Netflix revamps the classic action-adventure anime in a six-episode format. It's got a fresh coat of paint, but can Spriggan finally step out of Akira's shadow?
This series is streaming on Netflix
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Jean-Karlo, the way I see it, it's only a matter of time until Netflix stops bankrolling anything that isn't Squid Game: No Murder Edition
or a reality show about hot 20-somethings baking novelty erotic cakes, so we might as well enjoy the "Netflix Originals" we have left. And, all other things being equal, why not go with the one about a kid in a varsity jacket hijacking Noah's Ark?
If the Ark has dinosaurs for once, hey, I'm in. Wouldn't be the worst thing I've seen. Still a better time than Jurassic World
That's a low bar to clear to say the least. Not that I've seen any of the Jurassic World
films, because lmao, but if we're comparing the two, I think I can safely say that the new adaptation of Spriggan is a spiky head and shoulders above in terms of success as loud dumb entertainment.
Now, Spriggan is another old manga that I should love, but I don't actually know anything about. All I know is that Seven Seas will re-release the manga in the U.S. to tie in with this new anime streaming on Netflix. And it hits that lovely 80s-90s anime design of feral-looking people in complicated military hardsuits with realistic firearms shooting at each other (see: the original Ghost in the Shell manga). It's intriguing stuff. And the anime carries the look equally well, even giving the protagonist a sweet bomber jacket. So on that alone: hey, this seems pretty nice.
I only knew the franchise by reputation too, and I've heard the '90s movie is pretty great if you're into that era's flavor of anime action. But going into Spriggan blind, I don't know what I expected, but what I got is the most ridiculous confluence of military futurism and ancient occultism since my last experience with a Metal Gear
game. Like, the very first scene features a guy who stepped out of a gimmick boss fight. Even the name is perfectly absurd.
Oh, that guy crawled out of Outer Heaven for sure. But let's pull back from tactical espionage action for a minute so we can set the stage.
So, apparently ancient civilizations existed and they've left all kinds of artifacts that are beyond even modern technology in terms of power, craftsmanship, and danger. These artifacts are called OOPArts—"Out-Of-Place Artifacts". The organization ARCAM scours the globe searching for OOPArts, in order to safeguard them and ensure they're not used by evil people to take over the world or whatever. To best ensure this goal, they employ an elite group of mercenaries code-named "Spriggans", who use technology inspired by OOPArts in order to retrieve and protect these findings. In Cornish lore, Spriggans were fae that guarded the treasures in barrows (and the show points this out).
You had me at OOPArts. More creators need to be brave enough to use names that silly to describe objects that dangerous. And in practice, all these acronyms and proper nouns are just there to open the door for any piece of myth or legend to become the McGuffin of the Day for a given arc. Bad guys want them, and it's up to the good guys to protect them. And our goodest guy is Yu Ominae here, part-time muscle suit enthusiast, part-time high school student.
For the record, "OOPArt" is a real-world term used to describe bizarre artifacts like the Nazca Lines, the Piri Reis map, or the Quimbaya artifacts—which Yu namedrops in the first episode. There is a prevailing line of thought that basically boils down to "No culture that existed south of Italy prior to the 1900s could have built its pyramids without alien intervention because their hammers and ropes were too primitive" (a conspiracy theory I hold in deep contempt). History Channel fishwrap notwithstanding, people do find weird stuff that makes no historical sense all the time. It's just a field of archeology that gets hijacked by a lot of kooks, sadly.
Also, it features a tragic lack of orichalcum-based power armor and high-tech karate.
Normally, we'd go into complicated things like the other core characters or the running arcs, but Spriggan... doesn't really have any. This is a six-episode show, with each episode covering about 45 minutes' worth of a self-contained arc where Yu Ominae gets roped into searching for some OOPArt or other while a new character they've apparently known for years pops in. And I actually appreciate this! It's very Columbo
-esque in letting our protagonist waltz into a plot, have his fun, then go back to his ordinary life. It also helps illustrate how big this world is that so many other figures exist, constantly popping in and out of Yu's life as he goes on missions for ARCAM—which is no mean feat. Apparently, ARCAM's missions are so frequent that Yu has the reputation of being the "Eternal Truant" at his school. Poor guy's on the verge of being held back a year.
Yeah, structurally, it really feels like an '80s or '90s OVA series where you could just pop one in your VCR and enjoy about an hour of over-the-top violence and wild conspiracy theories. It's not trying to be any deeper or more serious than that, and that's definitely to its benefit.
It's a curious format to see return but I'm glad they did it and I definitely wish it was one they took advantage of more often... but on the other hand, the Spriggan manga also hails from an older time where that kind of storytelling was much more commonplace. A lot of manga these days probably wouldn't work as weird hour-long specials because they're just not paced for that kind of storytelling. Everything is far too serialized for that.
It's a remnant of a bygone era—not unlike an OOPArt, now that I think about it. But unlike the OOPArts in the show, I can think we can enjoy this one without having to worry about a guy with a weird flame scepter trying to murder us or anything.
Honestly the first episode is probably the least strange one, and it's still about resurrecting a big snake that lives under Mt. Fuji.
It's also a good introduction to the characters; Yu is tasked with helping an archeology wunderkind (she's only 16 but already a college-level archeologist). It helps that Professor Rie Yamabishi was an old childhood friend of Yu's; they'd both grown up at the same orphanage and Yu was a good friend to her.
Yu being Rie's old friend is a plot twist in the first episode, by the way, but he's nice enough to want to help her finish the mission as soon as he can so she has more time to have fun in Japan and maybe find the childhood friend (who isn't telling her he's right next to her, the stinker). That's a kind of playful mischief I like about old protagonists. He's like a less-aggressive Yusuke Urameshi.
The first episode also does a good job priming you for how the other episodes are written. There's always a dangerous artifact that was just discovered. Yu gets a sidekick who he has some history with. There are bad guys and henchmen that instigate two or more flashy fight scenes. And so on. Spriggan has a pretty set formula, built out of the action film clichés of the time, but they're clichés for a reason! They work, and they leave plenty of room for Spriggan to flaunt its paramilitary prowess (the "para" stands for "paranormal").
We see a lot of that in the first episode, which walks us through the basics of Yu's power suit. It's made out of orichalcum and it magnifies his physical strength several times over, so he's effectively bulletproof (so long as he covers his face). It also apparently channels some latent telekinetic power Yu can wield into powerful psychic blasts because screw it, everyone was an ESPer in the 80s.
I don't think they mention it by name until the third episode either. But by that point I was like "yeah, of course he has psychic powers too. Why wouldn't he? How else is he gonna bust ghosts?"
Yu's also just a very charismatic protagonist. Archetypal, to be sure, but he's got laidback swagger off the job and steely determination on the job in spades. It's a nice balance of the writing not taking itself too seriously without slathering on the self-awareness either.
I at least appreciate that they don't spend too long dwelling on the weird oogey-boogey aspects of OOPArts, ancient civilizations and psychic powers. Personally, the prevalence of those kinds of conspiracy theories in real-life (and the horrendous consequences from people who believe in them) don't really amuse me anymore. Here, it's all thankfully just window dressing for daring-do. Not my problem if you watch a cartoon and think, "See, this is proof this stuff is real!"
Lol yeah, I also had to remind myself that this was the late '80s and people weren't building media empires out of flat earth YouTube videos back then. Those were simpler times, when you could look at a crystal skull and not have to be reminded of an extremely bad Indiana Jones
Instead, the best moments in Spriggan tend to evoke the good Indiana Jones movies. And it's not coy about that.
See, I was just reminded of Dan Aykroyd's attempt at making vodka.
I've never seen that before and that's all I'm going to be thinking about for the rest of the column, sorry.
But yeah, Spriggan can be really on-the-nose about its tropes. Like this poor sod here who's just two weeks from his honeymoon. Sure hope his wife widow could get a refund...
Death flag so large it could be seen from orbit. I was dying. Not as much as he was though.
I also love how the villains are usually from or working for America. I mean, the Noah's Ark episode has two cyborg henchmen partners named after nukes, Fatman and Little Boy, and they taunt with allusions to football and ham. God bless the USA.
Little Boy and Fatman apparently hail from Trident, a mercenary group funded by a trio of inter-national companies that are also seeking OOPArts--only their desire is to weaponize them. They're not doing a good job of it, though, because so many of the people they hire tend to go rogue and try to use the OOPArt for their own goals... or just get dunked on by Yu. And if Yu isn't ripping them a new one, his new friend-of-the-week is. Like this guy here, the Frenchman Jean Jacquemonde! I like Jean, he's just a fast guy with a shotgun. It's refreshingly old-fashioned, coming from the same school of anime character design as Leorio where he's just a guy with a pocket knife.
Back in the good old days when all you needed was like two character traits total, and one of them could just be "is French." Though I shouldn't sell Jean short, because he's also a furry. I mean werewolf. I mean lycanthrope.
Meanwhile, the guy the Pentagon left in charge of commandeering Noah's Ark is a kid they gave the Akira
treatment. This episode rules.
This kid has all these action figures on his desk and is playing on a Nintendo Switch when he's introduced. I wanna check out the manga now to see if the Switch was originally a Game Boy and if the toys were cheeky unauthorized depictions of little He-Man toys or whatever.
I'm just so tickled that everyone calls him Colonel MacDougall, he possesses these incredible psychic powers, and meanwhile he looks like he's about to say a racial slur over voice chat.
This is also the episode with Noah's Ark being locked away in the ice of Mt. Ararat (where it allegedly landed after the biblical Great Flood). As it turns out, the Ark isn't just a big boat that held two of every animal; it's both a weather control device (which could create a global flood) and a bio-lab that can create life-forms. There are even creatures that don't exist in the fossil record stowed away in the Ark.
That's the beauty of Spriggan too. Even when it deals with familiar objects of lore, it reinterprets them as these hi-tech wonders from incomprehensibly advanced civilizations, so you never know what you're gonna get until, for instance, Noah's Ark starts melting the ice caps. That's fun stuff.
Also, re-creating the final boss to Metal Gear Rising
. 🎵 Standing here, I realize... 🎵
The elevator pitch for the show is basically "Metal Gear meets Indiana Jones." And I wouldn't be surprised at all if Metal Gear took a lot of its cues from the Spriggan manga. There are so many fights here that would be completely unchanged if you only swapped Yu for Solid Snake.
There's a later fight against a guy who's basically roided-up Colonel Campbell who's basically doing The Boss's "Remember the basics of CQC!"-shtick, but we'll get there later. For now, the Noah's Ark arc ends rather poignantly: as it turns out, being enhanced with powerful telekinesis isn't really comfortable. Getting trounced by Yu and Jean is about the first thing that happens to MacDougall that gives him any reprieve.
Yoshino! I love her so much! She's so cute in her little hiking ensemble and she's such a money-grubbing little gremlin with amazing face game and she's PACKING HEAT!
Best character in the series by far, buoyed by how much the animators clearly love drawing her. She's the most expressive cast member by a mile, and it's always endearing to see her erode Yu's willpower simply by being more annoying than he is.
Also, she's just a high schooler, just like Yu. It's amusing to think how she affords such ridiculously expensive hardware like whatever kind of gun she's slinging (folks, what make and model is it? I'm mildly curious, sound off in the forums) and her many grenades. Especially since she's an independent grave robber without the backing of people like ARCAM or Trident.
Oh yeah, Yu's ARCAM liaison, a sweaty pencil-pusher type, delivers the best line the whole series during this arc.
This episode does lean more into the supernatural, but it's more of a fantastical "Indiana Jones" thing ("You betrayed Shiva!") than anything else; Yu and Yoshino find themselves in a forest in India that's been cursed by the resentment of an ancient hero-king who lost his consort. The recipe for Soma, godly elixir of immortality, is somewhere in the forest, so ARCAM and Trident (and Yoshino) are quick to hunt it down. But the ghosts in the forest, uh... turn people into tree monsters.
Except this guy, which is a good, because it means we get to do another classic trope: foes forming a temporary alliance to fight a common enemy, i.e. the tree ghosts.
That there is Akatsuki, who's apparently another old rival of Yu. I like Akatsuki; he apparently likes tokusatsu-hero-themed chocolate bars. This really endeared him to me. Don't ask me why, but if I see a guy who likes him some henshin heroes and isn't afraid to snack on stuff with their face on it then I'm immediately endeared to them. I like thinking of him kicking back in his apartment and he has a little shelf of his favorite S.H. Figuarts. Judging by the wrapper, that looks like a palette-swapped Kamen Rider Saber, but given the era the manga is from I think it's supposed to be a cheeky shout-out to Masakazu Katsura's Wingman
I just like him because he's the rare anime character in my age cohort who doesn't look like he's already at death's door.
Shut up, Yoshino.
That exchange between the two was cute too, by the way. Any adventure is immediately better with Yoshino around.
His gruff merc schtick also contrasts nicely with Yu's youthful naivety. And I have to imagine that, if there's an endgame to Spriggan, it probably has to do with exactly this. I mean, even if ARCAM are the good guys on a relative scale, locking up all the superpowered ancient artifacts in one warehouse is just asking for trouble.
Yoshino is also apparently a medium, which helped her speak to a mummified monk, that was fun. But the episode has a nice ending to it, mixing a good bit of foreshadowing with a good bit of poetic justice: Yoshino almost-steals the recipe to Soma (and has it saved to her phone), but it turns out that the recipe requires an extinct flower.
I'll reiterate, I'm really glad the show lets itself be so shamelessly goofy. Like, the next episode has a ticking clock because Yu promises to run the relay race at his school's sports day, but another rogue artifact threatens to make him miss the date. Now THAT'S drama.
It's actually rather touching: one of Yu's classmate is transferring and she wants Yu to be at the sports festival before she leaves. Yu evidently spends only enough time around his classmates to know their names, but he cares enough to want to keep his promise for his classmate. He's a soldier for a secret organization, but Yu is still a teenager and he's got a big heart when it comes to his peers. That warmth is very refreshing in him. Ya gotta love delinquents with hearts of gold.
The Lieutenant-Colonel agrees!
Anyway, the bad old thing du jour that time is a big clunky robot called the Berserker. And this is probably a good time to mention that a lot of the show's fight scenes are handled with 3DCG. It's usually serviceable, if not pretty good, but the textures on the Berserker are the worst-looking thing in the entire show. Real PS1 pre-rendered cutscene-ass textures. Sticks out like a sore bump-mapped thumb.
It reminds me of Masamune Shirow's art where everyone is really shiny and the machines and monsters are extremely uncanny-looking CG abominations. Provided, Spriggan (and a lot of recent shows) also use CG for crowd shots. It's a decent-enough shortcut. As for this one Berserker... yeah, bad stuff man. I expect a slicked-up, wasp-wasted woman in spandex and a guy with a horse-head to walk in after him.
There's not much more to say about this episode, outside of Colonel Maria Clemente being redeemed as a person (she's not entirely career-minded) and Yu managing to make it to his sports festival just in time.
The next one, though? Straight-up crystal skulls and Nazis. I can only wonder if this inspired Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
If it did, that movie has a lot of explaining to do, because this is by far my favorite episode out of the bunch. It handily delivers everything I want out of this show, from the souped-up occultism, to the freaky henchmen, to our hero punching Nazis. It's the ideal form of Spriggan.
There's so much sublime out-of-context material in this episode too. I am almost loathe to explain any of it.
Most importantly: the Nazis are dunked on and die like vermin in the desert, choking on their own venom. Rest in pieces.
The villain is a total clownshow too. He just talks about Hitler nonstop, to the extent that it even weirds out his Übermensch Aryan sidekick. Just think about how much of a Nazi you have to be to make other Nazis uncomfortable with how much of a Nazi you are.
And the show nonstop dunks on him for the full episode by having him profess these delusions of grandeur in front of a tiny goofy-looking crystal skull. Just perfect.
It's sure cathartic to see the one bulked-up Nazi get dunked on by Yu's teacher, to the point where this giant blond guy is just crying like a baby. The tears are delicious.
And then the final episode deals with an island that vanishes into time and space! Thankfully, it's not Atlantis--it's just a weird island with piezoelectrical pyramids and lots and lots of shipwrecks.
This is also the episode where Not-Campbell teaches Yu to remember the basics of CQC. As it turns out, he was once a member of ARCAM but left due to ideological differences between himself and the organization. This is a reocurring-enough theme to where I really wish we could get more episodes in the hopes of us finally seeing Yu butt heads with Arcam over something. Instead, all we get are really cool knife fights.
And the knife fights are really cool, so even if we don't get further Spriggan seasons, I think they made the right call going the more episodic route here. Like I said earlier, it made it feel like a cool OVA anthology. Plus, this story features the return of Yoshino, and isn't that what's most important?
The episode does end with a new figure infiltrating Yu's school under orders to kill him, but that's about it as far as serialization. And considering how recently this show came out there are no plans yet for a second season. Which is a shame, I do hope we get more. With that said, I hope Netflix tightens up their subtitling because their QC on their subs is bad
. There were a lot of times where there were some clear errors with the subtitles mis-hearing the dialogue; "Mech inventory" vs "Mech infantry", "don't wonder" vs "don't wander
"... sure hope all that downsizing was worth it! /sarcasm
Yeah I noticed a lot of weird transcription errors in the dub subtitles like that. They only make sense if someone was transcribing by ear, but why would they do that if there was a perfectly good dub script that somebody had to type up and distribute? Then again, though, if I know one thing about large corporations, it's that management will always find the most circuitous and wasteful way of doing things.
I mean, hell, ARCAM was shocked that it kept losing platoons to a place literally called The Forest of No Return. That's not a joke, that's just how capitalism works.
Anyway, Spriggan is a lot of fun. I really hope folks check it out! It's a quick-and-dirty throwback to the old violent OVAs of the 1980s and 90s and it's good popcorn entertainment. The dub is really fun, and the writing is snappy and witty. I really hope we get more!
Agreed! In fact, you could say I'm springing for more Spriggan.