Hands down, 'Alpha' is the best interpretation of the original Manga to date.
Reading Time: 4 minutes
The ‘movie poster’ gives all the wrong impressions…
2004’s Appleseed movie, with Studio IG on production, was a success in bringing Appleseed to the screen through a skillful blending of 3D and Animé. Using the crispness derived from 3D but keeping it to a stylised rendering style, it delivered a nicely balanced form of 3D Animé. Films like ‘Appleseed Ex Machina‘, and even the ‘Appleseed XIII’ mini series (which also was a Studio IG production) departed with this style and tried to create what could only best be described as a form of ‘realistic Animé’, ultimately not succeeding on any front; ending up with bad 3D and bad Animé. Ex Machina was not helped by the fact it was just a poor film all round.
Stylistically, Appleseed (2004) hit all the right marks
Appleseed Alpha has been accused as being too ‘Westernised’ – not Animé, but the reality is the 5 ‘book’ Manga series (originally published in English by Marvel’s offshoot, Studio Proteus, and then later by Dark Horse) was never overly Japanese in its stylings to begin with. Most of the central characters are not Japanese, representing a mixing pot of nationalities from around the world and Shirow’s style throughout the series in no way could be described as typically Manga.
Where Alpha succeeds is in creating a realistic interpretation of Shirow’s character and hardware designs, making it so much closer to the Manga than anything to date. Where the 2004 Appleseed was Animé at the next level, Alpha takes Appleseed firmly out of the Animé realm and moves it to pseudo reality; the world depicted in the pages of the Manga have become real enough you could walk outside and touch it. That was always a feeling inherent in Appleseed’s Manga, Shirow’s style and considerations made his illustrations ‘believable’.
The spider gun platform from Book 1 V4: same idea, same idea, different spin
There is no doubt that the technical mastery of the CG space here gives the viewer moments where one has to really stop and ask themselves if what they are seeing is real or CG. Shirow himself said when talking about Alpha:
“The challenge with CG production is that, as you get more photorealistic, you lose the ability to use over-the-top anime-style expression without being unnatural. And if you go too anime, the realistic expression becomes out of place. Mr. Aramaki showed great skills for the previous films with anime style, but I was very excited to see the realistic textures with damages (the post-war environment visuals) and lighting effects. [My] first impression was, in a positive way, that it looked like today’s state-of-the-art video games.”
Story wise Alpha is an interesting interpretation of the first book of Shirow’s series. Characters and events have been cleverly drawn out and reassembled, forming an almost completely new story that has a legitimacy of its own. At the same time, if you know the Manga this has the interesting effect that there will be more than a few moments where you will recognise a scenario or character, only to realise they are not where they should be in the story arc. Regardless, Alpha is entertaining enough, maybe more so if you are intimate with the source, to provide an enjoyable experience.
But it’s not all trumps.
Why is Deunan running around in combat armour/gear with her bust hanging out? Does Iris need to be in that skin suit? And the very sultry combat cyborg?? There is more than a slight smack of ‘boyish’ sexism going on here that, while on the surface seems harmless, really just reeks of the ‘boys club’ that’s being talked about all over.
The decision to portray Deunan in the manner chosen was pointless, other than to get some ‘sex’ onto the screen. It’s completely out of context with the storyline and the overall character design. In some ways it was enough of a ‘jolt’ that it prevented me from being fully immersed into the movie. In this respect Alpha disappoints in a big way, what could have been really good was ultimately let down by some guys not getting away from their screens enough.
Appleseed Alpha is worth watching once, twice, maybe even three times, something I could not say of Ex Machina. It brings an iconic Manga series to the screen in a way that it deserves while at the same time, creates its own legacy.