2013. november 21., csütörtök

Zipang - Ode to an extinct order, the Imperial Japanese Navy

Cover for the English edition on DVD. Wikimedia.
I have to admit that my knowledge at the anime world is very limited. Since the Akira, which I did not really comprehend I hadn’t watched another. But when I had stumbled upon the anima-series Zipang I was genuinely surprised how mature and intelligent work I was looking at. Cultural differences did not limit my understanding of this manga adaptation, and the 26 episodes had a great promise for quality entertainment. If you like history or big battleships, if you find astounding situations and how human-like characters handle them fascinating, you cannot go wrong with Zipang.

Zipang – for a different Japan

Plot quality

It's not the first time that science-fiction and alternate history writers toy around with time travel. One liked plot element is that high-tech military hardware appears in the distant past . Think about Confederate soldiers of the American Civil War with AK-47s or what if Napoleon had a B-52 bomber by Waterloo. Rest assured, nothing as stupid like the latter here. But after a Bermuda-triangle-like experience, one advanced warship of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces runs into an unknown armada, which set sail for a mission with crucial importance and historical significance.
This scene never ceases me to give the goosebumps. The Mirai on collision course with the biggest and meanest battleship ever built. At least the writers didn't make it a spaceship this time. No pun intented, Starblazer-fans.

The Aegis destroyer Mirai has enough firepower to sweep away waves of piston engined attack planes or  to destroy whole contemporary battle fleets. This might well sound like the Final Countdown movie from 1979, except the protagonists switched sides. So much for originality. But the way the storyline of Zipang builds up and showing what lesser known forces were at work then makes you think how different imperial and the post-war Japan could have been? The Pacific War is a goldmine for alternate history novels.

When these shoes are on the other foot. Classic dogfight scene from the movie The Final Countdown

Entertaining factor (SPOILER ALERT!)

Although I have to give a fair warning that Zipang isn’t a revisionist hymn for the Imperial Japan nor an Axis of Time-like historical cataclysm. What Zipang puts into a perspective is how historical and the made-up characters would act if they somehow receive a wake-up call (in that case, the appearance of the Mirai), a hindsight about the end of the line, and how they would struggle to trigger something different and less grim than the looming total defeat.

One big flaw of the series is that it feels unfinished somehow. Like the writers were afraid of the potential of the plot and upsetting national feelings much on both sides of the Pacific. They had touched the plot maybe with too much care and sophistication, and then did not give Zipang a satisfying end.

Who are we? Soldiers of Japan or embassadors of an enlightened future ?


I felt Zipang like a drama of the other then Japan, which is not ultra-nationalist nor warmonger. It is very aware of its own precarious situation, but wants to shape its own future by everybody’s rules nevertheless. This is what makes Zipang particularly interesting for a history buff. The world war and „future” military hardware and tactics, their clashes are well worked out. Someone did watch for the details with enthusiasm.

A scene of the Manga-series. Available on http://manga.animea.net/


But as I tried to imply earlier you shouldn't watch Zipang for glorious Japanese troops armed with high-tech equipment or for a radical (and of course, fictional) rewriting of real-life historical events. Such works exist in the anime world, we might come back to them later. But those are meant strictly for a Japanese  niche audience, and it would be a bad move to introduce them in the West or in different regions of the Far East for that matter… 

Nope, The authors of Zipang wrote for two markets, and the animated version of the series are available in English (if you don't mind certain Japanese officers with a Texan accent), without the danger of upsetting the war winners and their need for feeling righteous much.


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