February 12, 2015

The Shirow franchises (1)

Manga artist Masamune Shirow was the first to capture the true scope of cyberpunk in the late 1980 and early 1990s. Taking visual inspiration from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), he defined the look and feel of the genre in ways that Hollywood is still catching up with.

The opening scenes of Ghost in the Shell owe a lot to Ridley Scott.

Black Magic (1983) got an OVA (meaning: direct-to-video). The goofier  Dominion Tank Police (a personal fav) spawned two TV anime series besides the two manga series (1986 and 1995). For most manga artists, that'd be more than enough success for a lifetime.

But it was Appleseed (1985) and Ghost in the Shell (1989) that took on lives of their own. Neither franchise demonstrates much allegiance to an established canon. With new production teams taking up the reins each time around, every iteration gets its own reboot.

Examining his original manga, you will notice that Shirow and Frank Frazetta share a similar visual aesthetic that gets toned down (a lot) for anime (and that includes the Ghost in the Shell movie). Shirow has also published two dozen art books and poster collections.

Appleseed (manga) 1985–1989
Appleseed (OVA series) 1988
Appleseed (theatrical release) 2004
Appleseed: Ex Machina (theatrical release) 2007
Appleseed: XIII (TV anime series) 2011
Appleseed: Alpha (theatrical release) 2014
• Plus a 1988 video game.

Appleseed sprang back to life after a fifteen-year break using motion-capture digital animation for all productions. I guess if you go full digital once, it gets easier to keep on doing it that way, because that's what they've done, including the television series.

The first two films and series stick to the original premise: Deunan Knute and her cyborg partner (and boyfriend), Briareos Hecatonchires, are members of an elite SWAT team/special forces unit in Olympus, the futuristic, post-apocalyptic city at the center of everything.

The one odd discontinuity up to this point is that in XIII, Deunan looks and acts barely out of her teens, and XIII includes origins materials that make it a prequel to Appleseed. (I seem to recall that the origins material in Appleseed is different too.)

The real wildcard is the latest, Appleseed: Alpha, which jumps completely out of the established timeline. Deunan and Briareos haven't even gotten to Olympus (and aren't even sure they ever will), and yet they are clearly older and wearier than in the Olympus arc.

Alpha is, at heart, a classic road movie, and that's a good direction to go in. Olympus pulling the strings from afar rather than up close creates more latitude in the storytelling. Besides, the whole utopian society (but it's rotten underneath) cliche is pretty tired.

On their way to the mythical Olympus, Deunan and Briareos keep getting sidetracked. And at the very, very end (wait for the credit roll), we learn that Olympus plans to keep on sidetracking them. I'm game. I like the direction Appleseed: Alpha is taking things.

I hope they keep heading down that road.

Related posts

The Shirow franchises (2)
Appleseed: Ex Machina
Appleseed: Alpha
Ghost in the Shell: Innocence

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