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Member since May 2011 · 2484 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Subject: Masamune Shirow's Appleseed
I used to read a lot of English manga.  Back when the only company translating the stuff was Viz (who currently produce the English-language JUMP magazine) everything brought over was carefully selected: each title represented a genre, and was typically from the top-tier.  It didn't take long for other comic companies to bring over their own titles.  Marvel's Epic imprint brought over Akira, and Studio Proteus teamed with Eclipse, and later Black Horse, to bring us Appleseed.

Appleseed, a four-book series that will likely never see the release of book 5 as the author has decided to focus on Ghost in the Shell (and other T 'n A projects) was a gripping and visionary tale of the world a few decades into our future.  It combined large helpings of optimism and pessimism, and mixed up the big issues with personal struggles.  I was utterly enraptured by it at the time, though now I recognize it has lost some of its lustre...

The story starts with a girl, Deunan Knute, digging around an abandoned/ruined city for food and shelter.  She's accompanied by her partner Briarios, whose body has been turned almost fully into a robot.  They've been wandering 'badside' for a while before Hitomi shows up.  She's come from Olympus, a post-war city that was well under construction before the war and is now, essentially, the management hub of the world.  Soon after Hitomi's arrival all three are attacked by team of soldiers, sent to kill Hitomi.  It's clear that they have no choice in choosing who to trust, so they travel back to Olympus with Hitomi.

From there the story shifts between many different stories.  Rich with subplots, each issue of the comic brings a wonderful mix of detailed technical artwork, political intrigue and SWAT-team action.  It doesn't take long before Deunan and Briarios put their survival skills to work, joining the police and then ESWAT, buying enormous mecha (Landmate) for her, and struggle to find their place in this new world.

Meanwhile the politicians are trying to manage this utopian society.  The old-world countries often resented the terms Olympus dictated after the war, and there was a constant risk of terrorism.  There was also the very nature of humanity to consider.  When allowed to live in complete peace and freedom, people tended to atrophy as they were not required, in any way, to fight for anything.

The comic delights by filling every panel with beautiful imagery.  Beautiful women, machines and architecture fill every page, and the attentive reader is rewarded when time is spent examining the backgrounds.

It's not a perfect book however: The dialogue, especially early on, feels a bit like it's happening outside of what the reader is shown.  Many conversations are discjointed and scattered, making sense only after repeated readings, and sometimes not at all.  This does not seem to be a translation problem - the same translating team worked on many other books that were far easier to read.  It seems as if Shirow simply couldn't focus the outpouring of ideas enough to create a coherent thread.

The art isn't perfect either.  Shirow has a very sketchy style and while he fills every frame with artwork showing a world that was extensively considered, the linework is rarely solid.  Instead the reader gets a very emotional ride, with plenty of motion and impressions - rather than definite objects - fill the books.  Shirow's mechs are very unique, with incredible attention paid to real-world limitations.  His women are stunning, and unlike his later works (Hello Ghost in the Shell 2) he shows a lot of restraint in his depictions of them.  Nude scenes are rare, and you can count the panty shot on one hand for the entire series.  (For those who aren't aware, Ghost in the Shell 2 had a panty shot on every page, and in almost every frame)

My copies are looking decidedly dog-eared after years and years of re-reading, but it's still a series I treasure.
BLEARGH
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Member since May 2011 · 2484 posts · Location: Brisbane
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I wanted to include some visuals with the first post, but didn't have any  way of scanning my books.  A little bit of googling turned up the torrent of my dreams: all the Appleseed books scanned for my convenience.  It's a little bright in places, so some detail is lost, but for my purposes I think they'll do just fine. 

And yes, I realize I'm probably over-analyzing what is essentially a comic book, but forgive me this.  It's a good book, I swear.  =)

Here's some highlights from books 3 and 4:

One of the main characters is Briarios, a Hecatonchires cyborg.  Formerly human, he was converted to a 100% cyborg body some time before the books began.  Shirow put an incredible amount of thought into the idea: the skin is described as a human skin-like polymer, which can be heated to match human temperatures (which Briarios does for Deunan's (his partner) benefit.  The Hecatonchires system uses an augmented brain of some sort, and is apparently unusual in the Appleseed world.  He uses many standardized parts - at one point one of his eyes is damaged by shrapnel and a field medic is able to swap a new one in quickly.

[Image: /grafx/Comics/Appleseed/Briarios 1.jpg]

[Image: /grafx/Comics/Appleseed/Briarios 2.jpg]

In this next sequence Briarios is getting some maintenance checks done.  The characters are discussing how they can utilize a sounding grid to identify fractures or stresses in internal components.  There are certainly advantages to being a cyborg - replacing damaged and worn out parts is easy, though several times in the series Shirow makes references to the cost.  I guess it's expensive.  Of course, repairing a human body ain't cheap either... 

[Image: /grafx/Comics/Appleseed/Stress 1a.jpg]
(click for the whole page)

In this next image (click for the whole image) you can see some of the intricate details Shirow worked into the 'landmates' in the story.  In this case Deunan (the girl) is chasing a bad guy who has recently entered a tunnel in a car, so she's abandoning her Guges landmate.

You can see one of the most interesting components of Shirow's mechs: the sub-arms that Deunan inserts her real arms into.  Since she's much smaller than the mech and cannot 'fill' the landmate, the movements of her arms are contained in the sub-arms and relayed to the landmate's much larger arms.  Earlier in the series this is described in a little more detail, and it also explains how the leg movements are similarly amplified.  The human operator then is essentially floating in the landmate on a web of sensors and supports.

[Image: /grafx/Comics/Appleseed/Armor 1a.jpg]
(click for the whole page)
BLEARGH
This post was edited on 2008-07-07, 09:54 by NFG.
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Member since May 2011 · 2484 posts · Location: Brisbane
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WTF, 1142 views on this thread.  That's about 1100 more than most other threads, how bizarre!

...Except for this one: 5184 views!
BLEARGH
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