In two new anime films opening this week, the future is a mess. Human existence is teetering on the brink, and only a few intrepid warriors can stop the madness. In the Korean feature Sky Blue, directed by Moon Sang Kim, it's proletariat eco-warriors to the rescue, while Shinji Aramaki's Appleseed, from Japan, places man's fate in the hands of more traditional anime heroes -- a buxom, saucer-eyed female gun-for-hire and a man-robot hybrid.
Earth is a toxic wasteland in Sky Blue. The elites live in a safe artificial city called Ecoban that is sustained on the backs of countless workers, who toil in mines and factories. A revolution is brewing in these desperate streets, spearheaded by Shua, who was cast out of Ecoban as a child. With inside help, Shua hopes to short-circuit Ecoban's power system which would cause an energy release so great that the heavily polluted sky would literally crack open and reveal the blue sky -- an ambiguous strategy that suggests man's poor stewardship of the planet can be fixed only by the most extreme of do-overs.
Visually, Sky Blue is beautifully constructed, though given the subject matter, the exquisite animation is often an exercise in how fantastically rendered an oppressive factory is. The film clearly owes a debt to the silent worker-revolution classic Metropolis, and is driven by a simple narrative that doesn't get bogged down in technical monologues.
Heady bio-tech postulating fuels the thoughtful side of Appleseed, though on the whole, it's a film that revels in exploding combat. Based on the Japanese manga by Masamune Shirow, it depicts the struggles of 2131 when, weary of endless wars, a coalition of floating (yes, floating) elders has set up a utopian city, Olympus, populated by humans and bio-roids, who are supposedly better behaved than their corporeal counterparts. But Olympus is threatened, and a female soldier and her former-lover-turned-machine must defend the city.
While the battles are typical Transformer-on-the-rampage material, Appleseed stops frequently to natter on about the distinctions between humans, with their unpredictable behavior, and their proposed replacements, the hybrid bio-roids. There's several debates about how much bio-engineering is OK. It's all very timely and interesting, but since Appleseed is an actioner first, too many science-and-ethics monologues detract from the fighting. And while it takes information to change a mind or two, the solution is really to fire up the techno music and unload awesome weapons against that huge bad thingamabob that's destroying the city. It may be the future, but some things never change. Both films are dubbed in English.
Sky Blue ; Appleseed