Japanese Anime has been making an impact in the western world for the last 30 years. When this reviewer was a kid, we were exposed to TV shows like Astroboy, Battle of the Planets, Starblazers and Robotech, without ever realising where they were coming from. What was noticeable was that they were different than the standard Saturday morning fair we were used to. The detail involved was unparalleled, the animation was vastly more sophisticated... and then there were the big eyes. In the late 80's the Anime Motion Picture started to gain our attention, with the highly acclaimed Akira being widely released, and an ever-increasing fandom for this medium started growing rapidly into a new century.

Masamune Shirow's Appleseed was one of the first Manga (Japanese Comic Books) properties to hit big with western audiences in those pioneering days, and in 2004 a CGI film adapting the characters of E S.W.A.T partners/lovers Deunan and Briareos was released. This franchise is a giant in Japan, and did moderately well elsewhere. But director Shinji Aramaki and the makers wanted to push its exposure further and make a film that would appeal outside their loyal fan base and hopefully crack the mainstream western market - Appleseed: Ex Machina is the result.

Appleseed Ex MachinaSet sometime after World War 3 (surprisingly a non-nuclear war) in a utopian city called Olympus, Ex Machina once again follows odd couple Deunan (human hottie) and Briareos (cyborg... with big bunny ears?) E S.W.A.T officers who keep the peace in this supposed paradise of a city. But a raid, in which Briareos is severely injured, begins to reveal a plot by an unseen force to upset the balance, by taking control of human and cyborg-kind, and making a society who all think the same (kinda like the Borg of Star Trek). Forced to take a new partner (who is cloned from her boyfriend and looks like him... before the bunny ears) Deunan must travel a complicated and dangerous road to unravel a mystery that will threaten her relationship, her life, and the world at large.

The first thing the makers did to appeal more to us western folk was to employ the input of action-maestro John Woo, and his unmistakable trademarks. Replete with slow motion balletic gunplay, bouncing bullets, and - you guessed it - a dove or two, one could be forgiven for thinking Woo had directed this himself. The action is astoundingly good, with copious nods to many Hollywood forbearers, and some Hollywood couldn't hope to replicate yet. The characters have been redesigned since the first picture and refined considerably. Of note is the ‘big eye signature' has been toned down dramatically. Facial features are vastly more complex, allowing for more subtle emotional expression (this helps with a glaring fault I'll discuss in a minute).

But director Aramaki has his own trademarks, so the Anime community attest, and the attention to detail of all the copious machines and Bioroids (Big-Ass Robot suits with Bigger-Ass guns) and the city itself is a thing to behold. Even with such American giants like Pixar and Dreamworks out there, NOTHING currently can hold a candle to the vistas this director and his animators unfold throughout breathtaking is an understatement.

The story itself is marred by too many characters, the lack of a truly central villain, and an over-complicated plot. If this was intended as an entry point for those unfamiliar with Anime, then streamlining certain subplots and reducing the number of characters would have gone a long way to accomplishing that goal. There is already so much to learn for those unfamiliar with these sorts of stories - the technologies they use and the history of the characters are just two elements that this film quickly overwhelms the newbie.

But the biggest thing that still seems a problem with these films, being adapted from another language, is the translation. All too often the dialogue is clunky or clichéd; the intinations the English voice actors have to match to the character animation lend themselves to being overdone and unnatural... it seems an unavoidable fault with the genre. This film is as good as it gets in this respect, and in fact gets past it in some instances, but it's still noticeable far too often.

Perhaps the only true way to appeal widely to the western audiences (not the Anime fans, as they are unwaveringly loyal and in love with this genre) is to co-finance with one of the studios and start from English to begin with. Leaps and bounds have been made since the underwhelming Final Fantasy film, and if nothing else, the booming Anime industry is telling the world we're ready... just ease us in a little gentler.

Appleseed: Ex Machina is a remarkable accomplishment, and leaps and bounds ahead of the first film in quality. If nothing else, this is a startling example of the talent in Japan, and a very good indication that in the not too distant future there will be a worldwide box office smash from them.

Component Grades
3 Stars
5 Stars
DVD Experience
4 stars


DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 1.85:1

Subtitles: English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese

Language and Sound: English: French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; behind-the-scenes featurette; filmmaker commentary.

* Commentary
o Feature-length commentary track with Jerry Beck from cartoonbrew.com and Joseph Chou, one of the producers of this film.
* Featurettes
o Team-Up: John Woo and Shinji Aramaki (16:00) - The story of two top talents, John Woo, lauded live-action filmmaker, and Shinji Aramaki, acclaimed animation director, working in tandem to launch a shared vision for Appleseed:Ex Machina.
o Revolution: Animating Ex Machina (18:00) - A team of revolutionary animators introduce a new technology to the trade, while facing the challenge to balance frenetic action and slick, sci-fi visuals with real emotion and humanity.
o Shirow's Journey: The Appleseed Chronicles - From manga to anime, this is the definitive Appleseed history that doubles as a testament to the legendary writer/artist Shirow Masamune and the complex world he created in this vision of the future.
o Appleseed Ex Machina: East Meets West - Examining the anime phenomenon from the perspectives of both the Eastern and Western cultures, while exploring the similarities and differences in the ways that fans enjoy the art form.
* Previews - for Justice League: New Frontier, Batman: Gotham Knight The Sickhouse, Journey to the Center of the Earth, I Am Legend, Speed Racer: The Game, and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. And a Speed Racer Sneak Peek

Number of Discs: 2- packaged in a steel book case