It's not very often that a Japanese animated film suffers from too little in the story department, but Hirotsugu Kawasaki's Spriggan (1998) is one such example. The title comes from the Japanese word supurîgan, meaning "striker" (the name of the manga upon which the film was based). This violent, over-the-top sci-fi/action flick is as bombastic as anything Hollywood cranks out---if not more so---but you'll have to check your brain at the door to get the full effect. There's enough scientific mumbo-jumbo to make everything sound official, and the energetic storytelling makes for a fun ride---but this one ends up like any other blockbuster: nice to look at, but ultimately a bit on the shallow side. Still, Spriggan proves to be a relatively breezy 90-minute diversion into the ever-popular battle of good vs. evil, and the top-notch production values help the viewer to forget some of the film's shortcomings.
Besides for an extremely tight pace and terrific action, the artwork of Spriggan is a real standout. Visually, it holds up well against classics of the genre, including Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira (incidentally, Otomo provided general supervision for this film), with great character renderings and an energetic style that suits the story perfectly. Additionally, Spriggan is blessed with some great voice acting. The original Japanese is terrific, but the English dub actually holds up fairly well, offering far less cringe-inducing moments than your average anime. While I'd still choose the original language in a heartbeat---to me, it's as essential as original aspect ratio---the English dub is one of the better efforts I've heard in quite some time.
Still, there's several reasons why Spriggan can't hold up to true anime classics. For starters, the characters leave much to be desired---especially the protagonist, Yu, an agent of peace-keeping organization ARCAM. Basically, he's nothing more than your average supercharged action hero---and, ironically enough, there's hardly anything "animated" about him. The plot is simple enough to make room for the action, but here's what we get: two sides battling for an ancient artifact that grants its owner god-like powers. In all honesty, I sincerely hope the planning stages for the script didn't take any longer than a lunch break. Despite its flaws, though, Spriggan is worth checking out at least once for the terrific action sequences and great artwork. Most won't consider it to be a worthwhile, thought-provoking film, but it's a relatively fun ride if you're not expecting too much. Just remember to pick your brain back up on the way out.
Originally released in April of 2002 by ADV films, Spriggan was a respectable effort on DVD. Offering a pair of 5.1 mixes and an informative audio commentary, there were only a few bases left uncovered. This new 2-disc Special Edition ups the ante a bit, though hardcore fans of the film might walk away a little disappointed. Although the audio is a small improvement over the already-great original, the video presentation proves to be a bit spotty. Like the film itself, it might not be worth owning---but it's worth checking out at least once. Let's see how this disc stacks up, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
While it looks like Spriggan has been presented with the same 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer as the first release, there are a few problems that keep this from being a truly solid effort. For starters, there's a fairly distracting amount of ghosting apparent during the film (two examples are seen above) which results in a blurry, shaky image during every fourth and fifth frame (a similar problem was seen on the initial pressing of Universal's Monty Python's The Meaning of Life: Special Edition). While those without progressive scan setups might not notice this as much, I found it to be a notable issue. There's also a mild amount of edge enhancement and grain present, though the latter seems to be more of a stylistic choice than an oversight. It's not a bad transfer otherwise---the colors, for example, were bold and accurate---but it could have been much better. ADV is doing such an great job on the new Neon Genesis: Evangelion Platinum discs, it's a shame that we couldn't get the same level of quality with this Special Edition.
The audio fares better, as this release carries over the same Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound mix (available in English or Japanese) and adds a new DTS English mix for good measure. It's a shame that the Japanese track couldn't get the extra boost, but those who favor English dubs will enjoy this option. It seems a bit "forced" at times---as if the audio were almost too punchy for its own good---but action lovers will still consider this to be a demo-quality track. For purists, the more natural Japanese 5.1 track (with optional English subtitles) is no slouch, offering fine clarity and ambience. There's one major nitpick I have with the presentation: the double-sided DVD features each language on its own side (with the bonus features on the Japanese half). It's strange that everything couldn't have been squeezed together, especially since the movie is barely 90 minutes long.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Although the anamorphically-enhanced menus (seen above) aren't flashy or terribly exciting, they're simply designed and make for smooth navigation. This film has been divided into 18 chapters, and a layer change is present near the 57-minute mark. This two-disc release is clumsily packaged, though: the two-sided DVD is housed in a standard keepcase with a chapter insert, while the bonus soundtrack CD gets its own jewel case. Together, they're paired in a double-wide digipak box, which looks nice but seems a bit excessive. A slim double keepcase would've done the job just fine.
Here's where ADV could have really stepped up to the plate, but most fans will be disappointed if they're expecting a fully loaded Special Edition. Carried over from the first release is an Audio Commentary with ADR director Matt Greenfield and engineer Christopher Bourque. If you've never heard this one before, the two participants offer a nice track with plenty of behind-the-scenes insights and information---it's well worth a listen. New to this edition is a second Audio Commentary with English voice actors Chris Patton (Yu) and Kelly Manison (Margaret)---it's somewhat less interesting than the first track, but I'm not a big fan of the English dub anyway. Those familiar with the voice actors, though, will find this to be a valuable, informative addition to the mix. There's also the bonus Soundtrack CD, which contains 27 cuts in all (7 are hidden after the last track), with a total running time just shy of 50 minutes.
While it's good to have the new commentary, English DTS mix and the bonus CD, it's hard to believe ADV couldn't have thrown in some more extra goodies to sweeten the pot. I'd have traded off all three for a problem-free video presentation and a Japanese DTS mix, but maybe that's just me. The original release also featured a few short looks at early production sketches, which are nowhere to be found here. Additionally, a few visual effects-related featurettes or a more in-depth look at the voice acting would have been terrific inclusions. In any case, this is a much better value than most Japanese animation DVDs in terms of actual content---and a modest step above the original release---but this Special Edition is still a bit lacking, for the most part.
The movie's good, but not great. History repeats itself: the DVD's good, but not great. Overall, Spriggan: Special Edition won't be worth the double dip for most fans of the film, though new buyers will find this version to be the better of the two. Still, there's entirely too much missing here to make this a solid recommendation: a definitive video transfer, a Japanese DTS mix and a meatier assortment of bonus features, for starters. At best, this one's only worth a weekend look for any and all interested parties: new viewers can dip their toes in the water first, while seasoned fans of the film can simply give the new features a once-over. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable art instructor and gallery assistant based in Harrisburg, PA, who also enjoys freelance graphic design and illustration. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.