#1 Unrealized potential
Based on a Kaiji Kawaguchi manga, Zipang is an alternate history anime that ran from 2004 to 2005. It follows the crew of “The Mirai”, the newest, most high-tech vessel in the JSDF fleet. During a joint training session with its American partners, The Mirai is inexplicably warped back to 1942. Just in time to witness the Japanese defeat at Midway.
Obviously shocked by this development, the crew under the guidance of Captain Umezu is faced with a difficult choice. The Mirai has the potential to alter the course of the war whichever way it wants. However, its crew hail from the Japan of the future. A Japan that gave up its imperial ambitions, was reformed by Western ideals, and prospered for many decades. The Japan that invented anime! They decide that the safest way to proceed is by staying as uninvolved as possible. This fails about half a day in, when X.O. Yosuke Kodamatasu dives to the rescue of a drowning, Imperial Japanese officer.
From there, the story becomes one of intrigue. As knowledge of The Mirai spreads through similar incidents, its crew become entangled in politics and infighting. Different factions of the military attempt to manipulate the ship to their benefit, putting The Mirai in danger every step of the way. And that rescued officer, Takumi Kusaka, turns out to be quite the schemer himself. A schemer with a dream.
Zipang did a good job at drawing me into its story. Its a desperate struggle to change as little history as possible, which becomes harder to maintain with each little change made. Its characters were believably-written and had me genuinely wondering who could be trusted. Everyone has an agenda and not all of those line up with the ideals of The Mirai’s crew.
However, Zipang is also terribly slow-moving. Its a lot of conversations and planning, mixed in with historical geekery. Sooner or later, you’ll realize that the story’s massive ambitions can’t possibly fit into its actual runtime. By around episode 20, I lost faith that they could wrap it up decently at all. That did a number on my enthusiasm for the series and soured my experience watching those last few episodes.
Without going into spoilers, Zipang just kinda ends on a half-hearted sequel hook in the middle of nothing. Very little has been achieved and character arcs have only really just started. Hell, some characters didn’t end up getting any significant screentime at all.
No matter how brilliant the premise, by the end of Zipang I just felt like it had been a waste of time. So much setup and intrigue, just for it to fade out without delivering on any of it. In the words of my good friend: Your cliffhanger for season 1 can’t be your villain going “So step 1 of the plan is…”
#2 “Economical” animation
Despite being set at the height of the war in the pacific theater, Zipang is not really that spectacular when you get down to it. Actual confrontations are exceptionally rare, so much of its runtime instead goes to various conversations.
You get hours of people just sitting or standing around to talk. Meetings between officers, the crew strategizing, or just people chatting with each other. That can be fine, but feels particularly static in Zipang. The presentation is so dry and, even then, it sometimes slacks off when it comes to proper mouthflaps. And with little else to look at, these issues are going to be glaringly obvious.
Zipang is also too keen on reusing animation. There are episodes where minutes worth of runtime go towards recapping the episode prior; even if that episode was fairly mild in story developments. At one point I actually thought I’d somehow rewinded, because the episode reused almost the entire second half of the one before it.
#3 Terrible dub
This one’s partly on me. A story rooted so deeply in Japanese history is one I should probably have watched subbed, but I just wasn’t feeling that right now. Instead I watched the English dub by Geneon. A dub that is… not ideal.
Voice work for the main cast is generally alright if unremarkable. It’s the extras and side-characters where most the pain is felt. A lack of voice directing causes the whole dub to feel slapdash, as actors just seemingly do whatever. As such, performances range from merely awkward to suspected sabotage. Some try to mimic a stereotypical Japanese voice, some sound generically English, others compete to see who can do the silliest European accent. Sometimes this was good for a laugh, at other times it was horrible to listen to. Either way, not a good look for a story that tries to present itself so seriously.
There is also a sudden point towards the end where Yosuke suddenly sounds completely different. There was no switch to a different actor as far as I know, but it’s definitely not the same voice. Not sure what happened there.
The Japanese audio track is significantly better, so this point is mostly for any dub purists out there.
More like this…
Hyouge Mono: Contemplative anime about Japanese history.
Saga of Tanya the Evil: Modern person is cast back into a historical setting.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Vastly overpowered naval vessel dunks on local competition.