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Appleseed Alpha

Appleseed AlphaAppleseed Alpha
by Iou Kuroda, Appleseed originally created by Shirow Masamune, Part 1 translated Lillian Olsen, Part 2 translated by Stephen Paul
Kodansha Comics, 448 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16 +)

In a post-apocalyptic America, there exists an uneasy equilibrium between the cyborg run NY and a rural community of humans known as the Human Farm. The two communities exist in a stand-off in the search for resources and supplies, but the delicate balance between the two is about to be upended with the arrival of two new players; Deunan Knute and her cybernetic partner, Briearios; and the mysterious force known only as Olympus. From the creator of the award winning Sexy Voice and Robo, Iou Kuroda, comes the latest take on Shirow (Ghost in the Shell) Masumune’s other cyberpunk franchise, Appleseed Alpha!

Tonally, this Appleseed Alpha is a very different beast from Appleseed, and often times it feels closer to the more comedic and blatantly satirical works by Masamune, such as Dominion. The social commentary focuses a bit more on current events and political issues—or at least they can easily be read as such, even for American readers—rather than speculation on the ways in which technology will impact society and big philosophical issues. Instead there’s a surprisingly timely commentary on resources, racism, immigration, and the use of political propaganda. Perhaps because of this shift in focus, action is left out in the cold with only one or two fights or action sequences within the volume, and none of them are particularly amazing or engaging and they lack the frenetic energy and clarity that marked Masamune’s fights in the original series. It’s a smart move on Kuroda’s part, even if they’re sorely missed, as his style lends itself to the goofy and silly rather than detailed action that marks Masamune’s fights.

Indeed, Iou Kuroda’s artwork is in stark contrast to the original Appleseed volumes with the more polished Masamune look to it. The lack of toning and the thick loose lines combine with the heavy thatching to give it a rough, unfinished look. On one hand, this roughness works well with the messy, post-apocalyptic version of New York in which the story is set, and lends a certain charm to some of the more cartoony and goofy looking characters. On the other, at times it also obscures the action and figures, and some panels become a mass of black squiggles that only vaguely suggest a person or place. A page from Appleseed Alpha.

This lack of clarity isn’t limited to the artwork, but it also carries over the panel-to-panel flow, which sometimes features weird and sudden shifts in location and action. The word bubble placement doesn’t help matters, and on several occasions it’s unclear who’s speaking. The dialogue doesn’t help clarify things all that much, and there are several bits of dialogue that feel awkward and stilted. It’s difficult to tell whether that’s simply a stylistic quirk of Kuroda’s, a deliberate attempt to convey the weird, post-apocalyptic world and society, or odd translation decisions. It does seem to improve over time, but it’s entirely possible that I simply got used to it after a while.

While Appleseed Alpha has some good things going on, it’s just not enough. While Kuroda’s art works wonderfully with the story in several places, and there is something to be said about its political commentary, it just doesn’t wow. It feels disjointed and a little lifeless, and is ultimately a disappointing and underwhelming addition to the Appleseed franchise.

Appleseed Alpha is available now from Kodansha Comics. Review copy provided by the publisher.

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