Zipang anime is a 26 episodes long series which originally aired in 2005-2006 based on the manga of the same name. The story is about the fictional Yukinami class guided missile destroyer (DDG), JDS Mirai (DDG-182),
the newest and most advanced destroyer in the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). En route to a joint training exercise with the US Navy, the Mirai encounters a freak meteorological anomaly and time warps back to June 4, 1942, the day of the Battle of Midway.
If the set up seems familiar, it’s very similar to the 1980 movie The Final Countdown, where the USS nuclear carrier Nimitz (CVN-68) time warps back to the day before the Pearl Harbor attack after encountering a freak meteorological anomaly. Time travel is nothing new in anime. Some stories are serious in nature (or semi-serious such as Steins Gate) while others are simply meant as comedies (e.g. some Sengoku Era gender swap shows). For serious shows such as Zipang, a viewer might simply look upon the story as a “what if” scenario while others may find some of the revisionist themes disturbing.
The fictional Yukinami class destroyers are a more advanced version of the real life Kongo class DDGs which in turn are modified versions of the United States Navy’s Arleigh Burke class of DDG. For the most part the Mirai is the same as Kongo DDG or Arleigh Burke DDG, but as a fictional story, some liberties are taken with weaponry and hardware. For example, the Mirai carries anti-ship tomahawk missiles which are not carried by real-life JMSDF ships, and its MVSA-32J Umidori VTOL aircraft is fictional as well. The Mirai also has a hanger capable of holding both a helicopter and the aforementioned VTOL while the Kongo class DDGs only have a landing pad and no provision for support. Not a big deal or all that excessive considering the advanced weaponry carried by its real-life counterparts.
Three main questions arise from the story: Are they trapped in the past forever, or can they find their way back to their own time? Should the crew attempt to change history or let the war run its original course? If they want to change history, can one ship, even one as advanced as the Mirai, along with knowledge of the future (i.e. WWII history) be sufficient to actually change the war’s historical end result rather than only delay it?
Episode 01 Recap
Episode 01 starts off with an introduction to Mirai’s wealth of firepower followed by a classroom setting which gives some additional information about the new Yukinami class DDGs. Three main characters onboard the Mirai are introduced at this time – Executive Officer (XO) Commander Yosuke Kadomatsu, Navigation Officer Lt. Commander Kouhei Oguri, and Weapons/Gunnery Officer Lt. Commander Masayuki Kikuchi. The three officers are close as they were all classmates at the Defense Academy. At the end of his classroom lecture, Kouhei reminds the students that their duty is to protect not just the fleet, but the nation of Japan itself. That theme is picked up again as we are given some background on our three officers. One particularly noteworthy scene is Yusuke’s flashback conversation during his childhood with his father (one of the first graduates of the National Defense Academy).
There, a young Yusuke mentions that he learned in school about people suffering during the WWII. He then says to his father “It’s wrong to have a war, right?” His father replies “Those soldiers took the enemies’ lives whether or not they wanted to. They’d have died if they hadn’t done so. They fought to protect Japan, their country… their homeland and their beloved families, risking their own lives.” To this, young Yusuke asks “Well then, who are the bad guys? What were they?” His father then replies “I’d like to know the answers, too.” The search for those answers inspires Yusuke to follow in his father’s career footsteps.
Next up is our first IJN BB Yamato reference (a type 91 AP shell for the 46cm main guns on the Academy’s grounds). The ship certainly has a strong place in modern Japanese culture. Impressive as those guns might be, they are no match for the Mirai’s Aegis defense system as the three officers note. The “protection of the nation” theme is picked up again as the three pay three respects to Japan’s naval former heroes including Admiral Togo (often called the “Nelson of the East”) and Admiral Yamamoto. The three then prepare to leave on their mission, and arrive at the Mirai dock where we meet the ship’s captain, Sabure Umezu, who dumps his interview appointment with a journalist on his XO, Yuskuke. Well, rank does have its privileges. During the interview, Yusuke makes an interesting comment – “The only differences between you [the journalist] and I is… I am wearing this uniform. If there is an order, we have to obey.”
Fast forward about four days as the Mirai and other three ships approach Midway Island on their way to meet up with the USN fleet for the joint training exercise near Pearl Harbor. The ship encounters “strange weather” which of course results in Mirai traveling back in time. When the time-warp is over, the Mirai ends up in the path of the anime ubiquitous IJN BB Yamato. At that point, Yusuke realizes that they are off course in a big, big way.
Episode 01 Impressions
Overall, I though EP 01 was pretty good. The series has considerable potential for some interesting exploration of the characters decisions on what should they do. Do they attempt to remain on the sidelines, or attempt to alter history, and if so, to what extent? Visually, while it lacks the polish of today’s anime, it was good enough if not great (especially considering its original air date). I did like the attention to detail for the Mirai. The pacing wasn’t rushed like many shows lately, and you can see where the ground work has been carefully laid for some of the upcoming plot themes and events. For example: The Maria’s highly capable weapons systems, advanced electronics/radar, and combat information center (CIC) are shown in detail. No question that the issue of “protecting the nation” is a central plot theme, if not the central theme, given how often it comes up.
The time-warp scene turned out fairly well done, though I had to LOL at the trope where the journalist’s watch runs backwards. I almost wonder if there’s some hidden mandate that all time-travel scenes must have a watch or clock running backwards so that viewers know time travel has occurred. Not a big deal overall, and as noted, for the most part the scene did have what I though was the appropriate amount of bewilderment and consternation by the characters. However, I did have one significant issue with the first episode concerning Yusuke’s flashback conversation with his father.
OK, now wait a minute here. IJN and IJA soldiers protecting Japan and their families during WWII? Maybe starting in 1943 as the tide turned in the Pacific War, but see say… mid-late 1930’s through 1942. Not sure how attacking and conquering parts of China, British colonies and US territories (the latter two done without a declaration of war) not to mention atrocities such as what happened at Nanking or the “Bataan Death March” constitute “defending the homeland and protecting their beloved families”. Sure, ultimately there was a “need to protect”, but said need was entirely due to starting a war of conquest in the first place.
I realize that this is fiction and the past is the past. Moreover, many never committed atrocities and were simply swept up in the machinations of those in power. However, the anime’s commentary grossly and inaccurately oversimplifies real world history. Simply put, for me it’s a matter of degree, and personally I find Zipang’s degree of revisionist history so far a bit disturbing. Zipang has quite a few things going for it, but depending upon how the show handles the “protection” theme, it might be challenging for me to watch the series at times given what I know about WWII.
Zipang differs from the standard time travel story in that both the future and past are not exactly the same as history as we know it. In that respect it is has more similarities to Alternate History novels such as Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory Series, where the South won the Civil War or Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle where the Axis won WWII. In anime it has similarities to Monogatari’s Mayoi Jiangshi’s storyline where there is time travel that involves alternate timelines. As was pointed out, the Mirai’s class of ship, the Yukinami, is fictional but is based on the Kongo class. Interestingly enough, some of the changes are similar to the follow on class to the Kongo, the Atago class, though the Atago class did not exist till after the manga was written.
The first episode holds up rather well considering it’s almost 10 years old and the source material is 15 years old. It’s age is really only noticeable in the artistic style used for the characters and some of the animation, but that’s a minor quibble. I think it does a good job of giving enough background without having too much exposition that becomes intrusive to the story’s flow. It will be interesting to see how accurate the ships and events of WWII are portrayed.
The one troubling aspect is the impression it leaves that Japan, or at least its soldiers and sailors, were just patriotic citizens and acted morally throughout the war. As daikama points out, numerous war crimes were perpetrated at all levels of the Japanese military from before the US was involved till the very end. No one wants to have a negative view of their country’s history, but the revisionism in Japan both here and in the history taught in schools is not one I want to see promulgated. Negative feelings aside, I look forward to see how the story progresses.