Before the magic that is the Internet, many genre artists and creators required near academic research qualities and dogged determination if they believed in imbuing their work with realism or authenticity. While a majority of American comic book creators through the 1990s were content with stacking tubes to create weapons and conjure vehicles with childlike reality, mangaka such as Shirow Masamune, sought out minutia in reference and found authenticity via inspiration in the most random of places.
One such example of authenticity from inspiration came from 1982’s action film, Who Dares, Wins, revealed as a touchstone to Shirow’s gear-and-gun filled Appleseed Databook. Released as a single volume in Japan in 1990 before translation into English in 1995, Appleseed Databook took fans of the manga series into Shirow’s mind and his sketchbook. Created by Shirow in 1985 and spanning four volumes, Appleseed followed mercenaries Deunan Knute and cyborg Briareos Hecatonchires from the wastelands of War IV to the gleaming, utopic city-state of Olympus. Recruited to fight terrorists for the city’s elite ESWAT unit, the pair battle internal and external forces challenging Olympus’ superpower status. One of the pleasures of manga and anime fandom remains the appreciation of artists spending staggering amounts of time on the design of mecha, weapons, costumes, and everything in between. Appleseed was no exception.
Appleseed Databook, a slim encyclopedia accompaniment to the Appleseed series, provided Shirow a chance to explain and explore his methods, ideas, and details of his broadly-developed world. Geopolitics were covered in a post-World War IV world with a map and timeline; pages more were spent explaining anti-tank rounds used by ESWAT Landmate exoskeletons and the differences between pistol, rifle, and shotgun ammunition. Putting background information in Databook afforded the creator time to explain the little things such as “brass catchers;” the small pouches Shirow hung from ESWAT weapons to collect spent cases. Shirow understood way back in the 1980s that special forces would blow a hole through a wall with a ring of plastic explosive, as shown in Appleseed‘s “Dry Run” chapter and in the film, Who Dares, Wins. From rappelling off rooftops into embassies to opposing force exercises in a “shooting house” Appleseed aesthetically mirrors the action found in Who Dares, Wins.
Shirow referenced the movie Who Dares, Wins, as an example of the action he attempted throughout Appleseed, “I remember one movie called Who Dares, Wins… in which British SAS actually do a fairly good job of storming into the building.” In the film, a Special Air Service soldier goes undercover to infiltrate anti-nuclear terrorists bent on taking the American ambassador to the United Kingdom hostage. As the plot unfolds, the film plays up authenticity with a mix of realistic and fanciful SAS training, before climaxing in a methodical and brisance-filled hostage rescue. While a work of fiction, the film did things which keyed into a realism Shirow would later seek for Appleseed.
Who Dares, Wins came about after the infamous, hostage rescue assault on the Iranian Embassy in London by the British Special Air Service played out on live television. With explosive entries through ornate windows and agile scampering across rooftops, the SAS became overnight sensations, inspired the movie Who Dares, Wins, and chunks of the tactical movements and aesthetic of early Appleseed. Through each successive Appleseed volume, Shirow would replicate, in his own meticulous way, the action first seen in Who Dares, Wins.
Appleseed Databook‘s thorough exploration of tactics prompted Shirow to explain, “Since this isn’t a novel, all this stuff I’ve gone on and on about probably really isn’t all that important, and I probably don’t need to go into it in such detail anyway…. This is a ‘databook,, and it’s designed not just as a story supplement, but as background material showing how the story was formulated and some of the information that went into this process.” Even with his confident and entertaining portrayal of elite soldiers, Shirow still apologized for the background detail.
What inspired or informed artists or writers like Shirow in the pre-Internet age, illuminates a time when the quest for authenticity, particularly in sci-fi action or military genres, required global, determined research. Specialized or imported magazines, random newspaper clippings, obscure books, or visits to air shows allowed creators to familiarize themselves with the subject of militaria. Examples of the accuracy achieved through meticulous, hard-fought research could also be found in the work of Kenichi Sonada or Hayao Miyazaki’s Daydream Notes.
Another such example of reference informing anime came at the end of a 1990 VHS bootleg of MADOX-01. Shinji Aramaki’s OVA centered on a “realistic” powered suit set loose in Tokyo featured several accurately rendered Japanese Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) vehicles and weapons. Spliced into the VHS, bootlegged from a university anime club, was several minutes of footage from the annual JGSDF “live fire” day at Mt. Fuji. The six- or seven-minute video addition featured the tanks and helicopters used in Aramaki’s MADOX-01 and demonstrated the value placed on the kind of reference required by creators. Similarly, Shirow exhaustive detail about elite counterterrorism teams came in part from Who Dares, Wins.
Page after page of detailed and kinetically rendered ESWAT training and operations in Appleseed provided the reader with endless action eye-candy. Simultaneously, Shirow showed off subtle authenticity, which elevated the entire work in a way that could only come from the most random of insights and attention to detail. Shirow’s Databook and inspiration from Who Dares, Wins, demonstrated the lengths a creator will go to flesh out their story thoroughly. Databook and the mid-1980s Appleseed were glimpses into a creative time and place, giving us privy to the imagery and details which inspired Shirow, how it was reinterpreted, and imbued the final product: a masterwork of cutting-edge military science fiction.
Support us on Patreon!
Contributor articles like this are supported in part by our readers. If you enjoyed this content, please consider supporting Zimmerit on Patreon.