A Better Tomorrow
The Scales of Prometheus (Appleseed, book 3)
By Masamune Shirow
The Scales of Prometheus is the third tankōbon in Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed (originally Appurushīdo) near-future science fiction manga. Published as Purometeusu no ko tenbinin 1987, the English translation appeared in 1991.
Having survived World War Three and its aftermath and having played a crucial role in resolving the crisis in the previous tankōbon, Deunan Knute and her cyborg chum Briareos Hecatonchires continue their careers as two of would-be utopian world-government Aegis’ heavily armed enforcers.
This volume begins far from Aegis’ capital city of Olympus, in the shattered ruins of once vibrant New York City, where feral bioroid1 Artemis is hiding.
The snatch and grab mission (in which neither Deunan nor Briareos take part) is a mixed success. The team locates and overcomes their target, only to have the bioroid regain consciousness as their aircraft approaches Olympus. In the chaos that follows the resulting crashlanding, Artemis escapes into the city’s parklands. Retrieving her proves time consuming and costs the life of A9, one of Aegis’ elite bioroid agents.
While the above is playing out, Deunan and Briareos enjoy the realities of working for Olympus, which ranges from getting caught up in one of the many espionage plots swirling through Olympus, to carrying out Aegis directives. Sometimes their missions are clearly beneficial, such as orchestrating the downfall of a corrupt French president2. Other missions have outcomes that are grayer, such as an arms control initiative that has as a side-effect the confiscation of civilian prosthetics.
Neither Deunan nor Briareos have the high-level perspective needed to see the big picture. All they get to see is a sequence of violent encounters and their consequences (often unpleasant). Those running Aegis are confident that, day by day, they are making progress towards a better world populated by better people. If that’s true, however, why are so many bioroids killing themselves?
Shirow prudently does not go into detail about the world order prior to World War Three. One does note the presence in the 22nd century of a Federated USSR, which appears to be a US/Soviet alliance. FUSSR and rebranded Dixie Imperial Americana are fighting in Baltimore. WWIII may be over but local squabbles persist.
I will give Olympus this: they don’t let personal feelings get in the way of sensible public policy. Even when Artemis kills A9, Olympus simply captures her alive. Likewise, opposing cyborgs who surrender are treated well. After all, like Deunan back in Volume One, they might be useful one day.
Plotwise, this manga is a bit of a muddle. There are four main police actions, but the greater picture is almost as obscure to the reader as it is to our two protagonists. The people running things get enough on-screen time to make it clear they’re pleased with the progress they are making, despite the best efforts of obstructive national governments to impede them.
However, as pleased as the powers that be are with themselves, it is clear that their future is not quite as shiny as they believe it to be. In addition to the fact that the absurdly high expectations placed on bioroids are killing them, it’s probably not a coincidence that the cutting-edge equipment provided to the special forces unit nearly kills them.
What readers are most likely to remember is that this is the volume where the women in the cast find numerous pretexts to walk about stark naked, often striking memorable poses that highlight the artist’s creative approach to human anatomy. Perhaps this reflects how comfortable these people are with casual nudity … but since it’s only the women who do this, my money is on blatant fanservice. Oh, well.
Appleseed, Volume 3 is in print according to its current publisher, Dark Horse, but I got weird results when I followed the links on the relevant page.
1: Biorids are genetically engineered humans, raised from birth to serve the greater good as defined by Aegis.
2: The corrupt French president is notable for owning a harem of purpose-built sex-slave bioroids of all ages, which will no doubt help when it comes to the PR battle to justify the police action. This seems like an appropriate moment to mention that elements within the French state facilitated the raid.