If Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, and Jerry Bruckheimer were to put together an animated motion picture, they would almost certainly come up with something like Spriggan. Full of over-the-top action sequences, apocalyptic catastrophes, and shallow characters with big guns, this is the kind of movie critics love to hate and audiences love to watch. Although the film does have a few glaring faults, this is a roller coaster I'd not mind hopping back on again soon.
In the world the story presents, a special agency known as ARKAM works to keep ancient treasures and devices secretly hidden away from the world, as many of them have mystical powers (not unlike the set up for the Indiana Jones movies). The Spriggans are ARKAM's agents, all of which have unique physical abilities that make them just less than supermen. Yu is one of the youngest, a 17-year-old Japanese student. When Noah's Ark is found in the mountains of Turkey, Yu goes to investigate not only to unravel the secrets, but also to stop the murders of his friends who are being killed by a group interested in the Ark themselves. Once Yu arrives in Turkey, he finds that a splinter agency of the US government has sent their best guns in to take over the site. Calamity ensues as a child general, manipulated by secret experiments to become a psychic wonderboy, decides that the fate of the world should be in his hands. Of course, it's up to Yu to save the world.
Spriggan pulls out elements from every action film imaginable. It steals liberally from the aforementioned Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Bond films, Ninja Scroll, etc. It could have turned out a hodgepodge, but instead, Spriggan often soars. The action sequences are tense and tight, and the plot (though thin) supports the quick movement of the film. I certainly never got bored watching Spriggan.
Those who love beautiful animation will be in for a treat. Though not as wonderful as the recent release Metropolis or even Miyazaki's recent works, the animation is strong in all but a minor instance or two. Its attention to detail in the militaristic side must have taken quite a bit of time, but it all looks great. If that weren't enough, the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is fantastic, with tons of channel separation and a wildly dynamic range. This is the first anime DVD I've watched that had reference quality sound. To humor my wife, I watched the dub; not only did I not cringe, I enjoyed it. In fairness, General Macdougal's voice actor got irritating, but psycho children can be that way. Still, it's one to rent if just to listen.
So why a B+? There're still some problems. Character development? Nada. Although we do get a little bit of Yu's history, as well as a cool friend in fellow Spriggan Jean-Jacques Mondo, we know nothing of these people. Small argument due to the type of movie it is, but it won't help on repeated viewings. Meanwhile, the story gets into edgy territory both with its anti-US bent and its roughshod extra-biblical view of the Ark. Neither one bothered me much, since it's just an action piece, but they didn't heighten my respect for it either.
My biggest complaint, actually, is that there is simply too much of Akira here. Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira's director, was the general supervisor on the film. If you didn't know the story behind the making of the movie, you might think somebody had given him the title so he wouldn't sue. There are two ways of looking at it. In the one, Spriggan recycles several of Akira's basic concepts shamelessly. In the other, you can look at Spriggan as existing as a prequel in the same universe as Akira, which actually makes a frightening amount of sense. As the cynical viewer, however, I believe many fans will look at this as a retread.
Will you enjoy it? The biggest question is, do you like big blockbuster summer popcorn movies? If you do, you should go out and find Spriggan immediately, because it's a bit of Raiders, ID4, and Armageddon all rolled into one fun package. It's not my favorite movie by a long shot, but I'm sure to watch it again with some friends soon.
Spriggan -- realistically graphic violence, profanity, rated R by the MPAA -- B+