Most manga are lucky to get an anime adaptation, but very occasionally they’ll get a second one too. Sometimes these adaptations occur years or even decades apart so it’s always interesting to see how the same story gets rendered by both different creative teams, and different eras of anime. When it comes to retro anime getting their source material re-adapted, just yesterday we got a new series for Bastard!! and next year we’ll see a new Trigun anime from Orange, a top-tier 3DCG studio. However, today we’ll be talking about Spriggan, a manga that received an animated movie in 1998 and about half a month ago (i.e, 24 years later), had a series debut on Netflix. Comparing certain scenes side-by-side or even just their overall runtimes might tip you off that despite being based on the same story, these anime offer very distinct experiences. But for those unfamiliar with any version of Spriggan, what exactly is it?
Mysterious message plates tell of an ancient civilization that had incredibly advanced technology. They once ruled over Earth, but left these messages to warn the modern world of how their own technological creations were abused and ended up destroying them. And so the ARCAM organization exists to heed the ancient civilization’s warning. But in order to counteract the various factions who want to use these artifacts for their own goals and potentially cause destruction, ARCAM has a group of highly skilled combat agents known as Spriggan, of which our protagonist Yu Ominae is a member. I’ve seen a lot of fans online liken Spriggan to “anime meets Indiana Jones”, and that probably makes for a great sell to newcomers; the Netflix series even has a “Crystal Skull” episode after all. However unlike Indie’s stories, the Americans are not always the good guys. Several of the corrupt organizations Yu has to stop from claiming the power of the artifacts represent the United States, and that could be interpreted as a critique of American exceptionalism, though granted there are other countries thrown in the mix. We even get to see our hero fight Nazis so it’s not wholly unlike Indiana Jones after all. And just like Indie, when he’s not stuck in class Yu is traveling all over the world to fight the deadly enemies who seek out all kinds of artifacts that resemble items or events from different mythologies. Key here is that the Spriggan movie only showcases one of these adventures in its 90 minute run, while the new series has six adventures for each 40 minute episode.
I don’t want this to be a competition to see which adaptation is the “better” way to watch Spriggan but if you were to go into a comparison like that, a few factors do jump out from the get-go. The 1998 film is incredibly well-produced with top-tier hand-drawn animation and a strong sense of atmosphere achieved through its designs, backgrounds, and use of color. Meanwhile, the visuals of the new series, while definitely fitting for an action-adventure show, aren’t quite on that level. Inversely, the film’s screenplay felt weak, with a rather blunt procession of events and not too much to remember in terms of interpersonal character drama. The Netflix series conversely has ample room to establish characters and organize the narrative. Instead of pitting them against each other, let’s start by looking at what kinds of creators made them to get an idea of why they took the forms they did.
Spriggan 1998 was produced by Studio 4°C who are known for producing ambitious or unconventional animations. While their body of work does include manga adaptations like Spriggan, even those would probably stand out from most other anime studios. One thing they’ve consistently done is contribute in part or in whole to anime anthologies, where experimentation and ambition is put front and center, the most relevant of which for this video is Katsuhiro Otomo‘s Memories. Otomo was not the director of Spriggan ’98 nor was he the only member of the writing staff, but when comparing this film to the new Spriggan series which is more faithful to the manga, his impact on the old version becomes clearer. His credits are “Chief Supervisor”, “Screen Story Structure”, and the design of Noah’s Ark. Obviously Otomo is the author of the Akira manga and the director of its anime film adaptation, and one thing both films have in common is their fantastic animation. Plus, with McDougal being a blue-skinned child with some kind of cerebral condition and destructive psychic powers, I actually thought Otomo wrote him into the film. But no, McDougal was always in the manga and is still there in the new anime’s version of Noah’s Ark. Some of the animation staff on Spriggan had worked with Otomo on his prior anime like Akira, Memories and the Roujin Z film he wrote for, or they would go on to keep working with him on future works like Steamboy. And this includes Spriggan ’98’s actual director, writer and storyboarder: Hirotsugu Kawasaki.
As YouTuber Stevem pointed out in his video about Spriggan ’98, Kawasaki is primarily an animator and storyboard artist with comparatively little writing work to his name, and that given the film’s connections to Otomo, it feels like a truly animator-led project with the screenplay taking a backseat. The only other anime Kawasaki has written that I know of are the second Naruto movie and Legend of the Millennium Dragon, both of which also share visual production staff with Spriggan. The other writer for Spriggan ’98 was Yasutaka Ito but according to ANN’s encyclopedia, his only other writing credits are for select episodes of The Brave Saga in the 90s. As a result, the “animator passion project” angle seems pretty plausible to me, and the film itself supports that in spades. The action animation is obviously the highlight but many effects or even moments of simple body language also have a lot of care. The fights showcase impressive acrobatics, and the detailed design work doesn’t hold the animation back either. I honestly feel for the staff who worked on episode 2 of the reboot because while it’s fully consistent with the rest of the series, the urge to compare the same scenes in the movie is strongest here. But again, given how this film was conceived with the animation as the star I’m not sure how much that counts as a criticism against the Netflix series. It may be less visually impressive than the 1998 film but… a LOT of things are less visually impressive than the 1998 film.
Probably the biggest difference in adaptation philosophy is how Yu arrives in Turkey. In the new version it cuts straight to him arriving at the mountain base which to be fair, does move the story along briskly. In the film though, we see him get chased through the streets of Istanbul in what is probably the best sequence of the whole movie. It’s actually the first thing I ever knew about Spriggan since clips of it have been shared quite often by sakuga fans. And even after that, there’s an extended sequence of Yu traveling across the Turkish countryside with a series of beautiful backgrounds creating a powerful sense of atmosphere. On the topic of atmosphere, the overall tone of the story was changed in this film through both the visuals and the writing. The Netflix series is much closer to the manga which ran in shonen magazines, and that’s reflected through the lively banter and bravado in the action scenes. The film has a bit of those things, but it also has a pensive side. The comedic levity in Yu’s school life was largely stripped out, the movie’s lack of music in some scenes is almost unsettling compared to the new series, and the way the Ark’s design was reimagined felt totally surreal. However, the strength of Spriggan as a series is that Yu’s character can be built upon caper by caper, however Spriggan ’98 had just one so it probably needed some extra elements, like sprucing up the Ark, in order to compensate. Without spoiling too much: in the film Yu is actually a former comrade of the combat agent called Fatman. So while their fight has similar moments to the original, the dialogue between the two fighters is about very different events. One thing both anime actually do is give brief glimpses of our protagonist’s childhood to inform their respective final battles. However, either those creative liberties weren’t enough for the film, or the otherwise lackluster screenplay was a symptom of trying to stretch this episodic story over 90 minutes. I really want to impress how well-executed almost every scene in Spriggan ’98 was. There’s absolutely a sense of drama when it comes to using an ancient artifact to assume a Godlike position, but the interactions between characters left a lot to be desired.
Meanwhile, the writer for Spriggan ’22 is Hiroshi Seko, whose credits include Attack on Titan, Ajin, Banana Fish, the upcoming Chainsaw Man, Deca-Dence, Dorohedoro, Inuyashiki, Jujutsu Kaisen, Mob Psycho 100, and Vinland Saga. In other words, while the Spriggan movie was brought to life mostly through its animation and was directed and written by someone with more background in animation than writing, the Spriggan series sports a writer for some of the most popular modern anime. It’s still a story about the hubris of man as he seeks power beyond his understanding through the artifacts, but it always returns to the status quo of Yu getting comically chewed out at school for cutting class. Even in particularly dangerous situations on missions he’s a much sassier guy, which is indicative of the overall lighter tone. When his backstory gets briefly flashed on screen in the final episode, it feels like a powerful contrast to how we’d previously seen this character. Scenes where we see him trying to juggle his school life with his secret agent work feel more like Kim Possible than what the old film had to offer. You could say Spriggan ’98 is a darker and more mature work while the series is juvenile, but again, it’s hard to hold that against Spriggan ’22. Yu says it himself: his time at school is what connects him with other people, and makes him more than a killing machine. While he also said something of that nature in the film’s climax, actually seeing the lighthearted moments in the show is important to his character, and helps this feel like a more complete story. Right from episode 1, it’s clear this new version takes nothing about the old film’s style for granted, as the boastful music and one-liners instantly sells Yu’s personality.
When it comes to Spriggan ’22’s use of 3DCG, david production has actually been credited for CG assistance in other anime series’ like Fairy gone or No Guns Life. The movie definitely used digital elements as well but they were kept to a minimum. Meanwhile the new series frequently uses 3D models in scenes alongside hand-drawn characters and while it’s not impossible to tell one from the other, somehow it wasn’t as jarring as what I’m used to. I wouldn’t quite consider this some of the best-looking 3D or even 2D animation I’ve seen in anime. But very often in the series CG models fight hand-to-hand with 2D characters, yet the characters feel like they were designed and rendered in such a way that it legitimately feels like their blows connect, which is something I really didn’t expect. I thought the attacks would totally whiff but there’s definitely a sense of impact. Yu in particular has quite an expressive face and while I’m fairly certain his 3D model was given a 2D face in some shots, I honestly can’t tell how they achieved it in other shots. CG in anime is a hot topic on its own so your mileage may vary, and there’s occasional moments where even I felt like something was wrong. However even when it can’t stack up to the fights of the old film the choreography itself is still very solid, and the climax of the final battle even opted to keep both fighters in 2D, almost to memorialize it.
So what’s in the future for Spriggan? The Netflix series’ last episode had a post credits scene indicating that there may eventually be a season 2, and in the meantime its director Hiroshi Kobayashi will be working on the Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury series with artist JNTHED (credited with “Production Design” on Spriggan 2022) who himself will be working with david production on the Urusei Yatsura reboot. But as to what content Spriggan‘s season 2 would cover, that’s still ambiguous. While this adaptation has stuck much closer to the manga, it’s had its own liberties. One of those was to set it in the modern day rather than the end of the Cold War, but another was skipping or even re-ordering of Yu’s adventures from how they were originally released. The most noticeable example to longtime fans is probably… Hitler. The anime series ends with the Forgotten Kingdom story however in the manga, Forgotten Kingdom is preceded by an arc where neo nazis use the holy grail to revive Adolf Hitler. While it’s possible that the arc was kept out of anime altogether due to potential controversy, keep in mind that other episodes have been cut or potentially pushed to a future season. Missing between Flame Serpent and Noah’s Ark is an adventure called Legend of the Mask, while Secret of the Berserker originally came before Forest of No Return. Regardless, I think season 1 made a good choice to end on a strong note with the specific battle depicted in Forgotten Kingdom. The English manga publication for Spriggan (or Striker as it was once called) has its own rocky history, but Seven Seas will begin releasing a new edition in August so getting into the series will probably be easier than ever.
Again, the purpose of this video is not to judge which Spriggan anime is better than the other, but rather to set your expectations when you watch either of them so you know what you’re getting into. I suppose in an ideal world we would have the amazing production value of the Studio 4°C movie combined with the more fleshed-out writing of the Netflix series, but even then there’s something to be said about the comedic aspects of the manga and show (which again, I do feel are important to Spriggan) potentially clashing with the more somber vibe of Kawasaki’s film. Perhaps someone clever could’ve struck the perfect balance between the two, but those aren’t the cards we’ve been dealt. What do you think, though? Which version of Spriggan do you prefer? Do you think the Netflix series did a good enough job with its combination of hand-drawn and CG animation? Are you looking forward to a second season of it? Is there something about the 1998 film’s screenplay that I’m just missing? Which adventure so far has been your favorite?