Some films survive, others are forgotten. Hirotsugu Kawasaki's Spriggan [Supurigan] is definitely part of the latter category. The film was actually a pretty big deal back when it was first released, but through the years, for some unexplained reason, attention waned and it slowly started to slip from our collective minds. I really liked it back then though, so I figured it was time to wipe off the dust and see whether it still packed a punch. And I have to say, after a somewhat slow start it still delivered.
Like so many anime features, Spriggan is based on a manga. Rather than churn out a quick cash-in and be done with it, the job was off-loaded to Studio 4°C, one of Japan's most prestigious production studios. Kawasaki got his first shot at directing a feature film, Katsuhito Otomo (of Akira fame) was brought in to produce the project. Otomo's influence is very much felt throughout the entire production, so fans of Akira should do well to give this one a chance.
But Spriggan isn't just some random Akira knock-off, it's very much a thing of its own. It can be violent and extremely over the top, but there are also more thoughtful elements to it. The material's fantastical interpretation of the Cold War history only further adds to its uniqueness. This does mean there's quite a lot of content and different genres to go through, and knowing there's only about 90 minutes to fit everything in it should come as no surprise that the pacing is quite high. Don't go in expecting to find a well-balanced and elaborately constructed film, instead sit back and enjoy the rollercoaster ride.
Spriggan revolves around Yu, a young operative working for an organization that prevents companies and nations from toying with OOPArts (remnants of an older society that hold incredible powers). But once the word is out that the Arc of Noah is discovered, the US decides to move in regardless. After the US attacks the Turkish discovery site, Yu is quickly brought in to fight off a slew of formidable adversaries and ends up entangled in a battle to save the world from annihilation. Clearly, Spriggan is the kind of film where things escalate rather quickly.
Visually there are two distinct sides to the film. On the one hand, colors are a little murky, the character designs somewhat inconsistent and bits and parts of the CG are definitely starting to show their age. But the animation in Spriggan is still gobsmackingly beautiful. A lot of the action cinematography mimics real-life action cinema and does a pretty spectacular job at that, with quite a few memorable first-person shots and some very impressive tracking shots. Not an easy thing to pull off in (traditional) animation. It's in these moments that the film truly shines and that Studio 4°C proves once again that its reputation is entirely justified.
The soundtrack is pretty interesting. Maybe just a little too loud and overdone, I wouldn't have minded a slightly more subtle approach, but Kawasaki makes sure that it always creates an impact of its own. Some very nice tracks in there too, though I'm not quite confident that they would survive on their own. That said, within the context of the film they really add to the atmosphere. The sound effects are also pretty neat, the sound of the vulcan gun in particular left quite an impression. Dub-wise though, the American dub is truly one of the worst I ever heard. Stay as far away from it as you can and just go with the original Japanese dub, which may not be too remarkable, but at least isn't as horribly grating.
The first third of Spriggan is somewhat slow, so don't expect to be thrown into the action right away. Kawasaki uses this time to introduce the characters, explain some of the film's weirder concepts and show a little teaser of the action that is to come. The middle part is where the mayhem truly unravels, featuring several outrageous action scenes with lots of hand and gunfighting, destruction and people dying. The final third slows down again and moves into Akira territory, with larger than life concepts being thrown around and everything spiralling out of control, ultimately threatening humanity's existence. This mish mash of styles may not appeal to everyone, but at the very least it keeps the film interesting.
Spriggan is a pretty fun and over the top anime feature, but only for those who can handle the silliness. There's a lot of insane action and fantastical ideas to keep you occupied, but don't expect anything much beyond an exciting rollercoaster ride. Animation fans can look forward to the spectacular animation and the soundtrack is pretty on point too, so there's plenty to like here. Just sit back, buckle up and give the film a little time to get started. It's not Studio 4°C's best work, but it's still way better than most of the competition.