Review: Appleseed XIII: Tartaros & Ouranos

Appleseed XIII maintains a strange space in the Anime world. Pulling from much of the sci-fi history (especially from Production I.G’s previous work, Ghost in the Shell. To a certain breed of viewer, it has the potential to inspire deep intrinsic pondering on the nature of life and our relationship with technology. To others, however, it’s pseudo-philosophy and endless meandering of concepts will likely bore and frustrate. At it’s core, there is a temple of legitimate value and purpose behind its choices, but not everyone will be quite so well-equipped to appreciate them.

Appleseed - TRAVIS - 10

A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment

But we’ve covered that before in our review of the TV series box set. What separates this outing from that one? Well much like the first two Evangelion Rebuild or Puella Magi Madoka Magica films, Tartaros and Ouranos aim to edit the series down to fit two feature length films that allow the plot to be digested quicker. This is an admiral goal, as the original series often felt padded and wordy. Appleseed in a condensed form should make for better Appleseed. Unfortunately, while the plot is easier to comprehend with less time focused on tangential points, the plot that’s left on the table feels meandering and unfocused. It would seem that giving Appleseed XIII the film treatment exposes some of its inherent, central weaknesses.

The tale of Deunan and Briareos is, as it was, a blend of action, romance, and sci-fi social commentary. Caught in a world post-dramatic conflict, the couple find themselves in one of the world’s last beacon’s of hope, the seemingly utopian city of Olympus. However, the population is split between humans and synthetic, human-like beings called Bioroids, who outnumber the humans but only exist to serve them. While one would expect the conflict to arise out of dissatisfied Bioroids taking their stand against their masters, but Appleseed takes a very Japanese stance by siding with the structure. In the end, the villain is human, and the Bioroids never once raise an issue against their place in society.

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Sadly, this interesting premise is brought to its knees by wasted time. Because the series was fairly episodic, episodes often had their own miniature conflicts and stories with brief connections to an overall plot, one which gets addressed and fleshed in the series finale. While the film could have focused in on the overarching drama (and perhaps only taken up one theatrical film’s length of time), it feels the need to give us sparknotes on each episode’s problems and solutions. We are ultimately given quite a lot of stuff, and not in a high-value manner. So many of these mini-stories just happen and quickly dissipate into the mist, leaving little impression on the characters involved. In a latter scene, a child is killed accidentally yet this moment is only awarded a penance of character drama and retribution.

While much is shortened and lost in this transition, the films still feel a desire to explain their deep meanings and symbolism through conversation. It’s a very exposition-y script, and while it’s well and good to have meaningful ideas to explore, Appleseed XIII just can’t think of any clever ways to display them through story or character, and ultimately either just tells its audience sans context or leaves it to visual imagery, much of which is non-diegetic and often comes off as forceful or shallow.

Artsy Fartsy

Artsy Fartsy

On the back of the box, Funimation claims that the appeal of these films is to see more action without the fluff and conversation. While there are plenty of well choreographed, high-stakes action scenes, Production I.G insisted on keeping everything in the two films animated in CGI, as it was with the original series. It was a bad choice then and it’s a bad choice now. Few CGI series are ever released in Japan, and when they do they tend to resemble the Jimmy Neutron extreme in the quality spectrum. Knowing that Japan’s attempts at 3D animation are usually off kilter by a few strong degrees, it’s a wonder why any studio would decide to craft entire series and films around it.

So yes, viewing Appleseed XIII on a purely craft-centered focus is an exercise in patience. Characters break the one 3D rule (never stop moving!) constantly, and model action seems so clumsy and robotic it could easily be mistaken for student work. Backgrounds, interspersed thematic stills, and textures, of course, are all still 2D and quite beautiful at times, but it’s mind-boggling why this studio, famed for some spectacular hand-drawn masterpieces, would chose to make this work feel cheap, outdated, and awkward. Lesson to Anime studios: unless you’re willing to invest heavily into your shows, don’t degrade them with putrid work like this, which seems like it would be better at home in a PS1 cutscene than in a theatrical film. Ugh.

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At this point, we’ve essentially buried the Appleseed XIII beneath a mound of criticism, but be assured that there will be some among you who can look past these flaws to find an engaging world and likable characters. In all fairness, Deunan and Briareos do share a truthfully mature, complex relationship, a rarity in this medium too often satisfied to tease its audiences with childish drivel it calls “romance.” And the English voice work by Funimation does a satisfactory job at reaching the necessary emotional highs and lows to display that relationship richly. The puritans among you will, of course, not care and jump straight into the Japanese language track, but for the viewer who doesn’t mind watching anime in its unintended language, there are far worse abuses of translation liberty out there, and no character’s voice or performance is outright misplaced or annoying.

Otherwise, there’s little to nerd over in this package. The films come in a barebones case and extras are slim, just limited to trailers and previews. There is a nice cardboard sleeve over the case with “XIII” classily punctured out. It’s a minimalist decision, but it’s still nice to have something a little extra beyond a basic Bluray insert.

With everything stated, I can only say that this film’s strengths are barely enough against its powerful weaknesses to call this film collection passable. As with the original series, it did little to leave me with a lasting impression, and while it never offended, bored, or troubled me, even a strange animation decision doesn’t save it from being ultimately forgettable and stale. And with an ocean of better content out there gasping to be enjoyed and loved, most of you would do well to avoid these films. In all honesty, the original series does it better anyway.

Pros:

–Likable characters inhabit a rich world.

–Funination dub never derails or annoys.

–Romance plot is realistic and powerful.

Cons:

–Plot often meanders aimlessly, searching for its core.

–Animation is often dreadful, at least off the battlefield.

–Few frills for fans in the package.

Rating: 2/5

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