They say that history repeats itself and truer words were never spoken when it come to this anime, Zipang, which finds a present day naval ship and her crew transported back in time to 1942 in the midst of World War II. Sounds interesting? Then read on…
Zipang is based on a manga by Kaiji Kawaguchi, which ran for 43 volumes from 2000-2009. The anime version was released in 2004 by Studio Deen. The manga/show falls under the historical and military genre but since there’s some time travel, it also has some sci-fi in there too. Kawaguchi has written a number of mangas, with Zipang being one of his most notable works. Others include A Spirit of the Sun and The Silent Service – both of which revolve around the political situations of Japan and/or the JSDF. Studio Deen, of course, has produced numerous shows from various genres, including the Hetalia series, which is a bit of a comical retelling of the history of the world wars with countries represented by people, whilst exploring the various events that occurred during those times.
Some of the (many) manga covers for Zipang.
In a nutshell, this story revolves around the Japanese Self-Defense Force officers of the naval ship Mirai and how they deal with being sent back in time to 1942. While on a routine training drill, involving a trip from their home base in Yokosuka to Pearl Harbour, the ship passes through an odd storm and when the weather clears, they find that they’ve actually gone back in time to the start of World War II and have landed themselves smack dab in the middle of the Battle of Midway between the Americans and the Japanese of that time.
Quick history lesson: while the crew of the Mirai are Japanese as well, at the time of the world war Japan had a navy and an army etc., which was then decommissioned and in its place the self-defense force was established. While there are different divisions within the forces (air, maritime and ground), the focus of this group, as the name implies, is to not actively engage in war but to rather use those resources for self-defense. So, should a country try to attack Japan, they will retaliate but this is because it is in “self-defense”. The JSDF is also more involved in peace-keeping missions these days too. And this sort of sentiment is exactly what the members of the Mirai stick to, even though they’ve gone back in time. So while you would think they would try to help their comrades out, they would rather not see the loss of life and are also trying their best not to alter history while they’re here.
The alteration of history is totally unavoidable however, considering that a gigantic cruiser from the 21st century has shown up in 1942. And things get even more complicated when the commanding officer (XO) of the ship rescues a Japanese intelligence agent from his plane which was downed at sea. Although they don’t want to change history, the XO is the sort of person that does the right thing, no matter the consequences, and so he saves this man and explains that they’ve come from the future and evening lets him read history books about how the country has changed in the last 60 years. This sets things in motion as the intelligence agent tries to figure out a way to create a new Nippon (Japan – as the Japanese refer to it) using this information he has – to create a land called Zipang. Another quick history lesson: Zipang is actually an old school word for Japan and is pronounced the same way. On top of all this, the Mirai also has to deal with both American and Japanese attacks on their ship (it is war time after all) whilst trying to actually save lives (since they know how many thousands of people die in these wars) and finding a way to make it back to their own time. Phew!
The backbone of the Mirai crew: the navigation officer, the XO and the weapons officer.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve always enjoyed military genre animes, but it is something that I’ve been getting into since I do enjoy seinen shows. This show comes across as a hidden gem because while it may not have all the flash and pizazz of popular shows with bigger budgets, it’s got great content! The story itself starts off rather slowly as both you and the crew members adjust to life in this era, so you might initially wonder whether this is the extent of it. But if you give it a little time and a chance for the plot to unfold, you’ll come to see the various threads that weave together to tell a pretty complex story. You have the JSDF guys, who want to stay true to their idea of using force for self-defense purpose, and the Imperial army, who are in the midst of war and trust no one – including their compatriots from modern-day Japan. And if that wasn’t enough, there is Kusaka plotting in the background to try and bring about this vision he has for modern-day Japan, a.k.a. Zipang. So there are multiple little stories going on here and there, which also gives us a chance to know the characters.
The characters themselves should also get special mention because it’s their outlooks and opinions that form the backbone for the show because it’s their thoughts/ideals that influence their actions, thus altering history bit by bit. Most of the JSDF guys have never been in a real war, so when faced with this some crumble under the pressure of thoughts like “I don’t want to die” or “I want to make it back to my own time”, they may act or react in unexpected ways. For example, the weapons officer of the Mirai is a pretty level-headed guy but he’s more of a pacifist (ironically enough) and even thought of leaving the JSDF because he didn’t want to deal with being the one to end others’ lives if it came down to it. Needless to say, this is one of the decisions he faces in the show and we get to see his thought process and what the outcome of his actions is.
Stuck in the middle with you: the crew of the Mirai have to fend off attacks from both the Americans and their own (60-years-prior) countrymen.
The realism of the show is something that should also be commended because it’s not like everyone makes it out alive. No spoilers here, but this is the price of war where it’s kill or be killed. However, apart from just the doom and gloom of war, we also get to see the strategies of war. Much like how Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a show where strategy plays the biggest part in any fight, Zipang follows suit to show how the army/navy/air forces devise their plans of attack. This is taken to the next level though because of the “unfair” advantage that Mirai has in terms of weaponry. This was actually one of the things I really enjoyed in this show – the comparison between older and newer technology. And it really makes you appreciate just how far technology has come – even if it is in the context of military purposes here. Things like homing missiles, missiles with sonar, gunships that rotate etc. are all things that are new to the people of this era and it’s great watching their reactions to technologies that are rather commonplace for us in this day and age. Kind of reminds me of developing weapons in Metal Gear Solid. Anyway, it’s these sorts of things that highlight the differences between the various eras – not just the attitude of the people, but the technology too. Hell, it’s even a surprise for the Imperial officers that there is a woman on board the Mirai – women in combat being something completely unheard of back then.
I’ll admit that the animation itself sometimes makes me laugh with its obvious differences intended to highlight main characters from supporting characters or to show character differentiation, where some of the characters end up looking like they’ve come out a Tin Tin comic – it’s all in the eyes, I tell you. But I think it captures life on the open sea pretty well – especially when it comes to showing off Mirai’s snappy moves in the water with its high level of manoeuvrability and speed. It also captures life in that era pretty well with the different style of dress and the look of the towns themselves – “simpler times” comes to mind.
Members of the Mirai try to follow the ideals/teachings of the JSDF but life gets unpredictable in the middle of World War II.
So it’s a case of “back to the future” with the crew of the Mirai trying to survive in a time of war whilst remaining true to the ideals of the JSDF, which is no easy task. They face many obstacles and there are a number of twists and turns here and there because it’s hard to know who to trust when you live in a time that’s so different from your own. All of these elements combine to make a show that’s well worth watching – whether it’s just to get an education in some relatively modern-day Japanese history, to marvel at our own technology or just to enjoy the story for what it is. The only thing that I must warn you about it that it does have an open ending that encourages you to go read the manga, but it’s not so open-ended that you’d feel dissatisfied after watching it. It’s a show that taps into both your intellect and emotion as the story builds and becomes more and more interesting. So if you’re willing to try something a little different from the norm, then I would really recommend watching this one!
Image credits: Studio Deen
End: Zipang Anime Review