You might know Shirow Masamune as the creative mind behind the popular Ghost in the Shell manga, which inspired some highly-acclaimed anime that I’ve already reviewed. But he also broke ground with another manga series with heavy cyberpunk themes and elite security forces: Appleseed.
The story takes place after the nuclear climax of World War Three, as civilization rebuilds itself with cybernetics and genetic engineering. Two old-style SWAT Team officers, Deunan and Briareos, are drafted to join an ESWAT Team in the utopian city of Olympus. From there, as they begin to integrate with the new society, they also get caught up in its problems, as the interconnected postwar world means that there are more political hotspots and terrorist attacks than ever before, resulting in a lot more work for ESWAT.
Despite the classic cyberpunk imagery of full-body cyborgs and human clones known as “bioroids,” the overall tone of the story is very post-cyberpunk. Instead of being outcasts in a desolate landscape, Deunan and Briareos serve in a legitimate law enforcement unit. Instead of corporations ruling everything, there’s a strong impetus to enforce the rule of law, both within the city of Olympus and around the world by the empowered United Nations. And there’s also a healthy debate between baseline human beings and bioroids, as the latter are designed to have less imperfections and be in better shape than their human counterparts. It’s a series that enjoys its cybernetics and gene-splicing, but doesn’t automatically claim augmented beings as “superior.”
On the whole, I like the story’s ambition and sense of grandeur, though it’s on a lot of the specifics that I take issue. For most of the second half of the manga, it’s almost nothing but ESWAT missions against extremists from the Sacred Republic of Munma and other high-class criminals. While the dialogue and the attacks do reflect a lot of detail and research about real-life special forces, it does make the story a bit repetitive after a while. There were a few times I had to confirm which chapter I was on and who was supposed to be the enemy. It was also a little hard to appreciate what Deunan’s story arc was, though it mostly has to do with her relationship to Olympian society and to her partner Briareos.
If you want to see a lot of good cyberpunk visuals and some kickass special forces in action, I’d recommend Appleseed. It’s like Ghost in the Shell, but nowhere near Tokyo and without Major Kusanagi’s defining presence.
The English translation of the Appleseed manga is available through Dark Horse Comics.
Bibliography: Appleseed (manga). Written by Shirow Masamune. Published by Kodansha, Seishinsha, and Media Factory (Japanese); Dark Horse (English). Super Manga Blast (English magazine). February 15, 1985 – April 15, 1989.