Zipang Vol. #6 (of 7) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, July 09, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, July 03, 2007
What They Say
Forty US planes approach in formation; their mission: to sink the Mirai. Can a single ship, even with its advance weaponry stand a chance? The Mirai's objective has changed from saving the lives of fellow human beings to protecting the very lives of its own crew. With both enemies and Japanese imperial forces relentless in their pursuit of this mysterious ship, are their any true allies left?
With the American forces now closing in on the Mirai, they must deal with the threat head on in another act that changes the course of everything.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a rather good stereo mix that at times brings in some really good moments where the sounds of the sea or the naval technology really comes through well. A lot of this volume is dialogue though as the crew member go about their jobs and trying to figure out their situation. It uses the forward soundstage well but there aren't a lot of very noticeable directional moments in how it's laid out but it does sound solid. Dialogue is clean and clear and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The transfer for this looks very good with a lot of taking place in dark scenes as well as ones with lots of motion to it. Black levels look good and there are a lot of scenes where it comes in to effect. The transfer isn't problem free though as a number of the panning sequences really showcase some bad shimmering. It's much more visible in the side to side pans than up and down. There is also a fair bit of color gradient visible in a number of scenes because of how the digital coloring is done. Water, particularly under the waves, tends to suffer from this the most in background shots.
Using the artwork from the Japanese release, the red hued cover looks good if maybe a bit too dark as it has a split image with the close-up of one of the pilots along the top and a full length shot of the aircraft carrier along the bottom. Unlike previous installments, the series name isn't anywhere to be found on the front cover though it does show up on the spine and back cover. The back cover feels a bit more streamlined and modern with its use of purple and black to frame it all. It includes a few shots from the show and panels for the summary and episode numbers/titles. The production information is well covered and Geneon again has adopted a really great technical grid here that covers everything in a very easy to read manner. I was surprised to see an insert with the release considering how barebones it feels; one side replicates the front cover artwork while the other provides a shot of one of the airplanes along with the chapter listings for the three episodes.
After five volumes of poor looking menus, things have changed for the series at long last. Using some of the red filtered designs of the front cover, this one features one of the Mirai sailors in full combat gear amid the forest while the bottom third is made up of shadowed hills and attack planes. While some sort of instrumental music for the menu would have improved it only a little, not having it makes the menu seem all the more stark. Language selection is far improved even as basic as it is here with a clean listing of what's there as well as showing which language options are set as the default. The disc didn't read our player presets as it defaulted to English with no subtitles. If these menus had been used from the start it wouldn't have raised the ire that the earlier ones did even though these aren't much more than the basics.
The extras for this volume aren't really extras but just another side of the way this release feels like it's one just pushed out the door and not given the same care. With the opening and ending credits left as is in the show itself, translated versions of them are available as text pages here. The ending sequences cover each of the individual episodes however which is a plus so we don't get just a blanket list of credits for the entire series.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Having long come to the conclusion that this series will serve only as a first real chapter of a longer storyline from a manga series that will never see the light of day over here, my enjoyment of the series is only mildly muted by that. This volume drops down to an unfortunate three episodes of which we get some really great looking animation, solid background information and some key battle sequences.
There have been battles before this that have been engaging to watch but this is the first time that the Mirai has gone against an incoming group of fighters some forty strong with some idea of what's ahead of them. Backed up by a small but strong flotilla of ships including an aircraft carrier, the American forces find themselves feeling on top of the world as this one little ship, no matter what foolishness has been said about it, will be slim pickings for the seasoned crew. There isn't exactly a sense of cockiness about them but rather a sense of confidence backed up by experience. It's in the experience department that the Mirai crew differs but also in how resolute they are to see this through.
With Kadomatsu out of the way for the duration, the headstrong nature he brings to things about doing what needs to be done is left in the hands of Kikuchi. Though he's a skilled man with a lot to offer, he's still unsure about everything that's going on and their place in it. This is reaffirmed even more strongly after a good flashback sequence to the early 90's is shown where he and the others are about to graduate the naval academy. That happens at the time that the Gulf War starts which is when things changed for Japan in that they became more active with overseas duties via the United Nation. This potential was something that some didn't see coming and Kikuchi, who has a clear principle of not wanting to ever kill someone else, decided that it was time to leave before being commissioned. Now that he's faced with having to deal with a force that's attacking them, his principles are being put into play in a dangerous manner.
The context that is provided by Kikuchi's background, as well as seeing the other familiar faces from the trio, brings the current conflict in the past into a more interesting area in terms of character drama. Others who aren't familiar with Kikuchi's history are surprised to see him trembling at what must be done and aren't sure what to make of it. Some will find reassurance in that he's just as human as they are but others may start to question his ability depending on how handles it. The captain seems to be taking more of a backseat role during all of this but he is there by Kikuchi's side for the entire thing.
Zipang hasn't had the best animation in the world since it started but it had a consistent look based on the design of the manga. The CG sometimes came across a bit poorly and the settings are a bit plain and drab at times but it always had a level of basic competence about it. With the series close to wrapping up and several key scenes left to play out, the various battles that are fought across this volume gain some much smoother and richer animation. Small movements, such as someone look a different way, has a much smoother feel to it that helps to heighten the drama. The action sequences provide a solid amount of impact with missiles flying everywhere, chain guns rattling off and ships being attacked. The tense moments that have led up to all of this may have lacked serious action but it's all paying off in spades here.
With only three more episodes to go, Zipang isn't going to close on the best notes from what I can tell. The show has been thoroughly engaging and is one of the best little watched series that's currently out there. It's simply unfortunate that it can't gain any traction and that it signals just how unlikely the manga is ever to be picked up. There's so much more to this show that I want to see in some form but what I've been able to get from the anime incarnation has been amazing. Few shows come along like this and this is one that's certainly going to be treasured. Zipang is something that the few that see it and get into it will be raving about for quite some time to come and hopefully there will be more converts along the way. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2