There’s a certain inevitability to this 1988 version of Appleseed gaining a re-release not long after the flashier 2004 version has hit the UK’s DVD shelves. It’s easy to mark this down as simple opportunism yet it proves a surprisingly welcome move. Whereas 2004’s Appleseed was a visually immense prospect, it also suffered from a soullessness and a plastic-like sheen which made it difficult to warm to. This earlier version on the other hand, though animated in a far cruder manner, is a more muscular piece. It’s brisker, brasher and – importantly – much more of a B movie.
Indeed, this latter aspect is essential. Appleseed isn’t a work of art and this 1988 incarnation knows it. Though it’s taken from esteemed source material (Masamune Shirow’s four-volume manga) what we have is a simple 70-minute feature made especially for video. (Though it did gain a UK theatrical showing just as the post-Akira anime boom was taking off in the west.) Shirow’s original is thus streamlined into a series of pulpy essentials. We have backstabbings and betrayal, terrorists, a few shock revelations and an eyeless, earless psychopath (“part cyborg… all bastard”), not a mention a streak of sentimentality. Spoken of in these terms Appleseed would appear to resemble countless quickie thrillers, but then that’s part of the appeal. In stark contrast to the recent take on the manga, this version is unpretentious and unassuming.
Contrast the two and the latter day version was undoubtedly bogged down in a miasma of humans versus technology/“humans are bad” concerns. Certainly, they remain in this earlier take to a degree, but they’re considerably downplayed and almost skirted over. That said, the removal of much from the original manga has led to some unwelcome side effects. The dialogue becomes overburdened with information prompting any exposition to be awkwardly handled. There’s also a distinct lack of intentional humour, though this was also a sore point of the newer version. And the attempt to squeeze everything into such a brief running time means that the plotting inevitably becomes riddled with contrivances.
Yet such misgivings do prove easier to ignore given Appleseed’s rougher charms. It knows it’s nothing special, nor is it especially slick. In fact, it’s probably also aware that its score is, quite frankly, hideous. But then it is just a piece of light entertainment and in this respect it delivers what it sets out to do: for its brief 75-minute duration Appleseed offers up simple, unchallenging fun.
In comparison to Manga’s previous release of Appleseed, which came out in July of 2002, this new edition would appear to have only one addition, namely an English stereo mix to go alongside the DD5.1 mix. In other words there are no great improvements and we are otherwise stuck with the same extras and, more importantly, the same lacklustre transfer. Presenting the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, we get a serviceable print which remains mostly clean and, on the whole, colourful. However, it’s blighted by some quite hideous ghosting which makes any great movement – i.e. all of the action scenes – look particularly ugly. And given that this version is predicated on its action scenes, the film is often difficult to get through.
As for the soundtracks, the Japanese version comes in its original DD2.0 mix, whilst the English dub, as said, is present as both DD2.0 and DD5.1. For the most part, these are good as could be expected – though it’s arguable as to whether it really warrants the 5.1 treatment – with no noticeable technical flaws. Indeed, the only major problem that viewers who go for the Japanese mix are likely to encounter is the fact that the optional English subtitles do not offer a literal translation but a transliteration of the dub. As such we are faced with such ungainly sentences are “You get us our fucking truck or the kids are gonna eat lead” and a heroine who finds that things tend to “get on her tits”.
Of the extras, only the commentary is worth noting (the rest of the disc is made up of various cross-promotional trailers and notes of Appleseed’s characters). Recorded in April 2002 this sees co-author of the Anime Encyclopaedia Jonathan Clements teaming up with Larissa Murphy who dubs the main role. As such their conversation does err towards the dubbing side of things, though Clements clearly knows his stuff and fills in plenty of background information. Yet whilst this makes for a decent enough listen, you can’t but feel sorry for Murphy who clearly can’t keep up with him and therefore sticks to offering a few affirmative noises from time to time.
Unlike the main feature, the commentary comes without optional subtitles, English or otherwise.