DVD Review: Appleseed: Ex Machina

In the opening scene of the new anime Appleseed: Ex Machina, combat cyborgs are holding top-ranking EU officials hostage in an abandoned Gothic church. The ESWAT Unit (Extra Special Weapons and Tactics) then arrives to eliminate the cyborgs and rescue the hostages in a John-Woo-inspired assault.

From this brief description of the very first scene, you probably already know know if you're interested in the film or not. You know that it's science fiction with a deep and complicated backstory -- a turn off to some -- and that it's anime, a genre that makes many run for the nearest exit. (I've known self-professed cinephiles who show great interest in films like Akira -- until they find out they're anime.)

I've always been a fan of animation, but it's frustrating that the primary style cranked out in the US is G-rated kids' fare. Like so many others, I have found that across the water in Japan there lives a thriving animation industry geared towards kids and adults.

Appleseed: Ex Machina is fully CGI, but the visual style is simpler than the hyper-real look of the recent Beowulf. In the film's post-apocalyptic future, a utopian nation-state has risen from the ashes of the old world. Humans and cyborgs alike maintain the peace and civility of the new society, and Appleseed follows two of these peace-keepers: cops Deunan (female) and Briareos (cyborg).

Appleseed is packed from beginning to end with insane action sequences and has a less-grounded quality to it than a series like Ghost in the Shell. This film is more akin to Will Smith's I, Robot, with its crazy stunts and action set-pieces.

This film is tailor-made for kids who like animation but want something other than straight comedy. The action is fast-paced but not overtly violent; there's no nudity, no sex, and very little adult language. The characters are serious and compelling -- just the thing to kick-start a kid's imagination. While most films geared towards kids are built around simplistic story lines, there's no attempt to simplify the intricate story or relationships of Appleseed. This is a film in which the adults may actually get a little lost, while the younger filmgoers may eat up all the subtle discussions and side-conversations that reveal a deep and rewarding universe.

On a side-note, there's a trailer included on the DVD for the new anime Batman Gotham Knight, and it looks absolutely amazing (watch it using related link to the left). I hope Warner gets copies of this out for review. First, because it will create a larger audience for animation, and second, because I'm a greedy bastard just dying to see what the six anime masters have cooked up for this iconic hero. The interlocking shorts of the DVD will fill in the story between Batman Begins and the upcoming Batman Dark Knight. Based on the trailers alone, I have to admit I'm more excited about Gotham Knight than I am about Dark Knight -- at least in the anime, Batman doesn't wear the rubber suit.