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Spriggan (1998)
Director: Hirotsuge Kawasaki

review by Amy Harlib

Among the offerings at the Big Apple Anime Festival in New York City, 2003, Spriggan - a Japanese anime feature made in 1998 which already had limited theatrical distribution in the USA recently thanks to the surge in popularity of this Asian animated art form - in a word, disappoints. Directed by Hirotsuge Kawasaki, protégée of 'General Supervisor' Katsuhiro Otomo creator of the groundbreaking classic Akira, Spriggan can be described as Raiders Of The Lost Ark meets Rambo. This means that 'action' overshadows all, as opposed to the depth of plot and character that made Akira so memorable in addition to its stunning visuals.

The protagonist, teenage high schooler Yu Ominae (Christopher Patton), conceals his true identity of being a Spriggan, a cybernetically enhanced superhuman agent of ARCAM - a global covert organisation that aims to prevent the esoteric art and artefacts of lost civilisations from falling into the wrong hands.

The simple plot hinges upon the discovery on Mount Ararat in Turkey, of the purported Noah's Ark, actually an enigmatic, exceedingly ancient hi-tech alien device that apparently possesses immense power. Evidence indicates that it could have controlled the cycles of evolution of all life on Earth. This momentous find becomes the centre of a vicious power struggle over control of its enormous potential, the antagonists being a rogue American military cabal - the US Machine Corps.

Dr Meisel (Ted Pfister) and his worthy assistant Margaret (Kelly Mannison), scientists heading the secret team conducting research on the 'Ark', call upon ARCAM to send a special operative to defend their installation and Yamamoto, Yu's supervisor sends him forth. After many preliminary skirmishes, the leader of the Machine Corps, a bizarre, megalomaniacal, psychic child cyborg named Colonel MacDougall (Kevin Corn), and his two main henchman, also cyborgs, called Fattman (Mike Kleinhenz) and Little Boy (Spike Spencer) - after the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during WWII - confront Yu and his Spriggan mentor and friend, Frenchman Jean Jacques Mondo (Andy McAvin) in an apocalyptic showdown on the mountain and inside the erstwhile 'Ark' (depicted much larger than the Biblical sources indicate).

Spriggan's virtues- many dazzling often lavishly detailed, fluid visuals including some scenes in very obviously researched Turkish settings; a lovely score; and an interestingly daft premise - get overwhelmed by the negatives. The film contains excessive scenes of graphic blood splattering violence (gunfights, explosions, etc), and clichéd, one-dimensional characters that fail to engage the viewer with the absurdly, maniacally cackling villains being the worst offenders. Margaret, a supporting player, is virtually the only woman visible in this relentlessly macho, patriarchal world - how come there weren't any female Spriggans?

Be that as it may, Spriggan can only be recommended for die-hard anime fans who must see everything, or for twisted souls who actually get their jollies from seeing vast numbers of human beings killed in various gory ways and from the explosive destruction of buildings, cars and numerous sundry items. I expected better from folks connected to the excellent project, Akira.

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