Spriggan review: archeology and fighting on Netflix
Available on Netflix starting June 18, 2022, Spriggan is the new animated adaptation of the homonymous manga by Hiroshi Takashige and Ryoji Minagawa published in 11 volumes from 1989 to 1996, and arrived in our country thanks to Planet Manga. This is the first production for the small screen based on the series, as the only predecessor is a feature film – also animated – released in Japanese cinemas in 1998 and which has become in its own way a classic like the original work, thanks to the signature of the legendary Katsuhiro Otomo.
We have reached the end of the six episodes that make up the first season and we can give you our opinion on the long-awaited return of adventures of treasure protector Yu Ominae. A return that, unfortunately, did not happen in a big way.
Indiana Jones in the new millennium
In our special on the reasons that make Spriggan a cult manga we have introduced its peculiar premise, but let’s make a brief summary.
In an alternative version of the world where fragments of an ancient civilization, extinct due to its progress, have survived to the present day, Arcam is a powerful multinational with seemingly unlimited resources that tries in every way to prevent these finds, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, from ending up in the wrong hands. His agents, called Spriggan, they are soldiers with exceptional skills and equipped with latest generation weapons. Among them there is Yu Ominae, the protagonist of the series, a swashbuckling and somewhat braggart 16-year-old boy, with a turbulent past, who by orders of his superior Yamamoto finds himself fighting against terrorists, communists, Americans and anyone who tries to take possession of the powerful relics of the past. During his free time, Ominae is a normal student in a high school controlled by Arcam herself, the last contact with reality left to him.
At the helm of production we find David Productionthe studio that distinguished itself in the last decade for the animated transposition of the various sagas of the manga The Bizarre Adventures of JoJo, but which recently has amply demonstrated that it deserves its fame not only thanks to the material by Hirohiko Araki: just think of series like Cells at Work! And Fire Force. Staff members include director Hiroshi Kobayashi (Kiznaiver, Dragon Pilot), the expert screenwriter Hiroshi Seko (Jujutsu Kaisen, Attack on Titan) and Shuuhei Handa as character designer and animation director.
The six episodes of Spriggan45 minutes long each, adapt as many stories from the manga, and if we exclude the aesthetic details and the actualization of the context in the modern era, we are faced with a very faithful treatment of the paper worka constant of David Production’s work: just look at the almost 1: 1 replica of the original plates in any anime by JoJo to realize it. Unfortunately, Spriggan is the confirmation that this choice is not automatically the best possible if not accompanied by adequate understanding of the starting material.
An adaptation that misses the mark
Let’s go straight to the point. Spriggan is a discreet action anime that will satisfy lovers of the genreespecially those who are tired of the usual tie-ins of the manga battle shonen of the moment.
Thanks to its tasty mix of themes and suggestions that are also quite different from each other, many of which are now uncommon in the most mainstream branch of current Japanese pop culture, the six episodes of the series flow quickly and smoothly, dragged by the charisma of its protagonist. Yu Ominae, as we have already explained to you in the previous article, is a figure that does not differ from the classic young hero spotless perfect for attracting the audience of teenage readers, but his characterization is convincing and in the course of the episodes we learn more details about his background and his relationship with the other characters. The problem with this adaptation lies in everything else. The work of the David Production staff is limited to doing the bare minimum and fails to replicate the caciarona atmosphere dominated by paranoid and conspiratorial tones present in the original work, a feature that is further compromised by the choice of setting the events in the modern era (without any benefit), thus losing all references to the context of the period in which she was conceived. At the same time, this clumsy attempt at rejuvenation has the only result of amplify the intrinsic defects of the starting materiallike the repetitive structure of each single story.
The plot followed is in fact always the same, as well as the resolution of the events, predictable and free of bite. It doesn’t help that, being just the first few chapters, so many aspects of the fascinating narrative context (the darker sides of Arcam, the real secret behind the artifacts, etc.) are barely mentioned. The second seasonwhich without too many spoilers is almost a certainty, will have the opportunity to make up for these shortcomings, but for the moment we can do nothing but give a negative opinion.
A similar argument applies to i secondary characters, which, apart from very few cases, such as the nice treasure hunter Yoshino Somei and the boss of Yu, arrive and disappear within a single episode without having the time (and the qualities) to remain etched in the viewer’s memory. Here, too, they don’t lend a hand dialogues without depth that dominate much of the series’ minutes, full of exchanges that add little or nothing to what is being told at that moment and further penalized by an Italian adaptation that seemed too flat to us.
Ups and downs also as regards the artistic and technical apparatus of the production, which is affected by the inevitable comparison with the 1998 film made by Studio 4 ° C and supervised by Katsuhiro Otomo, known to fans for his high-level animations, a real feast for the eyes even today.
David Production’s work, although it can in no way compete with its illustrious predecessor, is well made and makes very dynamic and effective action scenes, thanks to an excellent direction and a skilful use of CGI, well integrated with the backgrounds and other elements created with the most traditional techniques. The character design is a pleasant compromise between the retro effect of Ryoji Minagawa’s original designs and a more modern and salable style to the new generations, even if something more could have been done to fight the anonymity of secondary characters and of the villains: the most striking example is Colonel MacDougall, the child with Esper powers antagonist of the second episode that anyone who has already seen the film knows well. Unfortunately, in the second tranche of episodes (from the fourth to the sixth), we witness a a fairly sharp drop in the quality of the drawings and animationswhich is not such as to ruin the usability of the product but which returns the unpleasant impression that the anime was made by two different studios, when obviously this is not the case.
Problems of this kind are the norm in Japanese animation of television type, where many studios subcontract the realization of certain sequences to collaborators to reduce time and costs, but it is surprising to see them also in productions that are born as ONA (Original Net Anime), or to be distributed directly in the streaming circuit.
Composer Taisei Iwasaki (Beautiful, Kekkai Sensen) signs the soundtrack, which he proposes dynamic and captivating songs which perfectly accompany the numerous action scenes, but which in some situations (fortunately few) we found excessively emphatic if not out of place.
Nothing to say about the Japanese dub, which sees Chiaki Kobayashi (James Moriarty in Moriarty the Patriot) in the role of the impetuous protagonist, just as the performance of Alex Polidori – the official voice actor of Tom Holland and Timothée Chalamet – in the same role, although often failing to render his bravado as convincing as his Japanese colleague. Also promoted the rest of the Italian cast, which sees the participation of important names in the sector such as Carlo Valli (voice of the never forgotten Robin Williams).