*This Appleseed movie is one of four that I will be doing for the month. For a small primer on the comic series, check out my Appleseed Month announcement here*
The movie ends with Deunan Knute setting down flowers for her fallen co-worker from the police force. She takes in and contemplates her colleague's last words before making the silent walk home. The camera pans upwards to Olympus' glistening skyline. And a melancholic saxophone plays in the background as she wonders whether protecting the city she calls home is as noble a task as she once believed.
As for me, I pondered on the buildup and plot points that made an otherwise splendid denouement so baffling and nonsensical.
This 1988 Appleseed movie is about humans rebelling against the 'utopia' they live in. It takes place in the urban jungles of Olympus, the proverbial shining city on a hill built from the ashes of a catastrophic world war. Living there provides perks like employment, housing, and healthcare, but not everyone likes this arrangement. That is because four out of five Olympus residents are Biodroids, artificial humans who run the city's government. Therefore, a faction of non-synthetic humans decided to take up arms in an attempt to overthrow their synthetic counterparts. One such rebel is A.J Sebastian, a bigot who insists that the Biodroids should be doing more menial tasks than governing. If he had his way, they would be flipping burgers, doing house chores, or even worse.
Working with A.J is Calon, the dead police officer who I mentioned in the first paragraph. He does not share his ally's intense contempt for the Biodroids, but he is also unsatisfied with his lot in life. He has everything provided for him to live comfortably, and so struggles to find any meaning for himself. To make matters worse, his wife committed suicide at the start of the movie. The Olympus medical services were no better, as it forcefully extracted Calon's memories of his late spouse as a means to figure out why she did what she did. He soon adopts her terminology when fighting against our heroes, claiming that the city is a gilded cage that saps humanity of its innate freedom.
I have attempted to paint Calon in the best light possible because his argument for toppling Olympus is absurd. Someone should remind him that living in Olympus beats out scrounging around in a desolate war zone any time. Deunan Knute (one of our two protagonists) should also tell him that the city revived her lover Briareos by turning him into a cyborg. Finally, someone should at least argue that the city as is offers its own variation of freedom. That is, by freeing its residents from starvation, disease and unemployment, they are free to pursue self-actualisation, to become their best selves. Obviously that line of argument is problematic, but I do not know what is worse - Calon's flawed motivations or the lack of rebuttal towards them. He should have been an uncomplicated character, a grieving widow struggling to fit into his new environs. At least his negative experience with the city's mental health institute gives him some good reason to be resentful. But one wonders why he is taking his rage out towards the entire city instead of those individuals working in that institute.
Our heroes are kind of boring and are not much smarter than the villains. Deunan is the fair cop who doubles as a hothead. That is all I can say about her because she does not contribute much to the plot's trajectory. And despite being a cyborg, Briareos also adds little to the package. For someone who needs to adjust to living in a new metal shell, he goes about his life as if that transformation never happened. There is even a shot of him consuming a soft drink in a fast food restaurant; one wonders if he can also eat food. Meanwhile the moments when Briareos shows off his new cyborg capabilities come very few and far between. Together, they only realize that Calon is working for the bad guys near the end of the story, despite earlier knowing that he hated Olympus.
Auxiliary characters also have their moments of stupidity. Athena, the Bioroid leader of Olympus, showed such great judgment when she tasked our dynamic duo to hunt down and kill A.J Sebastian. But she worsened the situation by hindering Deunan and Briareos while they were in the middle of preventing a kidnapping. And when asked why she meddled, she brings up that time that they unknowingly allowed A.J to escape during a hostage rescue at the beginning of the movie. She even accuses them of working with the human terrorists. Which raises this question: If she suspected our heroes for foul play, then why did she assign Deunan and Briareos to undercover work in the first place?
But the ultimate moron of this movie has to be Hitomi, the Biodroid who rescues humans from the wastelands and integrates them into Olympus society. She makes a good first impression through her work and her bubbly, if airheaded, personality. But then she loses all credibility when Calon kidnaps her and (shockingly) persuades her to do his bidding. What caused Hitomi's change of heart, you might ask? The rogue cop asked her to help him as a human being and not as a Biodroid. I mean, what blithering nonsense! That explanation does nothing to address her fondness for Olympus and her desire to protect it. And as if we needed even more proof of Hitomi's stupidity, Deunan and Briareos manage to save her from Calon, only for her to do what her captor wanted and unwittingly shut down the city's computer system and allow A.J Sebastian to invade Olympus on a giant walker. The Biodroid had all the time in the world to walk away from a wounded Calon and end the day on a high note for our heroes. Instead, she just had to increase the amount of time I had to spend with this movie. Athena should either fire Hitomi or reassign her to toilet-cleaning duties in the Tartarus complex.
With my main gripes about the characters out of the way, I now need to comment on the less terrible (though still problematic) aspects of the OVA: the presentation. I'll try not to critique the graphics too harshly since the movie is roughly three decades old, but the animators did cut some corners. The most baffling decision they made was with the walker that A.J Sebastian used. You see, it didn't stomp around the city and rain down mechanical fire and fury to any innocent bystanders. Instead, it just floats around Olympus and discharges a grand total of one shot from its large cannon towards the Biodroids' main base. If I had to guess, the only casualties from this conflict only are Calon, A.J. (one-shot by some no-name cop despite transforming into a friggin cyborg), and an apartment block that might be empty. You would think that the most powerful weaponry in the Olympus arsenal could do just a bit more damage, right?
At least the English dub by Manga Entertainment is somewhat passable. Julia Brahms plays up the hamminess as Hitomi, which is a good idea given the character's personality. I could not pin down what William Roberts is trying to do by giving Briareos a Brooklyn accent. But given that the cyborg is not that serious-minded, I gave it a pass. Finally, Larissa Murray plays Deunan Knute as the only sane woman on the team (albeit with a slight temper). It is serviceable, though nothing special. The only problem I have with it is its bungling of the name Briareos. Instead of pronouncing it as Bree-air/ar-ree-oh-sss, the voice actors ignored the first R sound and instead called the cyborg Bully or Buliaros. I guess no one in the studio read up on Greek mythology. One other thing to mention is that the dub has its share of profanity. I am uncertain if the swear words were from the original Japanese script (my guess is no), but I did not mind their presence.
To make a long story short, I don't like this particular Appleseed movie. The characters are uninteresting and sometimes do stupid things. The limited animation also renders the action scenes unexciting. Finally, the writers did not take time to check if what they were writing made any bit of sense. I get that Gainax wants to make a product that probes as deeply into the themes of politics and technology as the original manga source material. In the end, however, it came off as pretentious and confusing when it attempted to dive into the messages it was trying to send. Here is hoping that the 2004 Appleseed movie can do just a bit better than its 1988 counterpart. I mean, the bar could not be set any lower for it.