While performing a naval maneuver in 2002, the Japanese Aegis class cruiser Mirai gets caught in a weird storm and suddenly loses contact with all of the units in her fleet. The crew suddenly finds itself and the ship stranded 60 years in the past during World War II, just before the Battle of Midway. Caught between American and Japanese forces, the crew of the Mirai struggles to keep out, fearing they might change the future with their high-tech warship. However, it is the simple act of Executive Officer Kadomatsu saving the life of the Japanese intelligence officer Kusaka that proves much more dangerous to the course of history than the combat capabilities of the cruiser…
summary by Taleweaver
Highs: History lesson done right; believable characters; raises insightful questions
Lows: Slow pacing; partially unsatisfying ending
There’s a Hollywood flick from 1980 starring Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen called The Final Countdown. It’s about the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz going back in time to 1941, just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, essentially giving the crew the chance to prevent thousands of deaths… and to change history in an unforeseeable way, maybe even going as far as to prevent the U.S. from entering World War II. Zipang tells essentially the same story, but with a twist: the modern warship going back in time is Japanese, not American, and the choice the crew faces is either fighting the motherland or supporting the Axis powers that stand for everything a modern democracy should despise.
From that intriguing setup, Zipang develops a truly grand story that, in all its time-twisting fiction, remains historically accurate, even to the most minute detail. Both the technology of the 21st century and that of World War II are depicted in painstaking realism; the events, battles, political developments and even historical personalities of the era show the immense amount of research done by Kawaguchi Kaiji, the author of the manga. Put simply, Zipang is a history lesson done right… and is entertaining, too.
The entire story is brought to life by its immensely interesting and believable characters. Both the JSDF officers travelling back in time and the people of the WW2 era have personalities, motivations and goals of their own. Even side characters with little screen time are given ample opportunities to prove their worth to the audience. There’s hardly a character that doesn’t have a likable side, and the absence of “good” and “evil” as clearly defined or even clearly recognizable forces give everything even more depth. In fact, the definitions of good and evil are some of the questions that Zipang raises. Like most of them, the answers are left up to the viewer. Surprisingly, that is one of the strengths of this series. It shows essentially all sides of the many topics that pop up during wartime conditions but never really proposes that one solution is by default superior.
These many questions have the potential to keep viewers hooked. Unfortunately, the show’s pacing has the potential to do the exact opposite. Most of the drama develops so slowly that sailboats could easily overtake it, let alone a modern cruiser at flanking speed. Problems that arise are rarely solved without lots of long-winded discussions, and even the (surprisingly rare) sea battles will span three or more episodes. I’m usually an advocate of transferring manga to anime as true to the original as possible, but here a little trimming and condensing would have been necessary. The ending, on the other hand, is definitely resolved too quickly… or rather, too indeterminate for its own good. While keeping the Mirai‘s future unresolved is a good idea (as is not answering the questions raised), keeping the one personal conflict that literally spans the second half of the series out in the blue is nothing short of disappointing. If the future as a whole remains shrouded in shadows, viewers should have at least have the right to know what’s becoming of the two most prominent protagonists of the story, and that’s what they’re denied.
Zipang is a story of heroism, but one that doesn’t glamorise it. It’s also a story about choosing sides, but not one that forces a side upon you. It’s a history lesson, but one that allows you to draw your own conclusions. If you’ve come for hardboiled military action, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you like anime that ask unusual questions and actually tease your intellect, welcome aboard.