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Hugh David on what makes the new series different

And so, after twenty-eight years, ESWAT officers Deunan Knute & Briareos Hecatoncheires, the stars of Masamune Shirow’s first great cyberpunk epic manga, get to defend their post-apocalyptic city Gaia beyond the one-off adventures they have been constrained within over that time. Moving to television after the 1988 video and the 2005 & 2007 big-budget CG features, Appleseed XIII spins off these last two, arriving under the legendary Production IG banner. Internationally praised for the TV adaptation of Shirow’s celebrated Ghost in the Shell manga, the latter name is sure to excite Western fans whether aware of the previous incarnations or not, but something more ambitious is going on here.

Appleseed XIII’s 13 episodes have all been individually animated by different CG animation studios, working together under IG’s overall guidance. This ups the creative ante on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which saw two major studios alternate episodes. In addition, whereas the latter only used limited amounts of 3D CG to accompany the traditional 2D anime, this continues the ground-breaking 3D/2D animation combination developed for the two recent features, pushing the boundaries of Japanese animated television.

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The cutting-edge results would, however, be purely aesthetic without a solid dramatic base. This is the first adaptation of the manga to take the references to Classical European mythology and use them as the basis for the plot, providing for a “Twelve Tasks Of Deunan” plot arc. Apart from a brief opening flashback the series plunges straight into daily ESWAT life in Gaia after the events of the movies, throwing a series of cases at our heroes that reveal a wider terrorist plot threatening the whole bioroid process. Taking Stand Alone Complex’s slow-burn plotting culminating in a high-stakes, large-scale action finale as a template, fans of the fast-moving, high cyclical rate action sequences of the films will not be disappointed. Every episode provides high-octane action, often mech-on-mech, flying around the canyon-like office blocks of Gaia, or mechs chasing down vehicles. The execution of these is never such that the eye loses track of the participants in the scene – text-book classical action despite the speed.

At the same time, we finally get a set of writers interested in delving further into these particular versions of Deunan and Briareos. This particular version of her backstory, highlighting the death of her mother and the brutal training by her father, seeds details and flashbacks across the episodes in counterpoint to the main events. Deunan is more head-strong and less professional than in the manga, but this allows her to grow over the course of the series. This Briareos experiences more doubts over matters, but still comes through as Deunan’s rock, as well as using his cyborg strengths to stunning effect to provide nick-of-time resolutions in action scenes.

All in all, recent fans of the franchise will find much to enjoy in this new series. Older fans will enjoy the elements extracted from the manga as launchpads for new episode storylines. With this radical presentation, more of Shirow’s original vision is on-screen than ever before.

Appleseed XIII is available today on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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