Spriggan (2022): Anime Review

A long time back I checked out the Spriggan anime film from the library, on the merits of Katsuhiro Otomo’s involvement in the film in a supervisory position. When I learned that the manga series was getting revisited with a new anime series from David Production on Netflix, I figured this was worth checking out. While the series itself is something of a mixed bat, there is some fun to be had here.

Yuu Ominae, the main character of Spriggan

Spriggan follows Yuu Ominae – an agent for an organization known as ARCAM, which has tasked itself with investigating and containing ancient high-tech artifacts known as “Out-Of-Place Artifacts” or OOPArts, many of which were created by various advanced ancient civilizations who have since died out, one of which left a warning that if their inventions cannot be used for good, they should be destroyed at all costs. Yuu is of a particular class of agent known as a “Spriggan”, trained to use armor and weapons derived from this technology to help contain these artifacts – while he lives with the cover identity of an ordinary high school student (though one with the reputation of a delinquent, due to his having to bail on school for missions).

Netflix’s series is very episodic – each episode running 45 minutes (instead of the usual 24 minutes an anime episode takes), with Yuu going on a mission regarding a different OOPArt, and various organizations that are out to control them – organizations that with the exception of the one Evil Nazi episode, has the villains universally be with the US. Though occasionally they have the US and the Russians fighting over the artifact in addition to ARCAM.

This leads to my big awkward issues with the anime. I can forgive a degree of jingoism if the work is also somewhat critical of their jingoism in the process of it, or they subvert it through characters engaging in international collaboration. With the Legendary Pictures Monsterverse movies, while the military forces involved in the movies fighting against various Kaiju (generally ineffectually) are predominantly the US military, the organization coordinating those efforts and finding solutions to various problems – MONARCH – is also typically depicted as an international organization, with Japanese and Chinese scientists working alongside American ones. Also, with the first of the Bayformers movies, for all that film’s faults, it is also a film that has forces in the US government also serve as antagonists to the main characters, while it lacks an international cast. The back half of AMAIM tried to do a similar thing by having the Resistance gather international support (though this didn’t quite work due to some issues with the writing in the first half of the series, combined with geopolitical issues that the studio would have had difficulty anticipating).

In Spriggan, with the exception of one other (French) character, the heroic characters are almost exclusively Japanese, and the antagonists are exclusively anything other than Japanese – with a token exception towards the start of the series, much as there is a token heroic non-Japanese character. Where this is frustrating is, well, as I’ve grown as an anime fan, I’ve also sought to learn more about Japan, Japanese society, and Japanese internal politics. Consequently, I’ve become very aware of the Japanese government’s… refusal to face the music with regard to wartime atrocities in ways that countries like Germany have, and how the position of refusing to acknowledge those atrocities – and opposing those who want them to acknowledge the atrocities – is a position that is often held by those in the Japanese Ultra-Nationalist far-right – and it’s frankly an issue I’ve learned to look out for ever since I learned about how Angel Cop ended.

My problem isn’t with having Japanese characters as heroic characters and point-of-view characters. My problem isn’t even with having every Japanese character (with a solitary exception) being in the right. My problem is with having (with a solitary token exception), everyone of every other named character of any nationality or ethnicity that isn’t Japanese in the work be villainous or otherwise serve as an antagonist or obstacle. If we’d gotten supporting characters working for ARCAM who were Thai, Chinese, Indian, or Egyptian (especially since there’s an episode in Egypt), or Malaysian – maybe even having Yuu teaming up with characters from the countries he’s traveling to over the course of the series on the various adventures – I’d have felt much better about the whole thing.

As far as the rest of the series goes, the animation is generally very well done, though the incorporation of some of the CG is a little rough. David Productions has already established a solid track record with their work on JoJo’s and Cells at Work, and that’s born out here. The violence is exceptionally bloody in a very ‘90s call-back sort of way, considering their previous work on JoJo’s and Cells at Work, which also honestly fits with David Productions’ vibe. Similarly, the core concept of the series is rock solid and engaging, and the characters are really interesting. Ultimately, my complaint is not necessarily with the execution of the series, but likely is one with the source material.

Ultimately, I did enjoy the anime, with those significant reservations. I would hope that if the mangaka were to revisit the world of Spriggan in the modern day, they would use an ARCAM that was more diverse, and consequently had a more diverse cast of characters working alongside Yuu or whatever other Spriggan would be the lead character of the work.

Spriggan is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

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