zipang (ジパング jipangu) was apparently the first mention of japan in a western account, by marco polo, who took it from chinese -- it was a golden land of legend. the anime is based on the seinen manga (demographic: post-teenage men) of the same name by kawaguchi kaiji, which is serialized in kodansha weekly morning.
the japanese maritime self-defense force vessel mirai (= future), an aegis missile destroyer, along with a couple of other vessels, is enroute to a joint maneuvre with US forces in hawaii. neat the midway islands it encounters strange atmospheric phenomena and when the storm lifts, the mirai finds itself in the middle of a large fleet -- which turns out to be the main imperial japanese naval fleet on the evening of june 4, 1942, just before the battle of midway begins.
if you're now going "huh? what are YOU doing watching this" i can't blame you. i usually avoid military anything like the plague. there is no mansex, and i don't even have the usual excuse that my favourite seiyuu are in this. i found the manga through looking at japanese award-winner lists and it sounded interesting, IF it were to mostly look at the ethical problems such an SFnal plot would provide. and since i've had generally good luck with seinen, i torrented down a few episodes, prepared to stop watching right away if it was all fascination with military hardware and battles.
at 7 the next morning i finished watching the final episode. it was so good, i didn't want to stop watching. there was a little fascination with military hardware, and yeah, there was plenty of action, but the majority of the story was about exactly what i had hoped it might be -- in such a situation will we change history if we act? and if, do we care? if we act, how? rescue people? join the fight? try to end the war? who is our enemy? what do we do if somebody wants to use our power and puts sufficient pressure on us so we can't just walk away? different people had widely varying motivations and rationales; the anime is very strong in defining characters, well-nuanced characters at that, and there is character development as well -- people change under pressure. there was overall refreshingly little jingoism -- no "japan good, US bad", though individual characters had their own opinions.
i learned a good bit of history while watching as well because i kept looking up names and their roles in reality. from what i could tell, while the interactions with the mirai and its crew were of course fictitious, the characters based on real people were done quite well. i can't say in how far the military details were true to reality, but the show had an advisor from the JDS, so it is probably reasonable. some things made no sense to me (the mirai crew itself was well aware of resupply problems, but nobody else who wanted to get their hands on it seemed to be, but maybe i underestimate how quickly a war machine that's 60 years behind could manufacture tomahawk missiles if it got a sample). but that didn't bother me a whole lot; most things seemed realistic to me.
art-wise the anime is quite fine -- though the military hardware got much more lovingly drawn detail as compared to the humans, *snicker*, but the humans are for the most part not hard to distinguish from each other. a lack of eye whites in many characters was mildly offputting, and i would have generally preferred a little more facial detail; they looked a little simplistic, especially compared to the hardware. the effects were mostly good, except some of the CG integration was a little rough. the music was excellent, as was the cinematography. the voice acting was fine, though nobody from my a-list was cast in it; miyano mamoru (yagami light in death note
) has a minor role, nojima kenji (sakamoto harumi in princess princess
) a secondary one.
it has no cute, no fan service, no homoerotic subtext (yeah, yeah, i know, on a ship filled with men there's gotta be some, but honestly -- i don't want to slash any of these guys, there are bigger issues). it's historically interesting since most of us probably never learned much about the japanese side of things. it's mature. it's thoughtful. the scene where kusaka is in the mirai's library and reads about how WWII ends for japan moved me almost to tears. (he's an information officer whose plane was shot down, and he's been rescued by the mirai -- "zipang", the golden land of legend, is his dream for his country.)
there are 26 episodes (all fansubbed), and while that reaches by far not the end of the manga (which is 34 volumes and ongoing) it is a logical place in which to end, it doesn't just leave the viewer hanging. well, the story between kusaka and kadumatsu (kusaka's rescuer) hangs, but i can live with that. it'd be great if there were to be a sequel though.zipang
has been licensed in english by geneon, but i've not heard the dub, and y'all know how i feel about american dubs in general. i'll be putting this one on my list to buy for when my japanese is good enough. i want to read the manga very badly, but only 9 chapters have been scanlated, by an inactive group. *sigh*. i might just buy it and try for myself, but oy, that's a major undertaking.
if you want to have an intro before torrenting it down (there are active torrents): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVYNLb0nXe0