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Appurushîdo (Appleseed)

(2005) ** R
103 min. Geneon Entertainment. Director: Shinji Aramaki. Cast: Ai Kobayashi, Koichi Yamadera, Takaya Hashi.

Masamune Shirow's manga finally gets the deluxe treatment for which fans have presumably been clamoring, but forgive me if I don't get excited. As directed by Shinji Aramaki, Appleseed has moments of dazzling clarity, but most of it is an unwitting parody of anime, in its loftiest "ideas" and least tasteful designs.

Appleseed comes on strong with photo-realistic settings and a pulsing techno beat. Showy camera moves take in a loud, post-apocalyptic showdown between a well-equipped army and a single woman warrior, Deunan Knute. The year is 2131, and the utopian metropolis Olympus faces a turning point. As Deunan learns, the fate of humanity and the community of Bioroids (man-machine hybrid clones bioengineered to protect humans) is in the squabbling hands of a council of elders and a supercomputer named Gaia. I ask you: have you ever met a supercomputer not named Gaia?.

Anywho, many "surprising" revelations later, Deunan finds herself fighting to protect the delicate balance of society, which has something to do with the reproductive capabilities of the Bioroids: for the good of humanity, they've been neutered, but not for long! Helping Deunan are her ex-lover Briareos, now a cyborg bunny (look—I don't write this stuff; I just report it) and a squeaky-voiced, baby-doll exposition dispenser named Hitomi (sample line of dialogue: "Are you saying that after all those years of global fighting, there was no clear winner to the global war?").

Appleseed plays like the puberty-soaked sci-fi dream of a precocious 12-year-old. The visuals, and particularly the character design, resemble nothing so much as a video game. The angel-faced heroine wearing T&A-flattering tank top and camouflage pants and toting a gigantic gun looks like something Frank Frazetta might have doodled during U.S. Government class; at one point, Deunan's referred to as "the goddess of war." Nearly all of the women are busting out all over (the one possible exception: a scientist named Dr. Gilliam); nearly all of the men are barrel-chested (exception: a boyish compatriot of Deunan, but even he bulks up by donning a flying, body-armored "mobile suit").

To call an anime flashy is redundant, but Appleseed boasts technological breakthroughs (a process called "toonshading" weds 3D effects to more traditional 2D character designs) and a Paul Oakenfold soundtrack. Even in 2131, the car chases have fruit stands, and you can bet your popcorn there'll be some Matrix-style "bullet time." I can recall fondly the cool factor of those mobile suits and a coiled weapon that slices through metal as if it were butter. But mostly, I laughed at the cornball dialogue and misplaced melodrama, like the scene in which the warrior babe cradles the injured cyborg bunny in her arms and weeps for him. Take that, Hotel Rwanda!

Appleseed wields every eutopia-dystopia trope with pretentious zeal. Haruka Handa and Tsutomu Kamishiro's witless script makes inane use of classical Greek names, quotes Revelations, and canonizes its own purple scripture: "What a strange creature is man," muses Prime Minister Athena, "that he would choose to cage himself so willingly." Or squat in a theater watching Appleseed for 103 minutes.

[Note: I saw Appleseed in its dubbed version, which is never preferable, film fans.]

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