Appleseed Ex Machina

Appleseed Ex Machina (エクスマキナ)
Made in: Japan
Language: Japanese
Director: Shinji Aramaki, based on the manga (comic book) series by Masamune Shirow
Starring: Ai Kobayashi, Koichi Yamadera, Yuji Kishi,Gara Takashima, Naoko Kouda
Year: 2007

SPOILER WARNING: Don't read this review unless you've seen the first Appleseed movie...

Synopsis: It's the distant future. Most of the world has been devastated by war, and civilization is beginning to rebuild. In the enormous utopian city of Olympus, humans live alongside bioroids, which are artificially created humans. Also thrown into the mix are cyborgs, which are either advanced robots or humans with robotic limbs.

The trouble begins when cyborgs start going haywire, committing acts of terror. The mysterious incidents are random and isolated at first, and for a time, are contained by Olympus' elite paramilitary group. The organization is known as E.S.W.A.T. (Extra-Special Weapons and Tactics).

And as in the first Appleseed movie, its most prominent members are Deunan Knute (voiced by Ai Kobayashi) and her former lover Briareos (voiced by Koichi Yamadera). Briareos, as you may recall from the first film, is now a cyborg that resembles a big, scary robot.

After Briareos is severely injured during a John Woo -like shootout with a group of malfunctioning cyborgs (which have decided to become terrorists), Deunan is paired up with a new E.S.W.A.T. member named Tereus (voiced by Yuji Kishi). Tereus is a bioroid made from Briareos' DNA, and looks exactly the way Briareos did before he got turned into a robot.

This of course upsets Deunan, and messes with her emotions. But Briareos eventually recovers with the help of Dr. Xander (voiced by Naoko Kouda), the most well-known expert on cyborgs, and returns to active duty.

The cyborg problem continues, and suddenly other cyborgs within E.S.W.A.T. (including Briareos) start going crazy at unpredictable intervals. But more trouble comes about when a new cell phone-like device becomes a huge fad among the citizens of Olympus. It resembles one of those Bluetooth earpieces, and soon everyone who has one (both cyborg and human) starts going crazy. This brings Olympus to the brink of chaos.

Uncovering another convoluted conspiracy, Deunan, Briareos, and Tereus race against the clock to find the culprits and stop the crisis.

The Good: As with the first movie, Appleseed Ex Machina is beautifully animated and the detailed artwork of Masamune Shirow is dazzling. Over the course of just three years, the capabilities of 3D animation have dramatically increased, and it shows.

The story, although still complex, is not quite as convoluted as the first. And with much of the action influenced by co-producer (and legendary Hong Kong action director) John Woo, the action sequences are definitely creative and cool to watch.

Appleseed Ex Machina is more fast-paced and arguably more entertaining than the original, and despite the beautiful animation, still has a well thought-out plot and appealing characters. The story sort of plays out like a complicated video game, complete with different levels, increasingly difficult opponents, and a final "boss."

Although you can argue that it's a glorified cartoon, you get the sense that director Shinji Aramaki and the rest of the filmmakers are making a genuine effort to deliver a movie that's worth your while.

And in case you were wondering, many of Deunan Knute's costumes, although animated, were designed by Miuccia Prada.

The Bad: If you're familiar with anime, many of the story elements and plot devices are predictable. For instance, any new technology that humans depend on is bound to go haywire, and any reliance on advanced artificial intelligence always winds up being a bad idea.

Who would like this movie: Appleseed Ex Machina is for you if you're really into science fiction, anime, comic books, and pop culture stuff that involves large robots. It's a movie that's specifically meant for that audience, and achieves its goal. And fans of John Woo will appreciate the action sequences.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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