DRAWN & QUARTERED
Anime tackle world conquest, order
Ah, what a wonderful world Earth is. If only there weren't any humans on it.
It's usually this kind of sentiment that leads to the most sensational fiction plots by environmentalists gone off the deep end or power-hungry madmen sick of the human race. It's the impetus for two manga-based anime, "Blue Submarine No. 6" and "Spriggan."
In the waterlogged world of "Blue Submarine No. 6," the enemy is human scientist Zorndyke and his literally monstrous forces -- all beastlike, amphibious, sentient creatures that he created.
Zorndyke is out to destroy the world, and he's doing so by melting the ice caps and shifting the earth's magnetic poles to cause a dramatic change in climate. To stop him, the submarines in the international Blue Fleet are about to undertake a final, desperate mission to destroy Zorndyke and his base in Antarctica.
For this, commander Iga of the key Blue 6 submarine sends out two crew members to fetch Tetsu Hayami. Formerly part of Blue 6, he's now a surly freelance salvager who will recover anything if he's paid enough.
The reluctant Hayami is dragged in only after an attack on his shabby town by Zorndyke's forces. On the sub, old memories haunt him, and when a surprise attack on the Blue Fleet's main base forces the humans' hand, Hayami is determined to meet face to face with Zorndyke himself.
There are so many plot holes in the anime that it seems the computer-generated action sequences and moral musings are meant to try to cover them up. It's never said exactly why Blue 6 is so special or what's so amazing about Hayami that Iga was so intent on getting him back. Nor do we find out what exactly is the role of the girl Huang (or Howan, depending on which spelling in the subtitles you decide to accept). Perhaps these were explained in the original manga by Satoru Ozawa, but we won't know any time soon since it was never published in English.
What "Blue Submarine" is really all about is its message. The supposed enemy's vision is monstrous, both in scope and horror, and all in the name of cutting down human arrogance a notch or two. His creatures, their savagery despised only because it is aimed at the human race, actually do not prey on people, and Zorndyke envisions that if only the two races would talk, they would learn much from each other.
At the same time, the scientist is looking at the larger picture of humanity's relationship with Earth. As he says, "The world will not be destroyed. It will merely change."
We're not destroying the world with our actions -- we're simply rendering it unfit for human life, thereby allowing other life forms to dominate.
Zorndyke's message -- perhaps the message we should be sending out to people -- is that it's not really the environment we're saving by changing our ways. We're saving ourselves.
THE BIBLICAL concept of washing the world of its sins (and by extension humans, the makers of those sins) also plays a role in "Spriggan."
In the near future, the remains of an ancient but technologically superior civilization are unearthed at sites around the world. Because of these relics' power, a special force called ARCAM is created to protect those sites. ARCAM's elite agents are the Spriggan.
Seventeen-year-old Yu Ominae is the top Spriggan and has made some powerful enemies. After finishing a mission, the boy tries to resume his school life. But it's almost immediately disrupted when a classmate calls him to the roof: When Yu gets there, the other teen shows that he's wired with bombs -- then pushes the button.
Yu finds out the ghastly incident is linked to some artifact called the Ark, and demands answers from his superior. Turns out the Ark is believed to be the legendary Ark of the Covenant -- the exact one mentioned in the Bible. The boy heads to the excavation site in Turkey, where at once he's the target of gunmen.
The Spriggan's opponent is a certain country that wants the Ark, along with the ARCAM scientist, Dr. Meisel, who's been studying it. Oh, fine, I'll say it: It's the United States.
The Pentagon sends out its android soldiers led by Col. MacDougall, a child with amplified brain power. This gives him deadly psychic powers, but also makes him fragile: He's prone to extreme headaches, and one wrong move spells brain death for him.
While Yu races to rescue Meisel from MacDougall, the colonel reveals the Ark's true abilities and is hell-bent on using it to solve the world's problems -- one way or another.
Based on part of the manga by Hiroshi Takashige and Ryoji Minagawa (which was renamed "Striker" in the United States), the anime tones down the anti-U.S. sentiment that got the manga heavily edited by U.S. publisher Viz in the late '90s and canned after just three of its 11 volumes. The movie's characterization of the U.S. is at once both so mismatched and perfect that it's funny, at least from a cynic's standpoint. Really -- the U.S. leadership being utterly concerned about the environment? Laughably inaccurate. America intent on world domination? So satirically true.
Any country could have been put in its place -- Russia, China, North Korea -- and still it would have just been a nation's name, nothing more. If the issue were more relevant, perhaps it could have said something about America's lust for power. Instead, it comes off as a convenient plot device.
Aside from the U.S. factor, there's not much to set "Spriggan" apart. The most enjoyable part of the anime is watching French Spriggan Jean-Jacques Mondo kick butt in a cool, collected, suave manner. But it's the hints and revelation of Yu's past that keep the movie interesting.
For the curious, all three volumes of the Viz "Striker" can be found online at Amazon.com. The first few pages of Volume 1 already mention "CIA wimps," so the rest of the books should prove an even more intriguing read. Singapore-based publisher Chuang Yi has reached up to nine volumes of their English translation, but those can be found only in Australia and certain Southeast Asian countries.