What They Say:
In the movie A Spirit of the Sun, it was the worst-case scenario. When the twin disasters of the eruption of Mt. Fuji and a massive earthquake hit Japan, the island nation was literally shattered and torn in two. With millions dead and the life-sustaining national infrastructure destroyed, mass evacuation of much of the country’s population was the only alternative.
But now the Japanese refugees living in Taiwan find themselves in conflict with the native citizens. There’s not enough work, the living conditions are terrible, and what remains of Japan is occupied by China in the North and the U.S. in the south. Genichiro Ryu is just one of the survivors, but having been adopted by Taiwanese parents, he has a foot in both worlds and seeks to find a way to bring peace between the conflicting sides in the movie A Spirit of the Sun directed by Masayuki Kojima.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track and an English language dub, both of which are in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The works are pretty straightforward once you get past some of the bigger scenes of destruction early on and that leads them to being more about the dialogue with some incidental bits here and there along the way. The mix design is pretty good overall for what it wants to do but it isn’t one that stretches itself much, opting for some quieter designs to it and some good character moments. Both tracks handle the material well with a clean and problem free encoding to it and a good bit of clarity that allows those quieter moments to resonate well. It’s not a mix that will jump out at you or anything but it does what it needs to and is problem free.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this two episode show are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Madhouse, they clock in at just over an hour each and are kept to a single disc that doesn’t have much of anything in the way of extras. The show goes for a pretty good look here and for the time in what it’s trying to achieve as we get a lot of destruction, a lot of grey, and a lot of scenes at night or simply in dark places. It’s not a bright and outgoing show and it’s not a heavily detailed one, especially once you get past the destruction side of it. What we do get is an encoding that handles the source materials well as the colors maintain a solid look throughout them and avoids problems like line noise or macroblocking. It’s an earthy show that’s mired in the darker side of things because of the content but the encoding conveys it all as it should.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case with a good image of our main character standing defiant and confident in the face of a rel tragedy. The small nature of the boy and the power of the eruption behind him is a really nice and inspirational contrast. The back cover gives us a little bit of the destruction in Tokyo along the top and a couple of decent shots from the series as well, though they’re more from the brighter side of things to a degree. The premise is clean and clearly listed while the bottom breaks out the production credits and a technical grid that digs into how the release is put together accurately and in an easy to read form. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release goes with the static approach as we get a sunset-hued piece that shows the destruction of buildings as our main piece. It’s a haunting looking one with Mt. Fuji in the background and all the destruction around it so it definitely sets the mood just right. The navigation is kept to a simple block approach along the bottom with black block utilizing white text so you can select the episode and dig into what few options there are beyond it. It’s functional but works well and achieves what it needs to. Setup is quick and easy and the menu functions properly both as a main menu and as a pop-up menu during playback.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name, Taiyou no Mokushiroku, A Spirit of the Sun is a two-episode special that ran as a two-night event in the fall of 2006. The original manga began in 2003 and finished in 2008 with seventeen volumes after a solid run in Big Comic magazine and was created by Kaiji Kawaguchi, who has a lot of strong works over the decades, particularly for me when it comes to The Silent Service and Zipang. I knew nothing about this show going into it but it’s generally rare when it comes to event specials like this and it has some great talent behind it, including Masayuki Kojima as the director. It’s an interesting work overall, one that I don’t think succeeds well, but it’s also one that I know that I’m missing a lot of context for because of the areas it touches on.
Taking place in 2002, a significant earthquake hits Japan that causes a lot of destruction before the tsunami rolls in and then the eruption of Mt. Fuji. This event is so significant that it actually breaks Japan in two as the flooding causes a separation that in turn gives us two governments down the line as the years go on within it. There is a lot of neat material that a setting like this could explore in how people handled the natural disasters that hit, the resilience of the people, and the rebuilding effort mixed in with a lot of political tension just in the domestic sense but also the way foreign powers will use their influence to gain position within this post-disaster Japan. And these areas are touched upon in the show, which has each episode clocking in around 70-minutes or so, but that’s all they really do.
They touch on it. The first half of the first episode is given over to the disasters themselves as we see how various people react to it within a couple of family lines but primarily with Genichiro Ryu. With his grandfather as an influential politician that’s frustrated with his “third-rate politician” of a son, Gen is disconnected from all of this by being far enough away from Tokyo and other big name places to be a part of the sprawling disaster. Instead, we see as he tries to survive having been separated from his parents, looking for them and helping others along the way. Gen is presented as a stern and serious boy here amid the chaos that’s going on by insisting on doing the right thing even at the potential cost of his own survival. It’s no surprise to see some folks becoming very protective instead of operating as a group to survive but it’s something that drives Gen as nobody should be left behind.
There’s a lot to like in all of this and the scale of just how much Japan is going to be changed by it. But it takes an odd turn that kind of undercut what I thought the show was going to be about, I know, that’s my own mistake, as we get Gen essentially being selfless and doing what he can to help people at the expense of his own life, at least according to someone that he had helped at the time. But instead, with his memory lost, he ended up washed ashore in Taiwan and grew up there adopted by a couple and essentially became Taiwanese first and foremost since he had to relearn most everything. There’s an interesting angle to pursue there as he becomes known as Xian and his parents sort of dread the day they have to tell him the truth, but they let it linger for a decade and he starts to remember some things himself as he’s caught up in growing tensions among other Japanese refugees in Taiwan.
It’s at this stage the show lost me a good deal. A ten-year jump is a difficult thing to do in the best of circumstances and getting Xian as almost a new character entirely, along with a host of others, doesn’t help. It’s also an area where I know there’s a whole lot of different tensions and issues related to Taiwan in general and then relations between them and other countries and all that complicates it more. It’s explored a bit here but I’m coming from such a position of non-knowledge of the reality of it (there’s only so much one can keep up with sometimes!) that it really impacted the story for me. It’s an interesting area to explore but it felt like we swerved into it after setting up a completely different show – one that I was on board to see even if it had done the ten-year leap forward. There’s an obvious and expected reconnect to be sure but that simply didn’t feel like it worked because of the passage of time and the issues surrounding the refugees and attitudes about it all.
A Spirit of the Sun is an interesting project and one we don’t get enough of in general, it just left me wishing it was better handled. There’s a hesitancy to doing natural disaster series or anime films in Japan, though we get a few every now and then, and when we do get them they’re pretty mixed. There are some good ideas to work with here but the time jump and what it wants to explore post-disaster just didn’t resonate for me in either story or character and instead started to bore me more than anything else. The first act is pretty good and you think you’re getting a good handle on what it’s going to be about bit it swerves and doesn’t quite recover enough for me. With Madhouse behind the animation and coming from a creator I like, it’s worth exploring and Maiande Japan put together a solid looking and sounding show.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: June 19th, 2018
Running Time: 154 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.