Why is Masamune Shirow’s 1980s cyber-punk manga and eventual anime adaptation titled Appleseed? I have no idea. It doesn’t play into the story whatsoever and makes absolutely no sense as the title of a dystopian story about cyborg terrorists vs. human and robot police officers. But if that short summary sounds a lot like Ghost in the Shell, that’s because Shirow is also responsible for the Ghost in the Shell manga. Like Appleseed, however, the GitS film series has little in common with its manga counterpart, and the film version is more widely known as Mamoru Oshii’s baby. Unlike the GitS film series, the 1988 Appleseed OAV isn’t particularly good (the 2000s-era CGI animated ones are somehow worse, and don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise).
In 1988, Bandai Visual and Gainax collaborated on an OAV based on the Appleseed manga. The OAV bears little in common with the manga outside of the general story, characters, and setting, but that’s really ok because I’ve never actually read the manga and currently have no plans to ever read it. Though I first watched Appleseed in 1999, I had no clue it was animated by Gainax until I looked it up on Wikipedia five minutes before starting this article (it was released stateside by Manga Entertainment, naturally). I have to imagine it was either a low-budget production or animated by Gainax’s B-team, because it doesn’t look nearly as good as a lot of other 1980s stuff, particularly Venus Wars, covered in this feature a few months back.
Anyway, far off in the future there was some kind of devastating nuclear war (commonly referred to as World War 3). The war crippled most of humanity, leaving few non-cyborgs left. Thus, the last remnants of humanity and their cyborg brothers have gathered into a mega-city, Judge Dredd-style, known as Olympus. Olympus is controlled by a benevolent AI system called Gaia, but not everything is as it seems, obviously. Though most of the Olympus populace is blissfully unaware they’re being thought-controlled or something, resentment begins to creep in and terrorism soon begins to chip away at the city’s core.
Cybernetic terrorist Sebastian eventually begins to plan an all out assault on Gaia through secret collaboration with a turncoat police officer, and it is up to two police officers to stop Sebastian before he destroys the city. Briareos is a mostly cybernetic cop with an artificial head and two large, rabbit-like ears. He’s been enhanced with superior strength and stamina and his robot eyes allow him to see around corners without exposing his position. His counterpart (and love interest), Deunan, is one of the last human beings in the city (it is said that non-cyborgs only total around 15% of the population). Deunan is brash, rude, easily angered, and petulant, but also a good cop.
Other characters include Charon (sometimes translated as Calon), a disenchanted police officer upset with Gaia and the city of Olympus after the tragic death of his wife, city administrator Athena, and Hitomi, who is also somehow involved in the plot in ways I cannot remember because her character is dumb. Charon actually has decent characterization solely due to the fact that he is personally motivated and acts in ways he feels are right and just. He’s one of the few characters outside of bad guy Sebastian to have an actual adult opinion about society. Athena is a typical no-nonsense administrator and acts as a foil to Deunan and Briareos even though she is ostensibly their ally.
Appleseed thinks it is an incredibly poignant take on society (a lot of dreck that came out in this time period has that same problem). It thinks it has important things to say about the nature of technology and its impact on the social structure of mankind and what not. I can assure you, dear reader, it has none of these things. Appleseed is just plain dumb. That’s not entirely a bad thing. There is some fun to be had. I like the mech race at the end between Charon, Deunan, and Briareos. I love the spider-tank thing at the end. I like the casual relationship between Briareos and Deunan, who are obviously attracted to each other but too bullheaded to say anything (this kind of relationship is much more tolerant in a 75 minute OAV than it would be in an 88-episode romantic comedy series). I even like elements of the story, setting, and tertiary characters, particularly Charon.
But holy crap the writing in this is so bad, and the dub is absolutely atrocious. Though it doesn’t take fifteening to the extreme like, say, Angel Cop or Mad Bull or the infamous Violence Jack, there are certainly instances of fifteening in Appleseed, and they are pretty funny in their badness. I imagine Appleseed was likely dubbed by the same infamous British studio that dubbed those masterpieces of the genre as well. In addition to the poor script and the poor dubbing, the animation is also laughable, especially considering this was a production of the 1980s, a time when budgets were normally higher and movies tended to look amazing (Appleseed came out around the same time as both Akira and Wings of Honneamise – not to say it had the budget of either of thus, but man oh man it looks awful by comparison).
As I noted earlier, I first caught Appleseed in about 1999. I believe I purchased it on VHS from either Coconuts or Suncoast Motion Picture Company, the latter of which I miss dearly. Hey, even if they charged exorbitant prices in some cases, you couldn’t find some of their stuff anywhere else. I tended to only buy those VHS tapes when I either had a coupon or the store had a sale. I still remember buying a bunch of anime VHS tapes 50% off from Coconuts in downtown Chicago in July 1999 and thinking I had hit the jackpot. Back in the 90s, I really liked Appleseed a lot (hey, I even liked Angel Cop back then). Watching it with adult eyes, however, it’s kind of hard to even see what I liked about it in the first place. It’s not actively bad and it’s not remotely good and it isn’t even so-horrible-it’s-hilarious either. It just kind of exists as this mostly forgotten, badly animated 1980s OAV.