This 13-episode OVA adapted from the manga, Appleseed, by Masamune Shirow (creator of Ghost in the Shell) hit North American retailers this week in a Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack care of FUNimation Entertainment. The series covers much the same ground that previous incarnations of Appleseed had and with a visual style reminiscent of the 3D animation in the 2004 and 2007 Appleseed films. Only, it does so with little charm, weaving its narrative in an overall offputtingly dull and pretentious manner.
The series’ primary shortcoming is in its unwillingness to explore the relationship between Deunan and her cyborg partner Briareos, who we are told are boyfriend and girlfriend. However, apart from a couple tiffs, lord knows you’d never guess they were involved. When the two aren’t having a lovers’ quarrel, there is no romance between them whatsoever. It’s not even subtextual. And that’s a shame, because establishing that they are indeed involved with one another raises many questions that viewers will desperately want answered, such as: How has his being trapped in a cybernetic shell affected their love life? Does Deunan resent him being unable to touch her skin, to give her warmth? Does Briareos, although now more than a man, feel like less of a man as a result? The movies touched on these issues, sure, but answers to these questions are certainly nowhere to be found in Appleseed XIII.
The series is also plagued by incessant, pretentious cutaways to statues of the labors of Hercules, after which each of the first twelve episodes is named. Given that the relevance of Hercules to the overall narrative is not addressed until sometime around episode ten, they add absolutely nothing to our understanding of events as we progress through the series, and I’m not even sure it adds anything once we have realized the Hercules connection. Honestly, the cutaways serve only to draw us out of the series more than we may already have been by the flat relationships.
This is not to say, however, that the entire series is a washout. There are some really terrific episodes here, and it definitely picks up steam after the first three episodes. I’d say it’s nigh on impossible not to be drawn in by the fourth episode, which follows one of the city’s robotic police officers for a day, or by the following episode, in which a building is overrun by “vampires.” What’s more, the action throughout the series is top-notch and the animation from Jinni’s Animation Studios and Production I.G looks great. All this adds up, however, to a middle-of-the-road anime I’d find myself hard-pressed to recommend to anyone other than dedicated Appleseed fans.
Special features on FUNimation’s release of Appleseed XIII are actually rather extensive. The centerpiece of the bonus material is a thirteen-part series called The Inside, which covers the making of Appleseed XIII over the course of nearly two and a half hours! The Inside is such a massive addition to the set that it even has its own dedicated disc in the DVD portion of the set. Additional features include two episode commentaries, textless openings and closings, and trailers.