Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 18th 2006
DVD 1: Future Shock
Former military academy classmates find themselves reunited again on the Mirai, a new Aegis-Class cruiser in the Japanese navy. While sailing to join American forces near Pearl Harbor in joint military exercises, the Mirai encounters strange meteorological phenomena which leave it in the presence of a ship that turns out to be the legendary battleship Yamato! Further sightings convince the officers that the Mirai has traveled 60 years back in time to the opening stages of the Battle of Midway, to which they must now bear witness. Though the Captain resolves to avoid becoming involved, and hence reduce the chance of altering history, one officer takes the initiative to rescue an unconscious Japanese Imperial Navy officer from a sinking plane. What complications will bringing a soldier from the 1940s onto a 21st century warship bring? And can the Mirai truly stay uninvolved when they have the power and technology to dramatically alter the outcome of the war?
To completely understand Zipang, whose title comes from the original Portugese name for Japan, one must understand its historical context. The Battle of Midway, which marked the turning point of the Pacific side of World War 2, was arguably Japan's biggest and most important individual defeat. In a war whose naval engagements were defined by aircraft carriers, the loss of four carriers to American dive bombers on the morning of June 5th, 1942, while the Americans only lost one, was a blow which cost them their naval superiority, and the loss of that was a big factor in contributing to their ultimate defeat. Thus it's not surprising that the Battle of Midway would be chosen for a series that is, in many respects, a Japanese version of the 1980 American sci-fi movie The Final Countdown, in which a modern nuclear-powered aircraft carrier travels back in time to a point right before Pearl Harbor. Only this time it's a start-of-the-art cruiser instead and the nationalities are switched.
The central question of Zipang is the same as it was in Final Countdown: can the time-traveling crew of the Mirai stand idly by, thus minimizing any potential “butterfly effect,” while so many of their comrades are being killed in combat, especially when they have the military might to dramatically alter the course of not only the battle, but potentially the entire war as well? The other great questions facing the Mirai are how far they can go with defending themselves without affecting the course of the war and what they should do if they can't find their way back home. When one of the officers decides to interfere enough to rescue a younger Japanese officer who otherwise would have gone down with the plane, the question also becomes what to do with a man who, according to history, should be dead, especially given what he's seen of the ship's capabilities? And what's going to happen when commanders on both sides of the war start getting reports about a ship with capabilities well beyond anything known in 1942? The first volume brings up all of these questions, but four episodes is not enough time to resolve them.
The situation and the issues raised combine to make a pure and involving military drama, albeit one which provides ample opportunity for the Mirai to show off its capabilities; especially stressed is how fast and nimble the Mirai is compared to naval vessels of the 1940s. It isn't the kind of anime series which normally makes it across the Pacific, as it's light on action for being a military piece, has nary a hint of comedy, romance, mecha content, or sex appeal, and uses a cast entirely composed of adult characters. (No teenage cuties/studs here!) Clearly this is a series targeted at older adult males and military otaku, and because of that and its avoidance of most common anime clichés it should be fully accessible to any military history buff, whether an anime fan or not.
So far the series also has gone to great lengths to avoid situations which put it at odds with actual recorded history. The American sub that confronts the Mirai is never named, nor is any “name” figure beyond Admiral Yamamoto used in these episodes. As if to reinforce that point, it is one of the rare anime series to include a “work of fiction” disclaimer at the end of each episode.
The designs used have a tendency to given characters bulbous noses and slightly caricatured facial features, and the lack of whites in the eyes of some characters can be off-putting. Otherwise the designs stick to realism as much as possible, including great detail on the uniforms. Interestingly, the only character who looks distinctly Japanese (even though all of the crew of the Mirai are supposed to be ethnic Japanese) is Lieutenant Commander Kasuna, the man rescued from the plane, who is also, oddly, the only character in the English dub to have a Japanese-accented English voice. A great amount of effort went into detailing the inside and outside of the Mirai, Japanese fleet, and the American sub, which all look great. Everything is drawn very well, with the only significant flaw being the occasional less-than-perfect integration between the non-CG boats and the CG water. (If one looks closely in certain scenes, swells appearing a split-second before the boat gets to a certain point can be noticed.) The animation is solid and doesn't take many shortcuts, but it isn't especially active, either.
A rock-themed opener and gentler, adult contemporary-styled closer, both sung by male vocalists, bookend a fully orchestrated musical score interspersed with piano melodies and military themes. The score is used well to heighten the drama of various scenes, and accompanying sound effects are thoroughly convincing.
The English script for Zipang is usually very loose, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many of the changes are alterations to technical terminology to bring it more in line with current terminology (such as using “GPS” in place of “satellite positioning”) or jargon viewers of American naval warfare movies would expect to hear, such as “flank speed,” “port,” and “starboard.” Problems are created, however, when changes in distances in a couple of places make for inconsistencies with the action. There are also at least three places where lines are dropped in favor of dramatic pauses, including a reference to overhearing a radio broadcast out of Honolulu about FDR's announcement of the Battle of Midway. The description offered by one character about the climatic moments of the Battle of Midway is also substantially reworded, reflecting a slightly more neutral viewpoint. Beyond that, though, the dub script shows no obvious effort to make the dialogue friendlier to American ears and point of view – not that the original was at all anti-American.
The English dub doubtless posed a special problem for Geneon, since the cast is almost entirely composed of older adult men (there's only one female vocal part in these four episodes) and that's not the type of thing Geneon normally does. The performances sound like an array of the stereotypical vocal styles one would expect to hear in American war movies, which results in several roles having distinct accents and speech patterns that may not sit well with many viewers. Exactly who voiced what role is entirely open to speculation, however, as Geneon has totally neglected to include any credits for the English production or cast; only translations of the original opening and closing credits and DVD production credits are included, and those compose the so-called “Extras.” While this might not matter much for sub-favoring fans, it is a major omission. Geneon doesn't normally do this, so one has to wonder what's going on here.
Zipang isn't likely to garner a broad audience amongst anime fans, but its potential to appeal to non-anime fans could balance that out if it's marketed right. It's certainly worthy of a look, as it features excellent artistry, good production merits, and solid storytelling. While it's too early to be sure how far the story is going to go, it's off to a good start.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Excellent artistry, uniform detail, and technical detail.
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