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Appleseed: Ex Machina PDF Print E-mail
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Blu-ray Reviews
Tuesday, 26 May 2009 00:00
Appleseed: Ex MachinaAnother day, another post-apocalyptic world created for the benefit of the survivors - and, as the name may suggest, hiding a certain amount of rot underneath the shiny surface. If humanity's free will is the root cause of war, goes the thinking, why not do away with free will..?

Following the non-nuclear war that killed half the world's population, the city-nation of Olympus stands as a beacon of hope in a world of chaos and conflict. The utopian metropolis is governed by Gaia, a vast artificial intelligence, and administered by genetically engineered humanoids known as Bioroids, whose designer DNA suppresses strong emotions. With Bioroids being half of its population, peace and order are easily maintained. Deunan, a young female warrior, and Briareos, a veteran cyborg-soldier, are both partners and lovers. As members of ESWAT, the elite special forces serving Olympus, they are deployed whenever trouble strikes.


The two fighters find their partnership tested in a new way by the arrival of a new member to their ranks — an experimental Bioroid named Tereus. Created by Gaia using DNA from Briareos, Tereus uncannily resembles Briareos before the wartime injuries that led to his becoming a cyborg. Not only does this trouble Deunan, but Briareos's DNA gives Tereus more than top-notch fighting skills; this battle-ready Bioroid is like Briareos in another way — he has also strong romantic feelings for Deunan. But with a scheme to subvert humanity becoming apparent, neither Duenan, Briareos or Tereus have the luxury of dealing with such emotional concerns. Plans in motion may even lead to the downfall of Olympus, and ESWAT are firmly in the front lines...


Based on the manga series by Masamune Shirow, Ex Machina is the sequel to the original Appleseed OVA released in 1998. The first thing you'll notice about this version is the visual style - for starters, the human characters are based on motion-captured actors rather than pure animation, and that gives them a distinctive look that takes a bit of getting used to. In addition, most of the rest of the animation makes heavy use of CG, allowing the movie to create a highly-detailed world that really does show off the Blu-ray format - this looks sweet, although that may well turn out to be the movie's main selling point.

The movie doesn't rely too heavily on prior knowledge - I haven't seen the OVA or read the manga, and was able to follow the story without any problems. The idea is quite simple: in a world recovering from devastating war, there's going to be a natural desire to ensure that peace is permanent. The introduction of bioroids, with their limited emotional responses, has gone a long way towards reaching that goal - but as ever, there are those willing to push beyond the boundaries of what's acceptable to the masses, to turn humanity into something else, a homogenous whole where dissent simply isn't possible. Those behind the Halcon movement have plans to accomplish this - and those who can't or won't be assimilated, will have no place in this "brave new world".

Which brings us neatly to Duenan and her partners. As members of ESWAT, it's their job to protect Olympus from those who would destroy it, and their fight to do so is one half of Ex Machina's tale. As you'd expect, there's a fair amount of battle (with the last half-hour or so of the movie handed over to the final confrontation), and there's been a lot of effort put into making these scenes look the part. They're tense and impressive to watch, and are in large part what you're watching the movie to see.

The other side of the coin is the more human side: Duenan's relationships with Briareos and Tereus, and an underlying thread about the continued dilution of humanity. While the goals of Halcon are being presented as a bad thing, does the growing dominanace of Bioroids not threaten to achieve the same goal anyway, just by evolution instead of revolution? Can Briareos and Tereus be considered two sepearate people, despite their common origins? Is humanity really on the right path? The movie seems to expect you to consider these things - it wouldn't be a Shirow story without that sort of underpinning - but it leaves it feeling a little undecided about whether it wants to be an action spectacular, or something more philosophical.

Still, it's well worth watching as a treat for the eyes, if nothing else. High-definition anime is still rare enough in the UK that it's worth picking up simply as a technology demonstration, if that works for you. As a story it's maybe not quite as successful, but it's still enjoyable to watch and has enough depth to it that you won't feel that you've wasted your time. Worth checking out.

Rating - ***

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