Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 26th 2007
Upon being exposed to the Mirai's library and learning of the great future that awaits Japan in the post-war era, Lt. Commander Kusaka is inspired to action. Though he appears to have resolved himself to staying with the Mirai and helping them out when one of their planes gets into trouble with a pair of Japanese sea planes, what might his true motives really be? As it becomes clear that the Mirai may be stuck in the WWII era for some time, a clandestine scheme to refuel and resupply in Indonesia is hit upon with Kusaka as a key component, but it risks bringing Kusaka into contact with a former associate. But does the presence of that associate in a location he was never recorded as going to mean that history is being altered already? And what effect might it have if he were to learn of the Mirai?
Zipang is a rarity amongst anime series that have made it to North America: a thoughtful military drama aimed at older male audiences, especially those that are military and/or history buffs. It doesn't have teen heroes, giant mecha, transforming planes, heavy doses of graphic content, humor, cutesy elements, sexy girls, sci-fi elements beyond the time-travel premise, or any of the other elements one normally associates with military-oriented anime. In fact, its second volume also has only a minimum of true action scenes. Most of its weight is instead carried by its drama, the rest by its displays of modern and WWII-era military tech and uniforms. That proves more than sufficient to make episodes 5-8 a fascinating and engrossing viewing experience.
The central issues raised by the first volume remain: how can the Mirai exist in this era and minimize its impact on history, and how involved (or not) should the Mirai get in the goings-on of the war, especially given the bloodshed known by the crew to be coming? And what will happen if they have no choice but to defend themselves against Japanese forces who think they're hostile? Must they fight their own people to protect themselves? The series treads carefully around all of these issues, approaching each in a thought-provoking rather than sensationalistic manner. Most interesting is Kusaka's reaction to learning of Japan's future and the way he decides to approach things knowing that.
These episodes also make the point that the Japanese of the WWII era are not necessarily the same as those of the early 21st century. While the crew of the Mirai may share the same blood, genetics, and homeland as the Japanese of the 1940s, they are not of the generations of aggressive expansionists who dominated the Japanese landscape in the WWII era. As Kusaka points out, the crewmen of the Mirai are, in fact, soldiers in name only, as none of them has ever been involved in any real combat situations. The dedicated defense-only initiative of the JSDF and the desire of the captain to avoid tampering with history also shapes their actions, leading to problems when one of their scout planes is beset by fighters.
The second volume also proves that the series is about more than just the Mirai. The on-land excursion by Kusaka and Executive Officer Kadomatsu works towards establishing the relationship between the two men, but also allows the series to show off the colonial realties of Japan's occupation of what is now Indonesia. It makes the cutting (to Japanese) point that Japan really did nothing more than just replace traditional European colonizers when it took control of the region.
As with its first volume, the highlight of Zipang's artistry and animation is its attention to military detail, whether it's the exquisite interior and exterior illustrations of an AEGIS-class cruiser like the Mirai, modern helicopters, tilt-wing planes, Vulcan cannon systems, and video relays, or WWII-era Type 2 sea planes. Its character designs do a relatively good job of distinguishing its almost-exclusively male cast members, although they tend a bit towards caricatures in some places and favor prominent, bulbous noses. Costuming is also effective and doubtless done to great modern-day and historical detail. The animation also fares sufficiently well in both normal and action scenes, occasionally aided by CG effects (especially in ocean waves). While neither the artistry nor the animation is as sharp or polished as top-rate series, it still looks quite good.
The soundtrack favors vaguely militaristic themes, and while it can get a little too melodramatic at times, it generally does a good job of supporting the drama and tension of any given scene. The unremarkable opener and more soulful closer remain unchanged from the first volume.
With the second volume Geneon has mostly corrected the biggest complaint about the first volume: credits for the English dub are actually provided this time, albeit in the Extras menu, where the translations of the Japanese credits can also be found. The dubbing company still isn't named, although the personnel involved strongly implies that it's Odex Pte Ltd, the same Singapore-based company responsible for the English dub of Fantastic Children. Fortunately their effort here is quite a bit better than it was with Fantastic Children. That's not to say it's particularly good, as the voices for the crew members run the gamut of military stereotypes and delivery is a little stilted in places, but it isn't a disaster, either. Dub fans are likely to find it tolerable, although they are also unlikely to recognize any of the actor names. It is still interesting that the two most clearly Asian-sounding roles in the dub are those of the two primary Imperial Navy officers appearing in the series so far. That is doubtless not coincidence.
The production issue this time instead concerns the Extras. Geneon is passing off the aforementioned English credits and translations of the opening and closing credits as true Extras, and provides nothing else beyond company previews. With a series like this, some kind of booklet or on-disc profiles of the military equipment being used in the series would not only be expected but invaluable. If series like Desert Punk and Gunslinger Girl can manage that, why can't Zipang? Undoubtedly they weren't included because this is very much a niche market title so Geneon is trying to keep its costs to a minimum, but it still feels like they dropped the ball on this one.
Perhaps most importantly, the second volume of Zipang proves that the first volume wasn't a fluke: this is a solid, engaging, and mature series which may not appeal much to the normal otaku crowd but should be capable of finding an audience beyond them. Its only flaw, from an American perspective, is that the series takes a decidedly Japanese viewpoint on things, but there is nothing aggrandizing or accusatory about it. Know someone who isn't into anime but is into military tech and/or history? Do them a favor and show them Zipang.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Lots of cool military tech, solid drama.
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