including the Genom’s Tower (which looks like the Blade Runner Terrel Corporation building) and the AD Police building – same as Blade Runner as well.
The Action: By far the best quality animation BGC brings is in their action sequences. While the rest of the series is really not very special, the action sequences are very well done. We get a variety of effects and perspectives that driving the relatively quick-pacing. In many of the scenes, the backgrounds show a variety of methods to enhance the speed and action. Often BGC engages in mecha-style battles (many of the bad-guy boomers are variations on mecha characters), but these are different from some in that the Kight Sabers are in nimble, tight-fitting suits, which increases the speed of the action.
The Music: Very few OVAs have music as recognizable as BCG. BGC is known for being one of the first (or at least one of the most recognized) to essentially embed music videos into their action sequences. The songs play a big part in Bubblegum Crises, with a large number of the action sequences and dramatic moments overlaid with song accompaniment. Almost twenty years later, this innovation has blossomed and morphed into what we see with FLCL for instance, where entire sequences are purely videos intertwined with the story.
The Bottom Line : While I’m generally not too excited about mecha anime (this is purely a preference on my part, and not a knock on mecha), I find BGC quite enjoyable. BGC is more like an earlier version of GITS SAC in that the focus is action first, and philosophy second. While a few episodes do explore what it means to be human, in all but a few cases, this is usually done in the context of a fairly light plot and intense action. Perhaps the philosophical aspects would have been highlighted had the series continued, but for legal reasons, BGC was cut short at only eight episodes. On pure enjoyment I’d probably rate the series a 7 out of 10, but due to its significant influence on anime and cyberpunk I’m giving it an extra star.
Major Motoko Kusanagi: Atsuko Tanaka (Japanese), Mary McGlynn (English)
Batou: Akio Otsuka (Japanese), Richard Epcar (English)
Chief Daisuke Aramaki: Osamu Saka (Japanese), William Knight (English)
Ishikawa: Yutaka Nakano (Japanese), Michael McCarty (English)
Rating:9 out of 10
Overview: Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex (GITS SAC) uses the same characters as Masume Shirow and Mamoru Oshii, but takes place prior to the first GITS movie. Like the GITS movies, GITS SAC revolves around Section 9, an elite anti-terror police force that works behind the scenes to keep the peace. The overall tenor of this series is far more action oriented than Oshii’s movies. While there are a few philosophy moments (including a terrific one with Batou and the Tachikomas), the vast majority of the season is action oriented. In short, we get high-end, slick cyberpunk butt-kicking in GITS SAC – one that’s well worth watching, even if you do miss the philosophy.
The Laughing Man Story: In a world where cyberization has become the norm for a large segment of the population, a number of negative side effects have become possible. In addition to cyberbrain hacking, a disease called Cyberbrain Sclerosis has emerged which seems to randomly affect many who’ve undergone significant cyberization. The Mega-corporation, Serano Genomics has produced a cure for Cyberbrain Sclerosis – Serano Micromachines, a nanotech implant device that, when ingested regularly supposedly halts and eventually works to cure the disease. Unfortunately, the Micromachines only seem to help a small segment of those contracting the disease. A hacker named the Laughing Man seems bent on exposing a cover-up – one which posits that the lost Murai Vaccine has an almost permanent curative for those with Cyberbrain Sclerosis. Unfortunately for Serano Genomics, a real cure for Cyberbrain Sclerosis would decimate their profitability.
The Laughing Man is a hacker extraordinaire who is able to hack into cyberbrains at will, and worse for public confidence, is able to take over TV shows at will. Section 9 has been brought in to find and stop the terrorist known as the Laughing Man. Throughout the season, while there are side plots, it’s the Laughing Man story which drives Section 9. As it continues, the intrigue builds and the plot thickens. Eventually, corporate betrayal, political scandals and personal vendettas play a role in setting the context and exposing the larger truth.
The Side Stories: While the Laughing Man is the focus of the season, there are many side quests in GITS SAC. Some of the episodes closely resemble stories from Masume Shirow’s original GITS Graphic Novel. Among these, Batou has an interesting commando encounter with his past, and Aramaki is taken prisoner by thieves in a bank, only to get involved in a more intriguing plot. For him to survive, Motoko must be able to interpret his actions from afar to correctly figure out his strategy. Generally, the stand-alone episodes are good enough to keep you entertained – some are excellent.
7Th Volume is the Best: While GITS SAC is pretty good throughout the series, the 7th volume – the last one – is by far the best. Without the 7th volume, I would probably rate GITS SAC 8 stars, but the 7th volume really deserves a 10 star rating. In the 7th volume, Section 9 is disbanded, while political intrigue hounds their very lives. The team escapes a crack commando unit and then all go their separate ways. Motoko and Batou become the focus of the volume, and in doing so, display more humanity and feeling then they do the rest of the series. On top of this, many of the best FX are found in volume 7.
Differences with Oshii and Similarities with Shirow: Whereas Mamoru Oshii’s movies centered on the impacts of a cyberpunked society to the individual (Motoko in GITS, and Batou in GITS: Innocence), GITS SAC tends to broaden the filter to look at overall patterns in society. This leads to wonderful throw-away gems like the virtual meeting room (basically a holodeck) where everyone jacks into the meeting and then disappears when complete. We also get plots centering on problems with children in this changed new society, alienation of the masses, and loss of identity and humanity as technology takes center stage in human interaction. GITS SAC is also far more like Masume Shirow’s original graphic novel. While it doesn’t have the overt sexuality of Shirow’s work, Motoko is drawn as Shirow would; Shirow’s humor is evident in a number of the episodes; and the action takes center stage for the most part.
The Tachikomas: Early on, Major Motoko Kusanagi determined that the Tachikomas weren’t destined to be front-line fighting droids. For this reason, in order to become useful, the Tachikomas sped up their learning AI processing. As the season progresses, the Tachikomas begin to exhibit full signs of sentience, including Freewill and more devious functioning – so much so that Motoko becomes worried about their potential. Many interesting discussions take place over the development of the Tachikomas. One of the more intriguing ones that wasn’t really answered was whether being a digital life form instead of an analog one, would the Tachikomas ever develop a Ghost?
External Memory Devices and Cyberbrains – Augmented Thinking: One of the really interesting things about the GITS world is the integration of augmented brains. Conversations and complex thinking become dramatically enhanced. While the philosophical conversations are significantly reduced in GITS SAC when compared to the GITS movies, we still get a myriad of instances where cyberbrains allow people to call up a set of details about any subject that no other human could ever do. Cyberbrains in GITS SAC show a society where humanity truly has become post-human in a very real way, even though the actual look of most humans hasn’t changed much.
The Dubbing: GITS SAC is one of the few animes where the English cast is just about as good as the Japanese cast. Both William Knight (Aramaki) and Richard Epcar have been in their roles from the initial Ghost in the Shell movie in 1995, and all of the cast members have stayed consisted for both GITS Innocence and GITS SAC. Atsuko Tanaka (Motoko), Akio Ôtsuka (Batou), and Kôichi Yamadera (Togusa) have also been in their roles since 1995. It’s hard to pass up on Atsuko Tanaka though – I love her as Motoko. In any event, while the moods between the English and Japanese cast are different, they are both excellent.
The Sound: GITS SAC consistently has decent quality sound supporting the visuals. The use of the side speakers for voices is especially emphasized. The sound FX (explosions, gun shots, car chases) are always top notch. But truly, the most impressive thing in terms of sound is the sound track. The opening and closing songs (Inner Universe and Lithium Flower) by Yoko Kanno are flat out terrific. Throughout, we are treated to a variety of songs and background music, which almost always add to the action and visuals on screen.
The Visuals: GITS SAC has a variety of aids that add to the overall quality of the look. While some shots look pretty basic, others involve a variety of cool FX, including digital color grading, a myriad of environmental effects, and cell-shaded computer models. GITS SAC gives us a variety of color palettes including dominant greens, reds and blacks, and occasional blues and yellows. Overall, GITS SAC is a very professional, high quality production.
The Bottom Line: GITS SAC is a high quality cyberpunk production. While I personally like the tone and tenor of Oshii’s movies far more than I do GITS SAC, this is a personal preference. GITS SAC provides continued quality action wrapped up in impressive visuals and sound. While the first 6 volumes might only merit an 8 star rating, the conclusion is just terrific. This, along with the overall high level crafting GITS SAC provides throughout (visuals, sound, dubbing, songs) certainly raises the bar. And do yourself a favor – watch GITS SAC on a system with high quality surround sound – you’ll notice the difference.
Overview: Matrix Reloaded, one of the most anticipated movies of 2003 provides a very interesting follow-up to one of the best, most influential movies in cyberpunk and all of Sci-Fi. Many have knocked this (and Revolutions more) for being a significant step down from the original movie, and to an extent they are in that the “newness” of the idea has worn off. But truly, it would be absurd to expect the Wachowskis to not use the universe they have already painstakingly created. In this sense, the sequels HAVE to provide a different sensation. In this sense, Reloaded does not disappoint. We get great performances by the Matrix leads, along with a number of truly terrific supporting roles. For this review, I’ll try to concentrate my comments more on the Sci-Fi aspects of the movies versus the religious narrative, as this also covered wonderfully elsewhere. I’ve also tried to use less well known screencaps on the first page of this review. To see some of the more popular Reloaded screencaps, go to page 2 of this review. Also, this review goes in line with my more in-depth assessment of the trilogy from a SciFi perspective:
No “The Matrix Sucks/No It’s Great - You Just Don’t Understand!” Debates: Just a fair warning – if youre expecting Matrix sequel bashing, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong site. There are numerous places to read such banter if you’re interested. I absolutely love the sequels for a variety of reasons (some of which I explain below), but I really don’t mind in the least if you hate the sequels. Yet, for this movie, I’d really like the comments on this entry to be more related to the movie itself versus whether or not you hate the sequels. Believe me when I tell you I’ve participated in many more hours of discussion on this topic than I ever care to, and absolutely will not get into this in the comments section of this review. If you MUST engage in the “Matrix Sequels Suck/No - They’re Great, You Just Don’t Understand!” debate, please use this thread in the Meatspace.
The Story: I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that about 99.9% of you reading this review have already seen Reloaded, so I won’t spend much time on an overview of the story unless its specifically requested. In brief, Matrix Reloaded is the sequel to the Matrix, and is the second of three movies in the trilogy. In Reloaded, six months have past since the end of the Matrix, during which time, Morpheus, Neo and Trinity have been busting hump freeing massive numbers of battery people. In Reloaded, we get to see Zion, a return of Mr. Smith, and eventually, a fuller understanding of the nature of the Matrix and the Prophecy of the One.
The Supporting Characters: One of the real strong points of Reloaded is the cool character additions. The best ones are of course the Merovingian (played magnificently by Lambert Wilson) and Persephone, played by the ultra-sexy Monica Bellucci in a totally hot see-through dress. When they are onscreen, both absolutely steal the scenes. Almost as terrific is the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) and the blasé evil ghost twins (Adrian and Neil Rayment – who actually are twins) – they have to be up there as some of the best henchmen ever to grace the screen. Seraph (Collin Chou), Councilor Hamann (Anthony Zerbe), Link (Harold Perrineau), the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), and Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) all really add to the movie as well.
The Action: Reloaded is filled to the brim with awesome action scenes. In addition to some wonderful Woo-ping Yuen choreographed fights, we get one of the best highway chase scenes ever put on film. The Trinity motorcycle part in particular is just awesome. Truly though, serious credit has to go here to Keanu Reeves’ preparation and training for this film. By all accounts he was an absolute machine in terms of preparation. It really shows on screen. His wire work and martial arts scenes are just terrific (And no, I’m not comparing him to those in Hong Kong who’ve spent an entire career doing this stuff). The CG for the most part is absolutely top notch.
The Visuals: Matrix Reloaded has a lot more diversity in its visuals than the Matrix provided us. We have a few experimental shots like the graphic novel scene of Neo flying with the Moon behind him – and lots of yellows and greens. For yellows, we get rave scenes, explosions, and fights in a yellow weapons room. Greens, of course, still dominate the majority of the scenes – like the first movie, they are omnipresent in most low-light scenes. All in all, the visuals are incredibly diverse and interesting.
The Pacing: Matrix Reloaded starts off with a bang (literally) before getting into the story. We get a mixture of plot discussions, action sequences and philosophical breaks. But Reloaded is as a whole is definitely of a different style pacing than most movies. It and its sequel more closely resemble the approach taken in Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, where there are philosophical and thematic discussions that are then played out in the action sequences. The ending clearly comes off as a cliff-hanger, which is to be expected considering this is the middle of a trilogy.
The Architect Conversation: The Architect conversation provides some of the best dialogue of the entire trilogy. This is a philosophical break, a plot buster, and more importantly, the major turning point in the trilogy. The Architect and his minions serve as the ultimate representation of a negative feedback (negating change from an initial goal state) control system. His whole purpose in life is to ensure a steady supply of power (electricity) to the Machine City. As the power is created off the electricity in humans, the Architect must develop a plato cave-like virtual reality simulation that provides humans with a believable reality. The Architect reveals the details of the control system that has kept the machines satiated with electricity for the past 600+ years. In this we find that the prophecy of the One is merely one more layer of control to maintain the status quo to handle the problems arising from freewill (more on this below). Unfortunately, something (or someone) has thrown a monkey wrench into his carefully laid plans. Neo has fallen in love, and in so doing, creates a personal connection with a human that is potentially larger than his overall connection with humanity.
Freewill: Matrix Reloaded spends a good bit of the philosophical breaks discussing the impact of freewill on actions, decision making and on control systems. The Merovingian assets that without the “why,” freewill is merely a facade by those in power that is placed on the powerless. The architect who created the Matrix based on mathematical equations. While he has accounted for almost all anomalies, he had to develop a special periodic subroutine to address the issue of freewill. Because a very small subset of the population would reject the Matrix programming, there needed to be a way of handling this. His approach involves the creation of an external holding bin called “Zion,” which which he would let fill up with the problem battery people, and then every hundred years or so would clean out the holding bin and start again. Simultaneasly, Morpheus, who is unaware of this freewill control subroutine, sees the prophecy of the One as a deterministic journey - one which both reduces the power of freewill while supposedly saving Zion.
Positive Feedback Out of Control: From a cybernetic standpoint, Positive feedback, or the deviation from an initial goal state, plays a huge role in both reloaded and revolutions. In fact, both movies constitute an emergence and interplay among dueling feedback systems. The architect has created a negative feedback system that has been in force for at least 600 years. Yet now, the perturbations to the negative feedback control system are systemic – in fact, they constitute an initial kick in an entirely new direction. The study of cybernetics tells us that negative feedback systems are destroyed – often never to be repaired to their original state – if the upper or lower threshold values in the are exceeded. For instance, if the body temperature in a human exceeds 106 degrees Fahrenheit, the human will die. In the futuristic dystopia of the Matrix, this is the strategy the Oracle takes. The rationale is that unless the architect’s control system is rendered moot, the “ebony and ivory, living in perfect harmony” future (with machines and humans) the Oracle desires cannot occur.
Elements of the positive feedback system, represented in totally by the Oracle and the causality she creates, include both a modification of Neo’s operant conditions and an intrusion into Mr. Smith’s deletion. Neo’s love for Trinity changes the outcome of the Architect’s freewill subroutine – instead of having only one real choice (saving humanity), Neo has a new choice – save trinity now and spend 24 hours trying to rescue Zion and humanity or continue with the control system which will wipe out Zion. Additionally, Mr. Smith has been transformed into a virus. When Neo destroys him in the first movie, Mr. Smith did not disappear – instead (as we find out in Revolutions), the Oracle intervenes and creates the new, viral Smith. While there is no resolution to this in reloaded, the context is set for the resolution in Revolutions.
I Believe…: I believe this phrase (“I believe”) is used twenty times or more in Reloaded. There are times it fits perfectly, whereas others it seems to interfere with the dialogue. The scene where Commander Lock is discussing strategy with the Council is the most egregious example of this. Versus “I believe we need every ship…” it would have been far more realistic had he used a simple “We need every ship if we are even to have a chance…” The problem of course is the whole issue of whether or not the Commander and Council believe in the Prophecy of the One. As impending doom draws nearer, the tendency to place faith in supernatural explanations for salvation becomes too great to resist.
The Bottom Line: The Matrix Reloaded is a terrific follow-up to one of the most influential movies ever. The Wachowski brothers have provided a movie where the action is terrific, the characters are memorable, and the narrative is complex and interesting. Lawrence Fishbourne as Morpheus in particular shines here, which is great, in that is role is significantly diminished in Revolutions. While Reloaded suffers somewhat from being the middle movie in a trilogy, I think it handles this well. The ending provides us with a cliffhanger, which, at the time of release, sparked IMENSE numbers of interesting theories and ideas. I’m guessing most of you have watched Reloaded, so I feel strange giving a plug to watch it. All I can say is I love it.
Overview: Parasite Dolls, another cyberpunk anime written by the prolific cyberpunk anime master, Chiaki Konaka (Serial Experiments Lain, Texhnolyze, Armitage III, Malice@Doll, and Bubblegum Crisis 2040), is a visually interesting, VERY adult OVA from the Bubblegum Crisis universe. The androids (called boomers) in this show are fully android (at least regarding their mental processes) unlike in other Bubblegum stories where they seem to be a combination of human and android. While this is a three part OVA, I really like that they are almost integrated like a movie, versus as separate episodes. Fair warning, you get gruesome deaths in the throws of sex, prostitution, lots and lots of gore.
The Stories: There are three separate, interlinked stories on the Parasite Dolls OVA. At the start of the first story, set in the year 2034, where society has become a troubled mix of humans and androids called “Boomers.” The Genom Cooperation has created boomers to serve mankind in all aspects, from police support to sex dolls. Unfortunately, problems emerge, both with the boomers and with humanity’s reaction to their presence. A clandestine division of the Advanced Police (A.D Police) called “Branch” has been created to investigate human to boomer related crimes. The story follows “Buzz” Nikvest, a policeman with a troubled past, and his partners at the Branch division, which include a very helpful Boomer called Kimball and a stereotyped spunky, sexy, tough cop chick named Reiko Michaelson.
In the first episode, rogue boomers start randomly attacking and killing innocent humans. Buzz and company are brought in to investigate. During the course of their investigation, they find that things at the Genom corporation are not all above board. This story has some pretty cool visuals of shot-up boomers, and a few interesting
The second episode, which takes place a year later, involves a truly bizarre android monster called the “Boomer Crusher” and a very lifelike boomer prostitute who has feelings and has dreams. Unfortunately, the prostitute is being controlled in her dreams to cause some truly bizarre human deaths. We find out more in the third story of who probably created this monster, but it isn’t really stated in the narrative.
In the third episode, which takes place 5 years later, Takahashi, the head of Branch Division is missing. In searching for their missing box, Buzz, Kimball and Reiko find a connection between Takahashi’s disappearance and the recent spate of anti-boomer activity that has grown in recent years. Worse, as explosions go off all over the city, Buzz is framed as the fall guy. As the story unfolds, the viewer is left with the idea that all three stories are related to the same larger plot.
The Visuals: Parasite Dolls has a really nice diversity of looks, often emphasizing extreme shadows in single color light settings. Both blue and gray are used extensively for this, often yielding terrific visuals. In other cases, Parasite Dolls looks like a rather decent, but not spectacular anime. It does best when it strives for the edgy look. Had this been used throughout, Parasite Dolls could have come off as something bordering on special. As it stands, some parts really stand out, while others you almost wait to get through.
Boomers – property or unique individuals: Nothing new here – Parasite Dolls explores the continually explored question of whether androids are merely property or something more unique. Unfortunately, no new ground is traversed. Instead, the interesting aspects of this come from the seedy visuals themselves. There are a few scenes in Parasite Dolls where the visuals make a far more interesting statement than the narrative. These usually involve truly gruesome Boomer deaths.
The Seedy Underground: A seedy feeling pervades Parasite Dolls. We get nudie bars, slovenly side-walks, seedy corporate meetings, and absolutely base human behavior. We have hot chick boomers continually debased and abused. Even the weird creatures that appear have an icky feel to them. The constant theme we see here are fallen boomers. They had so much potential, but…
The Bottom Line: The stories themselves are somewhat uneven and problematic, but the visuals are interesting enough to make this worth a watch. While the narrative is more straight forward than many of Chiaki Konaka’s stories, it does require a few minutes thought to put the overall picture together – otherwise, all three episodes almost seem disconnection. Even though Buzz is a pretty interesting character, the rest of the characters we encounter are pretty much the cookie-cutter variety. Worse, as the episodes take place over a six-year time period, you would really expect to see growth in the characters, or at least changes in the nature of their relationships. Instead, the characters we encounter at the beginning are the same ones six years later. Still, for a 3 part OVA, Parasite Dolls is worth a watch for the visuals alone.
Overview: In the best of cases, remakes of cherished shows rarely turn out good. The MTV Aeon Flux cartoon series was an intensely creative post-modern show by Peter Chung, who broke all the rules of how narratives are supposed to be told. The lead character, Aeon Flux, the ultimate anti-heroine, dies on a regular basis; nobody was purely evil or purely good; and everything was high-tech body modification chaos. Unfortunately, the movie does away with all that. In an attempt to “humanize” the iconic figure of Aeon Flux, the movie version goes for a standard rebels-versus-Orwellian bad guys movie with a twist. While some of the visuals are absolutely terrific (including some wonderful action scenes by Charlize Theron), in the end, this is a very different story with very different characters, and must be understood as such.
The Story: Aeon Flux takes place 400 years after a virus has devastated humanity, killing off 99% of the population. Now, one walled city named Bregna, holding 5 million people is all that remains of humanity. Bregna is ruled by a council of genetic scientists who have (supposedly) been avidly working on fixing the fallout of the virus for the past 400 years. For reasons only partially explained later in the story, the ruling council has instituted a totalitarian government with an extreme crackdown on personal freedoms, and have backed their authority with an intense surveillance apparatus. A group of rebels called the “Monicans” have challenged their right to rule, and have vowed to destroy the ruling council, especially their leader, Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), at all costs.
Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) is the Monican’s very athletic, butt-kicking, black spandex wearing operator-extraordinaire. No mission is too dangerous, and no obstacle is insurmountable. In what serves as the prologue, Aeon’s last surviving family member, her sister is killed by the Bregan Council authorities – all that remains for Aeon is revenge and the mission. Finally her time comes when the fiery-haired Monican handler (Frances McDormand) authorizes her to go assassinate Trevor Goodchild. So Aeon and her partner with four hands and no feet, Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo), storm the garden and infiltrate the Brega Council compound.
Unfortunately, as Aeon finally encounters Trevor, not all is at it seems. She suddenly has memories of kissing Trevor in a former life. Worse, it looks like there are other forces at work, and perhaps Trevor isn’t the bad guy the Monicans have made him out to be. As Aeon follows her heart and the ever expanding mystery, she engenders anger from the Monicans, while Trevor ends up at the wrong side of a coup-des-tat at the hands of his evil brother, Oren Goodchild (Jonny Lee Miller).
Story Problems: While the front half of the Aeon Flux story works, the back-end is riddled with inconsistencies. If you spend an ounce of time thinking through the motivations, the actions of the main bad guy make no sense. What he really wants (immortality) can be accomplished even Trevor’s experiments prove successful. This is muddied further when the Jurassic Park mantra, “Nature finds a way” is added to the mix. Even weirder is Pete Postlethwaite’s character, who comes across almost as the watcher in a Fantastic Four comic. We are never sure if he is real or Memorex. Worse, his final monologue where he explains his actions adds yet another strange element to the scifi-mix – precognition. In the end, there are too many fantasy-like technologies for this to come across as believable. In brief discussions with on the writers (Phil Hay), it appears that the original script might have been tampered with. I really hope this is the case, as the visuals of the movie were more than strong that they would work for even a passable story.
Changes With Aeon and Trevor From the Cartoon: The move version of Aeon Flux in no way matches the lead characters of Aeon Flux and Trevor. In Peter Chung’s cartoon, Aeon Flux comes across as the ultimate anti-heroine. While she clearly knows right from wrong, and generally tries to stop the worst abuses, Aeon is an ultra-acrobatic, top-notch action-espionage heroine who works for herself, and only operates under her own agenda. Trevor is a mostly malevolent, superior dictatorial character who as a true soft-spot for Aeon. For her, he will bend his approach, but otherwise he rarely is a nice guy. We rarely see fear, doubt, or self-loathing out of Aeon, although she too has an eternal love for Trevor that trumps all. Kusama’s version of Aeon and Trevor tries to humanize them, and in doing so, removes much of their uniqueness and appeal. New motivations and afflictions are created where none previously existed. Worse, their very nature changes. In the end, Trevor turns out to be a misunderstood hero who works valiantly to save humanity – his only fault is he turns a blind eye to his brother’s excesses. Aeon becomes an agent working for others goals, but only later turns to herself based on principled evaluation of what is right and wrong. Again, while both of these characters may be interesting if done well, they bare little resemblance to the mindset of the Aeon and Trevor characters from the original show.
Still, I must give credit to Charlize Theron’s athletic feats in this movie. By all accounts she spent 3 months training to be a gymnast and fighter, and it shows. While for the most part she does away with the ultra skimpy clothes from the cartoon, she really does nail the gracefulness and style of the cartoon Aeon Flux. And while I don’t necessarily agree with the humanization approach, Aeon does pull this off very well, especially considering she has very little dialogue. The fact that she got seriously injured on the tenth day of shooting (herniated disc injury), but came back to continue the vast majority of the stunt work is a testament to her commitment and professionalness, and should be applauded. If I had one complaint with her protrayal, she really doesn’t really “look” the part, in that the cartoon character was a taller figure with a far more angular face and tapered hair.
Editing is Way Too Frantic: Aeon Flux was a very contemplative animated show. Almost always, you had time to properly digest a scene. The atmosphere of the original series is largely based on the pacing. In the movie version, the editing seems designed to artificially hype the tension. In the end, it results in sucking the life out of many of the scenes. You rarely have time to feel connected to the scenes. More often, you feel like you’re riding a roller coaster, even when the scene is nothing more than two people talking.
The Technologies in Aeon Flux: The body modifications (such as hands replacing feet, and various stuff stored within the skin) in Aeon Flux really added to the visual appeal. Also, there were a number of interesting technological innovations. Probably the biggest was the peer-to-peer interaction in “brain space” that the Monicans use to elude the Orwellian-style surveillance systems that the council has set up. The flat metal slices that turn into semi-autonomous exploding balls were visually cool, as was the room that worked in two dimensions (each dimension of frequency holding completely different items). I also liked the bubbling Band-Aids that Aeon has stored, hiding on her skin.
The larger technology involved cloning. In Aeon Flux, cloning equates to flawed reincarnation. With each generation the people are cloned, the memories of their lives somehow stay with their soul – yet with each time they are cloned, the new person has memories from the previous versions. Over time, the cloning ends up destroying each other’s reality. For the most part, I don’t think this idea worked all that well. It gets especially troublesome when we look at the Keeper, who seems to be able to “remember forward” and thus, make decisions 400 years ago that will help save the world well into the future.
The Visuals: Visually, Aeon Flux is a gorgeous movie. We have also sorts of beautiful futuristic city settings, beautiful characters, and really fun FX. Some of the visuals are completely nonsensical though – the most egregious being an early scene involving Aeon wearing white for the ONLY time in the movie when she wants to stealthily sneak into the Brega compound at night. While this helped make Aeon’s character stand out more, it immediately brings a sense of Hollywood unreality to the whole affair. Still, while many of the action scenes didn’t make lots of sense, they were all nicely shot. Some of the fights were pretty gritty, but for the most part, the resembled a gun-version of a kung-fu dance movie.
Lots of Hawt Chick Fighting! One of the better aspects of Aeon Flux involves the massive amounts of hawt chick fighting! Yes, its low-brow, but we like it. We get some really juicy fights between Aeon and Sithandra, and Aeon and Trevor’s bodyguard, Freya (Caroline Chikezie). And of course we have massive amounts of Charlize Theron in tight black spandex, kicking butt. While some have compared this aspect to Catwoman, the comparisons are unfair in that 1) we don’t have Mouseketeer ears, 2) all the fighters are very athletic, unlike Sharon Stone in Catwoman, and 3) the fight choreography is far far better.
The Bottom Line: While there enough to like in Aeon Flux to give it a passing grade, I really can’t give it more than that. A movie version of Aeon Flux should have been a creative, postmodern event that stayed true to the cores of the characters in the cartoon. Evidentally, the studio thought an innovative approach such as this wouldn’t fly with the vast movie-going public. What was created instead, even though different, could have been decent, but was mired down with horrid editing choices and incoherent motivations in the later half of the story. In the end, it’s hard to buy a number of the decisions various characters made.
However, the narrative problems in Aeon Flux may be due more to ridiculous studio meddling than with the actual script – apparently the editing was one casualty of studio meddling. Phil Hay has indicated that he will write an essay on how the Director’s Cut would have been different. He is hoping that DVD sales will be high enough that the studio will agree to release the Director’s Cut, which he claims is a very different movie. Still, Charlize Theron’s excellent acrobatics makes for good eye candy, and turns in a credible performance as a humanized version of Aeon (the Trevor portrayal is completely uncrecognizable from the cartoon though). The visuals are terrific, and the technology is pretty interesting. Similar to other 6 star movies that are high on visuals but have problematic stories (Ultraviolet, T3, Appleseed), you may still be interested in giving this a watch.
Overview: Some movies are just absolute absurd fun – so fun that you end up watching it endlessly. The Fifth Element is that way for me, and is a movie I’ve seen around 20 times or so. The tone of the movie is too light-hearted to be considered a real cyberpunk movie, but like Tank Girl, we can consider this a cyberpunk comedy. The characters are all a hoot, and the movie never takes itself seriously – in fact it’s almost always over the top. Many of the cyberpunk themes still exist in Fifth Element, although, again, they are enacted in a light-hearted way. It’s the visuals that really bring Fifth Element into the cyberpunk subgenre.
The Story: 217 years into the future, ultimate evil is again coming to destroy the earth. Ultimate evil takes the form of an absolutely massive malevolent ball of blackness that is on a course to destroy earth. Every attack the Federated Territories try only makes it larger. It turns out that a group of priests has been keeping the ancient technology necessary to destroy ultimate evil – four stones representing the 4 elements, which surround a fifth element. In this case, the fifth element is s beautiful girl (Milla Jovovich), reconstructed from the remains of a small DNA sample.
“Leeloo Dallas, Multi Pass”
Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a down and out highly decorated former military commando, now turned failing cabbie, who has a beautiful girl named Leeloo (Jovovich) fall into her cab – literally! The authorities are after her, as it turns out she has escaped those who recreated her. She can’t speak English yet she figures a way to ask for help. After she asks, Korben Dallas takes her to the priest, Father Vito Cornelius, who recognizes her as the Fifth Element, and promptly kicks Korben out.
From there, things get crazy. The military approaches Korben for a secret mission to retrieve the stones necessary to stop ultimate evil. The stones are hidden with a famous Diva who is performing at the famous floating hotel, Floston Paradise. At the same time, Zorg, an evil corporate CEO (Gary Oldman) has hired a group of Mangalores (evil, ugly aliens) to retrieve the stones. Simultaneously, Father Vito Cornelius and Leeloo also find a way get to Floston Paradise to retrieve the stones. Things get even weirder when the famous radio host, Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker), an outrageous guy with a penis-head hairdo hosts the Floston Paradise experience with Korben as his guest!
The Acting: All the main characters in the Fifth Element are quirky and memorable. Bruce Willis really works as a former hero, now on his last leg. Jovovich is beautiful and otherworldly. Tucker is a riot! This movie really got him known (Rush Hour made him famous though). And Gary Oldman as Zorg is flat out awesome as a completely crazed power-hungry evil doer with a quirky sense of style and salesmanship. Truly, Besson did a great job in casting this.
The Visuals: The Fifth Element totally rocks in the cool futuristic visuals department. The colors include dark yellows with neon blues for the backgrounds, saturated blue scenes and orange clothes for the leads. But its the city-scapes, reminiscent of Lang’s Metropolis that are especially memorable. They flat out nail a far out vision of the future. Additionally, we have airports with 30 foot tall trash heaps due to a garbage worker strike, fully automated, ultra-processed McDonalds, deaf rock stars
The Editing: The editing in the Fifth Element is just terrific. The splicing of the various story strands, as crazy as they are, flow wonderfully. In discussing the missing stones, the simultaneous, intermixed dialogue between Leeloo and Father Cornelius and Zorg with the Mangalores are just one terrific example of this; the Diva opera singling intermixed with Leeloo’s fighting is another. With the amount of stuff going on here, this could have ended up a disaster. Sylvie Landra, who also edited Leon – the Professional, deserves heaps of praise for this.
The Fifth Element Cyberpunked Future: Dropping the crazed fantasy aspects of the stones and ultimate evil, The Fifth Element gives us a pretty dire view of the future. Cities are built high to escape the constant layer of smog that coats the surface; corporations are all-powerful; governments are impotent; fashion statements have gone seriously awry; cockroaches are used as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems - but at least we still get cheap Chinese food! Plus robots now do all our menial work!
The Bottom Line: No, the Fifth Element is not intended to be taken seriously. Still, this movie is just far more enjoyable than it has any right to be. The action and romance are fun, the characters are unforgettable, the story is entertaining, the music is great, and the visuals are marvelous! The Fifth Element has been in my regular heavy watching rotation since it came out. Give this a watch if you’re looking for a witty futuristic cyberpunk action-comedy flick.
Overview: Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed recently got a second anime treatment. The last was in 1988 – this time, in 2004, the anime is done up in eye-popping 3D graphics. With a budget of only 10 million as compared to over 90 million for a movie like The Incredibles, we shouldn’t be expecting too much. Surprisingly, we get far more than expected, especially with regards to the wonderfuly rendered backgrounds. While the animation is interesting enough, the story is more problematic. So too are the change in the feel of the characters. This is really where the original version succeeds far better than Aramaki’s version.
The Story: Appleseed takes place in the year 2131, a war-ravaged dystopian future where most all of human society is in ruins. Over two years after the last war, the only example of advanced human civilization is a newly made city called Olympia, which has been engineered to be a created as a perfect refuge from the rest of the world. Over half of the city’s inhabitants are comprised of bio-engineered “biodroids,” which are human-like beings designed to serve specific roles in the society. An all-knowing computer named GIA supports the city council in controlling all aspects of city life.
Deunan Knute, a fighter extraordinaire has been living alone in the wastelands, not realizing that the war is over. She is beset by two warring groups of fighters, one of which who is trying to kill her, and the other group, which rescues her and takes her to Olympia. There she is re-acquainted with her long lost lover, Briareos, who now has been transformed into a cyborg after his body was lost in the war. She is tasked to join “ESWAT,” a special mecha-enabled police force that keeps order within the city. Deunan also befriends a biodroid named Hitomi, who shows her around the city. Unfortunately, Deunan barely gets a chance to settle down before the assassination attempts on her life start.
Duenan quickly learns that she has been dropped in the middle of a power struggle between humans, who are concerned that the biodroids secretly aim to exterminate them, and biodroids, who worry the same about the humans. Somehow, Deunan has become essential in this struggle, yet it has nothing to do with her fighting capabilities. It turns out that her parents, before dying, developed a method for biodroids to reproduce, which would make them almost exactly like humans. But this research was lost long ago. Now, Deunan has become a pawn for both sides of this struggle, and worse, it appears as if her ex-lover, Briareos has chosen sides.
Unfortunately, the story in this version of Appleseed is problematic at best. There are too many sub-plots that obfuscate the key points. The myriad of loose ends introduced that are never followed up on. Gia, the sentient computer that runs Olympus is the probably the worst casualty. We get introduced to her, and, if you know something of the Appleseed story from the Manga, you expect to see lots more than what actually ends up being conveyed. In the end, the plot centers on a simple theme of racism. This is a shame as there were so many interesting cyberpunk aspects of Olympus that get short-circuited.
The Animation: Appleseed’s backgrounds are wonderfully rendered. This more than anything accounts for the majority of the “wows” Appleseed received. They are done in a way that allows 3D camera maneuvering, so as to allow you to see the same scene from multiple angles, and at times, even provides Matrix bullet-time effects. For the most part, the 3D CG overlaid with 2D cell shading really works. It’s an extension of the idea we saw in Malice@Doll, only with far better rendering tools. The machines look especially awesome. Both the Gunhed style tanks at the beginning of the movie and the platform sentinels at the end. Unlike many cyberpunk movies, there isn’t a dominating color palette in Appleseed, but the color scheme seems to stick more often than not to light and dark shades blue-greens, with yellow & browns in transition scenes.
In terms of the characters, only Deunan Knute really looks polished. Her body movements, facial expressions and general actions really work. The rest, especially the human characters, often look stilted in their moments. Hitomi, their biodroid friend, is especially problematic at times. This might be due more to the motion-capture techniques they use, which work wonderfully for the city, but not so well for the characters. Also, I really dislike the way they animated the hair. The hair on the humans in the 2004 edition look like something out of Reboot. However, considering the budget, I think they made the right decision in spending scarce resources on Deunan. Had they just made everyone look slightly better, Appleseed would have faltered horribly. By at least making Deunan polished, they developed a star that fit right alongside their wonderful backgrounds.
The Sound: Many times throughout the anime, Appleseed plays more like a music video than it does a movie. The modern heavy rock beats worked well for the action scenes. And truly, the action scenes are where Appleseed excels. There, the 3D positional sound, the music accompaniment and the 3D CG graphics are at their absolute best. The accompanying score really wasn’t all the memorable, but at least served up the slower paced moods fairly well.
Differences From Shirow’s Work: While both animes deviate from Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed Manga, Aramaki’s version is the most egregious. While the 2004 version starts outside of Olympia as the Manga does, it only has Duenan there, whereas in the Manga has both. This version introduces a new dramatic twist of Duenan and Briareos getting back together for the first time in two years. While this in itself isn’t bad, the side-effect is: these two characters are no NOTHING like the Manga. The Duenan Knute and Briareos of Shirow’s Manga, and of the 1988 version, are precursors to the Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko and Batou. Here, Briareos is a moody, lost soul trying to deal with his cyborg body, and Duenan is far more vulnerable than tough. The playful chemistry we see between these two both in the Manga and the 1988 anime is completely missing here. For those who aren’t familiar with the Manga, this probably won’t bug you, but it certainly sapped some of the enjoyment out of this movie for me – so much so that I’m dropping a star off the review for it.
The Bottom Line: Appleseed is definitely worth seeing for the visuals alone. While some of the characters don’t work, the Duenan, the machines and the action scenes work wonderfully. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t equal up. Too many elements are introduced and then discarded in favor of a truly simplistic storyline. They could have done better. Also, as I mention above, this is not the Deunan and Briareos I’ve become familiar with – these characters are different from both the Manga and the earlier anime. This bugged me enough to drop a star from the review, but you might not mind so much.