Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In short: Spriggan (1998)

Turns out all those crackpots were right and the Ancients™ really had technology we can only dream of, but buried it and hid it away once they realized it was even more dangerous than it was useful. Contemporary governments (especially that of the USA, obviously), are not quite as conscientious as our forefathers and are trying to acquire this ancient technology to do evil with it.

Fortunately, the secret international organization known as Arkham (or ARCAM, as the translation calls it in ignorance of all that is right and proper) is out there to protect the world's sanity and continued existence from military pipe dreams. Arkham's top operatives are called Spriggan (or, in parts of Viz' crappy and fragmentary translation of the manga, "Striker"). The the best of the best is Yu Ominae, high school boy by day, awesome fighting machine whenever it is needed.

All is well in Yu's world - or as well as it can be when you're the product of an experimental child soldier project of the USA - when one of his class mates try to kill himself and Yu with a homemade bomb. This attempt on our hero's life comes courtesy of the US Machine Corps, which obviously is the part of the military where they put all of their cyborgs.

Clearly, the bad guys really don't want Yu to stick his nose in their business, even before he knows what business that is supposed to be. Yu will learn soon enough that Arkham has discovered the resting place of Noah's Ark and that the USMC in form of AkiraColonel McDougall - an insane child with telekinetic powers who surely won't develop a god complex and try to use Noah's Ark to wipe out humanity and create a better race in his own image - and two old enemies of Yu's, Fat Man and Little Boy, will do everything to get their hands on it.

Fortunately, Yu is pretty great at killing people (but with heart).

Spriggan is an anime based on a manga by Hiroshi Takashige and Ryoji Minagawa that just may be the answer to the question how the Indiana Jones movies would have looked if their serial trappings had been replaced by some of the typical pre-occupations of a rather violent, slightly cyberpunk-y shonen manga. The answer, clearly, is "still pretty damn great".

Of course, there's nothing original about Spriggan - characters and plot consist of clichés and archetypes that are blatantly ripped-off from somewhere else (it's not difficult to imagine that Katsuhiro Otomo got his producer credit not for any actual work he did on the project, but to convince him not to sue anyone for the parts of Spriggan "borrowed" from Akira). Just as clearly, an anime like this doesn't need to be original if and when it puts all its ill-gotten loot together in entertaining ways.

And entertaining Spriggan is, at least for people who like cyborgs, mad telekinetic children, a bit of the old ultra-violence, crackpot theories about the ancients, semi-psychedelic moments, and very big explosions - and if you don't like those, what ever is wrong with you?

Director, scriptwriter and storyboard artist Hirotsugu Kawasaki (whose best known work was as key animator on Akira, Ninja Scrolls and Ghost in the Shell, which should not come as a surprise to anyone looking at Spriggan) sure knows how to pull all the awesome pieces he got from somewhere else together, putting his trust in his ability to numb an audience's critical faculties by just dragging it from one fast-paced, exciting set piece to the next. That plan results in the anime version of a good blockbuster movie: Spriggan is pleasant to look at, exciting, a bit weird, not completely dumb, and not completely without a heart.


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