Appleseed Alpha: Written by Marianne Krawczk, directed by Shinji Aramaki. Starring: Yuka Komatsu, Junichi Suwabe, and Aoi Yuki. Running Time: 93 minutes. Based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow.
Appleseed Alpha, both in terms of its animation style and its story (yet another World War happened that resulted in a bombed-out, apocalyptic future), comes across as less of a film and more like an unskippable cutscene in a video game that lasts an hour and a half. Sadly, since it ultimately fails to do anything new with the materials it takes from other sources, or cover it up with enough comedic brevity, your time would probably be better spent playing an actual video game.
It is…sometime in the future, and human society has been driven to the fringes in their efforts to survive the fallout of a devastating conflict some years prior. We never learn any details about the who, the what, the where, or the why that led to the war that caused this, but it was apparently bad enough that the bombs turned the currently hilly and forest-filled East Coast of the US into the Badlands. I know it’s the East Coast we’re seeing, because we learn almost immediately that the shell of a city the film starts in is New York, and the maps we are shown later on when the characters go elsewhere indicate we are just a little southwest of Manhattan Island in the final act, which means that the big, explosive finale must take place somewhere in New Jersey. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on Camden.
The city, and probably the rest of the world, is divided up between various local gang lords, although rumors persist of a peaceful and prosperous haven city called Olympus, located somewhere…..else, from what I gathered. Some of these leaders are cyborgs, including a rejected Reboot villain named Two-Horns (guess what his defining physical feature is?) who bosses around our two mains, a young woman named Deunan and her cyborg friend (who may have once been her human boyfriend?) called Briareos, who, with his armor-covered, muscular form and kangaroo-like antennas for ears, looks suspiciously like Chappie’s linebacker older brother.
They agree to a single, last job for Two-Horns to repay their debt, stopping off first at the residence of the gang doctor, Matthews, to get Briareos fixed up. Said doctor bears a striking, and some might say plagiaristic, resemblance to Wash from Firefly, both in terms of his design and in how nearly all of his dialogue consists of smartass wisecracking. The difference being, of course, that Wash’s smartass wisecracking is both genuinely funny and emotionally endearing, while Matthews’ is neither. Somehow, it never occurs to Deunan and Briareos that he might be under orders from Two-Horns to deliberately keep Briareos underpowered, but since the film opens with them making the grave error of using the New York subway system, I can’t say this shocked me.
Their mission, of course, goes incredibly awry, and they end up harboring a young girl and her bodyguard/escort from a powerful team of cyborgs chasing them to stop their “mission,” which, naturally, eventually pulls Two-Horns into the action as well, which just might result in him, Deunan, and Briareos trading in their usual mutual antagonism for a quick alliance of convenience. You only get three guesses as to what the little girl’s mission consists of, but if you already suspect that it has to do with a leftover superweapon from the aforementioned global shitstorm, congratulations! You have seen at least one other dystopian, sci-fi action film in your life! You get nothing.
I must admit, when all the pieces are finally in place for the big action set piece at the end, involving a cyborg martial artist and the aforementioned doomsday weapon fully loaded and moving, the result is very nearly enough to justify the first two acts. It’s some well-animated action that doesn’t bore, but even there it utterly fails to give us anything new- even the moving, city-sized weapon looks like an exact hybrid of Howl’s castle and the mechanical spider from Wild, Wild West. It’s even taken down video-game style- there is a single opening, which can only be hit by a certain kind of sniper rifle, and that is somehow enough to bring the entire behemoth down. Oh, what will kids these days think up next?
Ultimately, there is nothing so offensively bad about Appleseed Alpha that causes me to actively dislike the film, but its complete lack of originality in every department, even the good parts at the end, prevent me from recommending it to anyone, even those who play the kind of games the movie so eagerly mines from. Perhaps the next animated, post-apocalyptic adventure tale we get based in New Jersey will be a little better. Why not have one set in Trenton?