Title: Appleseed XIII
Genre: Action, Mecha, Sci-Fi
Publisher: Production I.G (JP) Funimation (US)
Original Creator: Masamune Shirow
Director: Takayuki Hamana
Series Composition: Junichi Fujisaku
Music Composer: Conisch
If you’re an anime veteran then somewhere along the way you’ve heard of Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed XIII. This was my first experience with the series (after missing out on the film a number of times), and I came in expecting to find out why this series has been so revered. With its strong two main leads and impressive visual backgrounds this anime should make me want to watch more and get excited about each episode. Instead, it neglected to develop its other cast of characters, provided missions that ranged from ok to only decent, some unmemorable music composition, and probably the most inconsistent animation of its characters that I’ve ever watched, ranging from ugly to borderline good.
Appleseed XIII is a sci-fi anime set in Olympus, a city-nation comprised of relatively few humans, lots of bioroids, and a number of cyborgs, each with their own philosophy that actually deters them from getting along. We learn more of the issues within Olympus through the missions of Deunan Knute, a special agent at ES.W.A.T, and Briareos Hecatonchires, an agent at ES.W.A.T who lost his human form and now is a cyborg, as they square off with the Human Liberation Front. In all 13 episodes, while the missions take shape and expose the main storyline involving the completion of the Ark Project, a project where bioroids attempt deep space exploration, we also see how Deunan and Briareos attempt to be partners, and see them struggle to actually understand each other. But they need to get it together before they find their world, or their paradise, vanish at the hands of someone who detests bioroids.
Normally I would get into the meat of the anime and start listing off its merits and its flaws, but I wanted to talk about the best thing provided with the Appleseed XIII discs, and that is the extras which detail how the anime was done. Why is this important? Because all 13 anime episodes were done by different studios, each of them varied in certain aspects of 3D design in Japan and with their own style on what to choose, whether it was to use motion capture or to use illustrations or manual animation. It was also telling as well: for one of the studios to just do one episode, it took a whole year to make it. I found the whole 13 episode “The Inside” clips a great highlight into just how arduous creating anime is, and a very refreshing extra that anyone interested in animation or just is a nut in general about the process would want to watch and gain knowledge on.
Unfortunately, learning of this makes me understand why Appleseed XIII just couldn’t get it together: in having different studios apply their techniques to an episode, it ends up having inconsistent production values and some pretty bizarre episodes. Unfortunately, the main standout is the visuals. The anime in BD actually looks amazing, as the backgrounds and buildings are well structured and pleasing to look at. The problem is the character models border on hard to take to just barely able to get by, and just when you get an episode where the characters are tolerable, you get an episode where the characters don’t look right at all. This leads to scenes where the proper character emotion is not expressed well (see the ability to cry in this anime) or any noteworthy scenes involving action or a progression of the plot are dulled because the characters just don’t act right. Now, there are bioroids, where they are portrayed as not human so they are accused of being incapable of depicting proper emotions, and the majority of Olympus is filled with bioroids, so maybe they can’t even act properly. Except the reactions don’t work well on Deunan consistently enough, so in general, that leads to inconsistency by everyone involved.
This issue with all the studios also leads to issues with the episodes. Sure, it manages to keep Deunan and Briareos’s ongoing relationship and Appleseed is established as a series where the missions are different and involve certain topics (political, simple, the works), but when you pull a vampire episode on me just right after an episode where we had a side character — and it was a robot no less — have to protect a bioroid child, something’s up. The bigger issue is then making sure my interest is kept up as I watch the episodes, but instead, nothing really compels me to watch more. The episodes are nothing off-putting (well, unless you’ll have an issue with a few episodes with Deunan in her 3D underwear), but they don’t evolve into anything that turns my head or proclaims to be anything worthwhile. At their best, they’re dry and compelling enough to keep watching, but at their worst, it’s merely a bunch of missions that try to highlight a problem, but with one dimensional side characters and that 3D animation, there’s little bite to keep going. You then add the visual cues it tries to add in the series (with Hercules and the 12 labors, hence why the episodes have a particularly apt title), and instead of it flowing coherently, it doesn’t flow well at all.
It’s personally a shame that the content is just ok here, because Deunan and Briareos are a pretty excellent pair. Sure they have their flaws here, but they can handle their issues on their own, and their struggles to finally come together despite their differences (human and cyborg) works for the most part. What really would have helped them was if they had a strong side cast, except the side cast, aside from maybe one episode, really wasn’t explored all that well, most notably the members of ES.W.A.T.. From there, we get characters like Hitomi and Deia, to a terrorist professor and the head of major project, to the cast of characters in the terrorist group Argonauts. They all present a level of likability, but none of them really stand out all that much, and for the one who becomes the main antagonist in the second half of Appleseed XIII, her arc was mostly unconvincing.
This is probably a case where sticking to the sub is your best bet for the anime, as while Luci Christian as Deunan seems to get better at her role as the episodes go on, I feel the rest of the cast, and this includes Briareos, feels lacking compared to the Japanese version. I say this knowing that I don’t think the Japanese version is all that special either. I didn’t get the sense any of them — well, maybe aside from the cyborg Elman (voiced by Tetsuo Komura and Mark Stoddard respectively) that captures Deunan in episode 6 — was all that convincing. The music quality is mostly low tier, as a few tracks later on in the series are quite well composed, but this isn’t an aspect that is a strong suit for this anime. But all things considered, Appleseed XIII is worth a watch, and then you’ll probably forget you watched it in a year’s time. That might not be enough for some people.
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