© 1998 Hiroshi Takashige - Ryoji Minagawa/Shogakukan - Bandai Visual - TBS - Toho
Pay attention to any of the Spriggan hype and you'll most likely find a lot of comparison to Katsuhiro Otomo's classic, Akira. That's not surprising, given that Otomo supervised the production of Spriggan, and the comparisons are warranted, at least at face value. Akira features specially-powered individuals, shady government research, questionable military involvement, and slick production values. Spriggan also features specially-powered individuals, shady government research, questionable military involvement, and slick production values. What Spriggan doesn't feature, however, are the interesting characters and complex, involving story which made Akira into a classic.
The story begins with the discovery of Noah's Ark, buried on Mt. Ararat. It seems Noah's Ark is more than just a giant sea-going vessel, being significantly larger than the biblical version and made out of some unknown material. The Ark, in fact, is a giant technological device with incredible power to affect the mere existence of life on Earth.
Two sides are interested in obtaining the Ark: a secretive organization known as ARCAM and the United States of America. We're cheering for ARCAM's side in this flick, as we soon meet the protagonist, ARCAM's top agent, Yu Ominae. While appearing to be a normal high school student, Yu is what's known as a "Spriggan" (hence the title) and possesses athletic ability far beyond a normal human. He learns of the Ark's discovery when one of his classmates disappears, then re-appears toting explosives and a sinister message: "Noah will be your grave". Yu wastes no time in responding and promptly sets off for Turkey and Mt. Ararat.
On the other side of things we have the United States and their own brand of super-soldier (dubbed the "U.S. Machine Corps", ha ha). The U.S., it seems, is exercising the very imperialist view that they have to remain the number one world power. And to do so, naturally, they must possess the Ark. Mind you, there is little reason given as to why the U.S. covets the Ark so heavily to take such extreme measures to get it. Maybe the director was trying to convey something here; or maybe not.
While the plot looks decent on paper, it is completely secondary when actually delivered. Spriggan is all about action; loud, explosive, in-your-face action. Fortunately, the choreography is simply beautiful. The first action sequence best illustrates this. Yu, beset upon by thugs after arriving in Turkey, is forced to race through inner city streets dodging gunfire and defeating his foes with sheer grace and speed. The animation is remarkable, especially one short clip in which the "camera" follows Yu as he leaps off a building, before grabbing onto a wire to break his fall. Similar sequences follow, and with more super-soldiers arriving on the scene, the action gets bigger, louder, and more spectacular. Fortunately, the production values keep up.
Despite checking my brain at the door, I had some trouble enjoying Spriggan. There seemed to be little breathing room in between each battle, and I began to grow disinterested wondering when the plot was going to show up. The story becomes more important in the second half of the movie, with lots of pseudo-religous and pseudo-science discussion. Unfortunately, the plot elements remain quite basic, and I was left wishing that as much effort had been put into the narrative as the action.
Character development is also virtually nonexistent. The exception is Yu, whose background is revealed with various flashbacks to explain how he became such a skilled and deadly operative. Part way into the story, we meet Jean Jacques Mondo, a fellow Spriggan with lightening quick reflexes and a handy shotgun. Also on ARCAM's side are two scientists, the kindly old Dr. Miesal, and his catatonic assistant, Margaret. The antagonists are led by Colonel MacDougall, a gifted psionic and the product of twisted genetic experiments. I was very disappointed that, despite a fair amount of screen time, MacDougall's character is woefully two-dimensional and uninteresting. Little reason for his motivation and actions are given, other than he's just plain insane.
One issue which really grated on my nerves was the dialog portion of the Japanese audio track. The audio was recorded in a manner so if a character is further away from the "camera", their dialog is significantly quieter. This would've been fine, except that in many instances I had to turn up the volume to even hear the words. And a few moments later I'd find myself in the middle of a deafening action sequence, for which I'd need to dial the volume down again (wouldn't want to wake the neighbors). A nice idea in theory, I suppose, but poor in execution.
For over-the-top mayhem, Spriggan delivers. The action sequences and animation, however, come at the expense of the story-telling and character development. At the very least, Spriggan makes a good rental. I just wish it had been a little more inspired.
The Verdict: * * * (average)
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