Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD 7 - Return to the Future
In the wake of the Mirai's battle against the U.S.S. Wasp and its planes, survivors on both sides must struggle to reconcile over what happened in that fateful confrontation, while back on Guadalcanal surviving Japanese officers must rally themselves to find a way to save the lives of their men by getting them off the island. The trepidation of the crew of the Mirai over their return to their home port at Yokasuka (albeit the Yokasuka of 1942) is eased somewhat by a surprise meeting with Prime Minister Yonai, who makes certain assurances and offers an opportunity for refueling and shore leave. Kadomatsu cannot reconcile his feelings with the Prime Minister's pessimistic view that Japan must be defeated at great cost in order to free them of the military imperialists dominating the government, and a visit to see his father as a young boy only further convinces him that things have been allowed to go too far. He must track down Lt. Kosuka and try to put a stop to his scheme to bring about his new nation of Zipang.
The “Return to the Future” subtitle is misleading because the Mirai does not actually return to the future by the end of the series. (Yes, this is a spoiler, but it should be known up front lest the final volume turns into an unexpected major disappointment.) In fact, the final episode not only leaves their status and future plans unresolved, it also spins off another plot thread that only starts to get underway by the series end. As the credits roll for the final episode fans will get the sense that there is, at the least, another short season of stories left to tell. Unfortunately no follow-up series has yet been announced, nor has the manga on which this series is based been released in any capacity in the States. Fans of the series are just going to have to content themselves with that unsatisfactory ending for now.
That and the weak English dub are the only significant black marks against a series that otherwise stands amongst 2007's best American releases. Except for the actual ending, the writing in the final volume represents just as much of a triumph of precision writing and balanced storytelling as any of the previous volumes. Episode 24 shows the aftermath of episode 23's intense Mirai/Wasp battle from both sides without favoring or glorifying either; in fact, as it often has, the writing reserves the harshest criticism about World War II for Japan itself. Though it does not beat viewers over the head with its points, as a lesser series might do, it is unblinking and unwavering in emphasizing, through the viewpoint of certain period characters, that Japanese Imperialism in general, and the war effort in particular, was an epic example of hubris, one which only a costly trial by fire and blood could excise from the Japanese leadership. That is, of course, not a viewpoint that sets well with Lt. Commander Kadomatsu, who rates the JSDF's mission of preserving life above all else, or with Lt. Kosuka, who seeks to manipulate Japan around that trial by giving up short-term defeats in exchange for long-term gains and saving of face. Over the last few episodes of the series those conflicting viewpoints drive the series as much as the fine line the Mirai tries to walk between continuing its mission and minimizing its impact on history, and taken together it generates complex, thoroughly involving storytelling. This is not a series you can watch with your brain turned off.
Unlike the previous two volumes, the three episodes of this one have a dearth of major action scenes beyond the occasional flashback. The Mirai doesn't get to show off its fancy hardware and armaments, nor do any of its characters get involved in any significant battles. Despite that, the content rarely lacks for tension and drama as circumstances continue to place the Mirai in a precarious position. The series also continues its penchant for tossing in actual historical figures, this time including Mitsumasa Yonai, the actual Navy Minister and Deputy Prime Minister (the English translation errantly refers to him as “Prime Minister,” although he did have an earlier stint at that job) of Japan at the time of the story. It also briefly brings back Lt. Commander Okamura, the officer who led the Japanese engineers in defense of Guadalcanal.
The final episodes maintain the high artistic standards set by previous volumes, most notably in the CG renditions of moving ships and the detailed recreations of 1942 versions of various settings. Reconstructions of period uniforms and clothing also remains a strong point, but the non-CG animation, unfortunately, does not. Whatever the reason, it suffers the occasional breakdown during this span and generally looks stiffer than what it did in earlier episodes. The bulk of the problem is confined to episode 24, however. The soundtrack actually improves a little during this same span, in large part by dumping some of the weaker themes used throughout the first few volumes in favor of easier-flowing and more steadily dramatic themes.
An English dub that already struggles endangers itself further by changing actors for the key role of Kadomatsu for the final volume, a role that had typically featured one of the few good performances. The results are not disastrous – in fact, current English VA Curran Shane Mardjuki probably would have been acceptable in the role had he been voicing it from the beginning – but a substantially different vocal style in the role which gets the most dialogue in these episodes is jarring. The rest of the cast, as a whole, does not irritate the ears as much as in previous volumes, nor does the casting of Yonai create any issues. The dub also lacks the grievous errors in production seen in some earlier volumes, but the improvement is not quite enough to bring it up to the level of the original Japanese performances. As per normal, dialogue gets shifted around as needed in the English script and some parts do get substantially reworded, though none of the changes have a major impact on the content.
Once again a volume of Zipang lacks any extras beyond English translations of the credits. But at least this volume came out just in time to make Geneon's “we're not putting out any more disks” cut-off.
The inconclusive way Zipang ends takes it out of serious consideration as 2007's best anime title released in America, but it certainly still deserves a place amongst the year's elite releases. The writing and visuals are just too consistently good to deny, it offers satisfying amounts of flash and military buff-oriented fan service, and its thoughtful, well-balanced treatment of serious historical issues deserves recognition. To get American anime companies to keep bringing quality niche titles like this over to the States they must be supported, and you will be hard-pressed to find a more worthy candidate.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Excellent writing, storytelling, and military and clothing designs.
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