“Appleseed” = bad Sci-Fi

“Appleseed” = bad Sci-Fi

Okay, I’ve got the attention of the Anime fans, now.

I just watched the first half of Appleseed. It’s a beautiful film. Some of the character animations are a little wooden, but it’s still very, very PRETTY. (Okay, regarding the wooden animations: In a few places it is so bad it’s only a step or two above Barbie: Rapunzel. Which I have seen. Twice. Go ahead, become a parent. Have daughters. I dare you.)

Back on topic: Appleseed is pretty. It’s also horrible sci-fi.

Oh, it’s got lots of neat pieces: robots, artificial people, a false utopia, shiny cities, ruined cities, and stuff blowing up. The setting is a fascinating one. Apparently the writers thought so too, because characters spend endless minutes of screen time “cabbaging” about this and that aspect of the setting. In particular, the dark-haired, burgundy-eyed bioroid chick did that, and did so in a voice I can’t believe the dub producers paid money for.

Here’s the problem: not one of the characters was even remotely interesting. Oh, I could tell which characters I was SUPPOSED to be identifying with, rooting for, or otherwise emotionally investing in — that’s what the audio cues and soft lighting is for — but there wasn’t a single one of them I would have stood up for and said “please, mister screenwriter, don’t kill him/her/it off.” Not the heroine. Not her half-machine friend. And certainly not the burgundy-eyed cabbage-head.

Oh, the irony: when the film finally gets around to the “quest” bit (“go find this piece of lost and mysterious technology so we can save our society”) one of the motivating factors for the heroine is that cabbage-head is now dying. Me, I couldn’t have cheered louder, seeing her collapse in a ruined heap. If this film had been “Peter Pan” and she’d been Tinkerbell, I would have run through the audience attempting to keep people from clapping. I would have invented anti-applause, and applied it liberally, not-clapping intently enough to kill the fairies for the next three nights’ showings.

(Thinking about it… in this case, shouting “I DO NOT BELIEVE IN FAIRIES” is all I’d have to do, right? Now… is there a version of that sentence that works on Anime chicks?)

Yeah, I’ll go back and watch the end of the movie. There’s a lot I can learn from it about line and color. Shots are well framed, and the action is enjoyable. But whoever it was who recommended Appleseed to me needs to raise the bar a little bit. Appleseed is beautiful, and it’s sci-fi, and it’s great animation, but that doesn’t make it great sci-fi.

Maybe if I’d watched it BEFORE watching Serenity.

38 thoughts on ““Appleseed” = bad Sci-Fi”

  1. Well, to me, the FIRST Appleseed movie was a bit better. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s somewhat better-written. It’s definitely ‘vintage Shirow,’ nothing like his more recent work (GITS:SAC) and in general better. I think a lot of writers and directors get too enamored with the technology they have at their disposal and loose sight of the storytelling. (I’m very much not looking in the direction of Skywalker Ranch, here, honest, I’m not….)

    Though I fully agree that Serenity seriously raised the bar. ^^

    1. Agreed. The original Applseed from the 80’s was a far superior story product.

      Yes, the one in 2000 looks beautiful, but the animation has a lot of flaws in it too. In many cases, the characters look like I’m watching a cut scene from Vince City. The animators kenettics just didn’t add up. Motions that were too linear and smoothe, tendon flex and finger response when gesturing was off, and many other things that just yelled “CHEEZY!”

      Of course, they had to deviate from the original story because we all know you can’t tell the same story twice. You just HAVE to spice it up. I could see some of the new plot devices fitting in with the old story (limited age requiring a renewal perriod), but the great conspiracy to extinguish humanity…. give it a rest.


  2. Agreed 100%. I couldn’t stand Ghost in the Shell 2 or the new Appleseed films… both of them seemed to be very pretty films without any story or character core to really hold them together.

  3. I haven’t seen Appleseed, but I’ve seen both Ghost in the Shell movies, as well as some of the TV series, and the complaints you have are pretty much like the complaints I have about his work: Lots and lots of pretties, incomprehensible plot, and often, rather wooden chracters. The TV series at least has some humor and makes the characters more interesting and likable, but to me, the sceince stuff all goes ‘whoosh’, right over my head. It just doesn’t make sense. Very shiny, very pretty… doesn’t make a whole lotta sense.

    That seems to be a problem with a lot of sci-fi anime… why does the technology work? “Because we said so!” And I’m usually willing to forgive it, if the characters and story make up for the bad tech. But only if.

  4. I did enjoy Appleseed, more for the animation style than the plot. I will admit, Shirow’s works tend to be a bit unrealistic when it comes down to it. Mind you, Ghost in the Shell (the movies and series), do introduce some interesting philosophical questions into this technological day and age — albeit some of it is a bit old and thus needs to be updated.

    And, if you look around, you’re not the only one who doesn’t think it’s good sci-fi. =) Check out Ebert and Roper(sp) or some of the other critics if you don’t believe me. 😉

  5. Pretty Movie, Shame About the Plot

    Oh you are so right, and the annoying thing was that with Appleseed, I had high hopes too, so it was much like watching Phantom Menace was the first time.

    You go in all ‘Yay, movie I’ve been looking forward too!’ and then come out all ‘And I wish that had been it.’.

    Re some other comments, at least with Ghost in the Shell 2, while the plot-line was incoherent and the characters fairly uninteresting, at least it was pretty enough that I could just view it as an animated artwork, and enjoy it on those grounds. Appleseed didn’t even manage that.

    And I’ll note that I watched it well before seeing Serenity, it didn’t help much.


  6. One of the things I liked about Zone of the Enders was the central issue of gravity – the Earthers were somewhat “superhuman” on terraformed Mars, because living in 1.0 gravity game them a certain level of innate muscle that the 0.6 gravity of Mars couldn’t give it’s residents. That was mentioned often in Larry Niven’s Known Space books – Jinxians, for instance, lived on a high gravity planet, and thus were very short, compact, and extremely powerful, though they suffered from short life spans; Crashlanders like Beowulf Schaeffer who lived in 0.5 gravity were extremely tall, long-limbed, and lean, with nowhere near the muscle of an average Flatlander (Earth resident).

    Also, the idea of flying powered armor was much more feasible on a planet with a significantly lower gravity.

    Points for some good sci-fi thoughts at any rate.

    1. Just to correct myself… Earth gravity is 9.8m/s^2, Martian gravity is 3.69m/s^2, so it’d be about 0.4 Earth gravity. So a 200 lb Earthman would only weigh 80lbs… most things constructed to the martian gravity standard would be rather fragile to a Terran native’s muscle.

  7. I haven’t seen the new Appleseed, just the original 1980s one. That said, I didn’t consider it anything special anyway.

    And yes, I’m not a fan of Shirow. Maybe he loses something in translation, but as cyberpunkery goes, I find him pretty mediocre. So long as you have a stomach for radical transhumanist propaganda, Greg Egan would make him his bitch even on a bad day.

  8. Part of the problem, but not the whole problem, I’ll note, is that you’re watching it dubbed.

    Take it from this fanboy: of all the anime I’ve watched, only 1 movie and 1 tv show do I like the dub as much as the original language track: Spirited Away and His & Hers Circumstances. In EVERY other show and in EVERY other movie was the original japanese voicework superior to the english. There’s a whole bunch of reasons to this, not the least of which having to do with the characters being animated to the original voice work.

    But that being said, Appleseed is still bad interpretive science fiction. However, the escapism value goes much higher.

    1. I’m willing to concede that translated films, whether subtitled or overdubbed, are inferior to the original. But in the case of Appleseed, it was just adding insult to injury. The original writers did more damage to that property than any mere dubber could HOPE to inflict.

      I hear this argument a lot, and sometimes it smacks of elitism: “Oh, if only you could understand this program in the original language, THEN you could appreciate it.”

      Yeah, yeah. I don’t need to watch the dog drop the turd on my lawn to know it’s a dog turd. A good film will stand up to translation — the Studio Ghibli stuff certainly does. And while I do sort of wish I could ingest the Studio Ghibli films in their original context, that wish does NOT extend to the entire body of SF/Fantasy anime.


      1. Ah yes, the old subbed vs dubbed debate.

        Admittedly, I get a little extra out of going with subbed because I did a degree in Japanese, so I know when someone is being sarcastic or officious in a rather untranslatable way.

        However, so long as the acting on the dub is good (and especially in the past few years it’s been progressing in leaps and bounds) I think that most viewers are going to get more out of watching anime dubbed than subbed. Fortunately dub producers are increasingly bothering to cast people appropriately, for instance: not using someone with a voice like a scrawny geek to do a big guy.

        Although I tend to watch low-budget comedy series which often have rather mediocre seiyuu. And they can really grate. Sometimes the acting in the dubbed version can be as good or better as a result.

      2. “I hear this argument a lot, and sometimes it smacks of elitism: ‘Oh, if only you could understand this program in the original language, THEN you could appreciate it.'”

        I think you’re misinterpreting my argument. My position is that the original japanese is superior to a dub track for a number of reasons. Some incidental and can be overcome (e.g. most dubbing is bad), some of which is structural and will always be there in some degree (the nature of the animation.)

        The original animation was created with the original dialogue in place; the mouths move when the seiyou talk. Unfortunately, Japanese and English have radically different dialogue rythms, and thus, a lot of English dubbing is going to be forced because it has to “fit” the rythms of japanese. Even the best dubs, such as Spirited Away, suffer from this. It is unavoidable.

        I don’t think its elitist to point out that dubbing in America by and large sucks, but it doesn’t suck so much as it used to, it will nevertheless always suck a little bit because of the nature of the form. Combine that with the fact that you’re criticizing the acting of a particular character, I think its safe to point out that there is another option that my make that particular character a little more accessable and sympathetic (but how much I’m not sure — the movie in question isn’t the best to support this argument, (Which, I believe doesn’t invalidate the arguement so much as support my earlier contention that the movie is mostly fluff and should be approached from that stand point.)

        1. Not be be argumentative, but I know that at least for Miyazaki’s works the dialog is recorded *after* the animation is finished, not before as in US films. The dialog is written in advance, but the animators aren’t working from an audio track to draw the mouth movements.

          We had a screening of Howl’s Moving Castle recently here at work, and the dubbing director was here to answer questions afterwards. If I learned nothing else from him, he proved that dubbing doesn’t have to be done poorly. However, it is difficult and time consuming to do it well. If they take the time to make an accurate translation, the mouth matching can be dealt with. Unfortunately, often it is dealt with by being *really* wordy with the English (I was just watching Nausicaa the other night and switched to English for one scene with the subtitles on).

          My personal pet peeve is that directors seem to believe that American audiences can’t take sections of the film without dialog. There’s a moment in Castle in the Sky when they are leaving their village and in the original soundtrack it is a beautiful moment with music playing and birds circling what is obviously the boy’s house in the distance. In the English dub, you hear something like “Oh, isn’t that your house?” followed by something platitude about hoping he’ll see it again. You can’t blame this on matching the mouth movements — it’s just bad directing!

          1. Really?

            I knew that during Spirited Away, voice acting was done concurrently with animation, but I chalked that up to the strict deadlines the studio was operating under.

          2. I was surprised to hear that as well, as were most of the other people in the room. We (the royal Dreamworks Animation “we”) do our voice recording before we even start the animation and I believe Disney and Pixar do the same.

          3. I have to say I do actually prefer listening to the dub of ‘Spirited Away’ than the original Japanese. Ironically the lip sync is better because, as mentioned, the Japanese tend to be rather less anal about lip-sync than we are.

            (Possibly one of the few things they are less anal about than we are =P)

          4. and I believe Disney and Pixar do the same
            and have done since the late ’20s…..
            It’s the way the action is timed, surely?

            (recalls listening to sound on perf tape….)

      3. I don’t know. I don’t think it is really eliteisim to prefer subs to dubs, I think that they traditionally are a more enjoyable product after you’ve gotten used to watching both the movie and the words (I do admit that things are changing with the upswing in anime and in American cartoons for people over the age of 8.) I’ve been watching Anime for a longish time, and often the subtitles make a lot more sense in English than the dubbing. I remember when my friends first got a DVD player and we bought the Tenshi movies. Well, it took about 3 minutes to realize we could watch them dubbed with the subtitles on, and in order to make the dubs fit (especially in Tenshi 2) they chopped the dialogue up a lot. Add that to the traditional poor quality of american voice actors (something that is being corrected as anime starts making more and more money here) and I think that as long as you can read fast enough not to miss what’s happening on the screen, it is probably best to watch the subs. Of course, even in cases where the subtitles match the dubbing, some of the awkward Japanese to English translations seem less hokey if you don’t hear the English words (Slayers leaps to mind.)

      4. I haven’t seen either Appleseed movie, or read the original manga, but…

        Are you sure it’s a case of bad original writing? Is it possible that it was simply poorly translated into English? (Some dubs have been known to have heavy rewrites; IIRC, the dubs of Generator Gawl and Orphen even had extra characters that exist only in the dub.)

        (Though, from what I’ve heard of the original movie, it’s a case of the movie overcompressing the storyline.)

        1. Not in this case….

          I’ve been a fan of Appleseed since I first read the manga in ’89. I’ve read the complete series, the 90’s OVA, and finally this one.

          The version I have has both the English sub and dubbed voices, plus I’m fairly handy with Japanese.

          It was just a bad story. The writers took far too many liberties with Shirow’s work. They had the right idea, but they missed some of the core concepts, focusing on the polish and surface.

          Now if only they could redo this animation with the original OVA storyline, then I’d be a very happy camper.

          Not that this was a bad story… it just took too much ‘suspension of disbelief’, even more when you knew the background of the story… It just could have been so much better.

      5. Understanding it in the original language? I never for the life of me ever thought that the people who championed Subs over Dubs were actually suggesting that people go out and take crash-courses in learning Japanese before they could fully appreciate anime. I always thought that they were saying the original voices Sounded better while they were reading the subtitles.

        I have this ability, apparently a very rare ability judging by the way some of my ‘Anti-Sub’ friend gripe and moan and whine, to take in a line of dialog in as it appears on screen at a glance and then superimpose it on the actors talking. It’s some sort of mutant off-shoot of speed-reading and good reading-comprehension I guess, but the end result is that my brain fools itself into thinking the words written on screen are the words comming out of the character’s mouthes and I end up fooling myself into thinking I’m hearing the characters speaking English with their original voices

  9. Maybe if I’d watched it BEFORE watching Serenity

    Haven’t seen it, but I doubt it – seeing Ep I-III didn’t keep me from heaping abuse on George Lucas after Serenity.

    “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to create a CGI with more motivation than your actors is insignificant next to the power of Plot and Character.” – Darth Siskel goes to the Movies

  10. You do not watch Shirow for good Sci Fi.

    Shirow is an artist. That is what you watch for. Look at the pretty pictures. Do not listen to the dub. LOOK AT THE PRETTY PICTURES, DAMMIT! OOO, PRETTY! OOO! Shirow is one of the most amazing artists working the manga/anime industry, but he’s mostly eeeehhh as a story writer.

    There’s plenty of sci-fi-ish anime, although if you’re looking for HARD SF you’ll be very, very hard-put to find it (Wings of Honneamise is the first and one of the only ones to come to mind). Space opera there’s lots, and there’s some I would even recommend. Fantasy and SF hybrids are very common as well; the greatest Anime series I’ve ever watched was Vision of Escaflowne (I cannot emphasize strongly enough that you watch this one SUBTITLED), which is a sort of magical steampunkish adventure incorporating romance, mystical mecha, politics, legendary Atlantis, and Sir Isaac Newton.

    1. Re: You do not watch Shirow for good Sci Fi.

      Wings of Honneamise is one of my favorite anime movies of all time. It was one of the original anime things that got me into anime. That being said, Wings is s……l……..o………w………

      But pretty. 😛

      1. Re: You do not watch Shirow for good Sci Fi.

        You are downright evil for suggesting that Howard endure hearing Merle/Meruru as voiced in the original Japanese.

        Van Samaaaaaaa!

        I so wanted that catgirl to die a horrible and grisly death. But no matter how many times I tried to bring up the implausibility of the physics involved in the mecha combat she just. wouldn’t. die.

  11. Honestly, I don’t think Appleseed, Akira, or a lot of other anime is so much sci-fi as ‘sci-fantasy’, concentrating more on the human interactions (in the good stuff) or on the action/adventure parts (everything else), or just on the body-part shots (the heavy fan-service stuff that can’t get a storyline wort talking about). If you want bad science, look at Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny – it’s more magic-tech than Appleseed is, and the story makes Appleseed’s look like Shakespeare; instead they focus on the fighting between large powered suits, which is what every Gundam focuses on.

    Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is an attempt to focus on the idea of ‘what makes a human a human’ the way the first film does, but with more melancholy and less fanservice… with mixed results. The TV series is a bit better in this, even if it increases the amount of fanservice, if only because the technology serves as the trappings for the tale which focuses on the characters’ interactions with technology and some of the consequences of dealing with rampant technological development without equivalent emotional or spiritual growth.. or how the growing speed of information dissemination and the change of patterns affects society, with some philosophy mixed in.

    But is it hard sci-fi of the Niven, Heinlein, or Asimov school where technology is merely the background and realistic? No. But outside of Babylon 5, Firefly, and MAYBE Stargate:SG-1, how much genuine sci-fi gets enjoyed by the masses? That’s not where the profit is, and it’s harder to write hard sci-fi than it is to write sci-fantasy with some soap-opera thrown in.

  12. If you’ve only watched Rapunzel twice your daughter is older than mine. 🙂

    That said, I think for simple computer animated stories the Barbie stuff isn’t too bad. They at least put some effort into the stories.


  13. I believe I recommended watching Appleseed a few months ago, but my recommendation came with a specific disclamer. Pay no attention to the plot. Great visuals and occasionally impressive animation, but the plot sucked.


    1. This is precisely what I keep hearing about this movie, which is probably why I haven’t gotten around to watching the LE DVD I picked up when it came out.

      1. Indeed. I dropped it from my Blockbuster list and added Firefly instead. As I have grown older the flashy mechs impresed me less anyway, I currently spend more time rereading my Rouroni Kenshin manga and dowmloading the anime than I do with Macros Plus, or even Cowboy Bebop.

  14. As for the ‘I don’t believe’ bit…

    “I do not believe in bouncybreasts!”

    Might just work for some Anime chicks… ; ]

  15. Masamune Shirow’s style seems difficult to translate from one medium to another, I’ve always thought his writing is better appreciated on paper.

    I collect his manga works, because I enjoy the scientific speculation, philosophy and layered story — there’s a lot to take in. The rule I’ve made for myself is that when I bring a book home I put it on the shelf and forget about it until I’ve had a good night’s sleep and some strong coffee, otherwise I’m going to miss things in the first reading.

    The animations have always been a let-down because there’s just so much in the source material that most of the good stuff gets left out.

  16. I know this isn’t what you were trying to do, but you’ve succeeded in illustrating my problem with anime.

    I don’t dislike anime. It’s a very beautiful artform. But I expect more from films, even animated ones. I expect a story that will engage my emotions and at least not insult my mind too much. With the exception of some of Miyazaki’s films, I haven’t found any anime that has done so.

    Nor have I found any anime that qualifies as closer to SF than science-fantasy, but that doesn’t mean none exist.

  17. I’ve read the Manga, and not much gets lost…

    I’m sure by now most people have seen the OSC review of Serenity. One line really mattered to me.

    “Because for me, a great film — sci-fi or otherwise — comes down to relationships and moral decisions. How people are with each other, how they build communities, what they sacrifice for the sake of others, what they mean when they think of a decision as right vs. wrong.”

    The Manga suffers from the same problem. The Heroine and… cabbage head… aren’t part of a greater community. It’s a lot like watching the script to an RPG, which NEVER translates well to a book. “Ok, so you’re these two loners. And you get to SEE A PRETTY CITY AND FIND OUT ABOUT A GREAT CONSPIRACY. And oh look! Mecha!”

    I -adore- mecha and it came off a bit strong. And that’s the Manga. No lip synching problems. The story comes off slow, it builds in the general direction of nothing, and it doesn’t feel particularly interesting.

    The movie, to say the least, was not an improvement. It felt a lot like a slow Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode, except that the slow SAC episodes had the grace to make their point in 25 minutes, before my attention span ran out.

  18. Scratch one movie off my list…..

    …of anime to get. I remember the 80s version of Appleseed simply because it came up on Showtime Beyond… or encore/ACTION (both of these are cable channels, and I forget which one I saw it on) at one time. I thought it strange then; one of those one-shot kind of series that is enjoyable the first go-round… and then leave it be for a few years before watching again. (Reign is another of these that comes to mind; no, it’s not on my list either.)

    As for the sub vs. dub debate (which has been raging ever since Sailor Moon came to the US), I’m on your side, Howard. My opinion is that it depends on the company who’s doing the translations if it comes out good or bad: Of course Studio Ghibli has good translators; the only company they’d go with was Disney when it came to translating to English! (And no, I kid you not. If you look at the 2nd DVD of Spirited Away, you’ll see the interview where Miyazaki says this.) Then there’s Viz/Geneon, who has always done a fair job of translating – whether in manga {see http://www.shonenjump.com } or in anime; Pioneer, methinks, also does almost as good a job as Viz; Funimation is at least learning from their mistakes with Dragonball Z and applying it to future anime series…

    ….but would someone please tell 4Kids to get out of the anime biz? I only watch One Piece simply ’cause I’m curious as to what’s coming in the manga (also seen in Shonen Jump), but ye gods! I’m not sure they picked the right people for the characters! I think Pioneer or someone who does better translations should buy them out and do the whole series over!

    Oh, btw Howard –Even though it is Miyazaki’s early work, I suggest you stay away from Lupin the 3rd. Now that is a series that is intended for Adults Only. (I only watch it because it does comedy so well.) And if your daughter liked Barbie’s Rapunzel, expose her to Princess Tutu –which is set in Germany but involves ballet from the inside out. (Having had ballet lessons myself, I can understand the series somewhat.)

    Speaking of Barbie….. how in the world do I rent those videos without coming across as someone having a second childhood? I still have some dolls….. and a couple of software programs to make outfits for them. 😉 I’m using them to see if I can alter the patterns to do anime character outfits…. ;>

    p.s: if you want lyrics to go with the anime series, head over to http://www.animelyrics.com . Sailor Bacon still keeps up the site. 🙂

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