A Spirit of the Sun OVA – Anime Review
Synopsis: Natural disasters tore Japan in two, and the Japanese people are now refugees. As tensions mount between them and the citizens of Taiwan, Genichiro Ryu must find a way to bring people together before the unrest erupts into riots. (Official HIDIVE Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
A Spirit of the Sun handles a topic that’s rare in the world of anime; the realistic social and political effects of a ficitonal natural disaster resulting in massive immigration and human population displacement. The story kicks things off with an immense earthquake that not only splits Japan apart but causes massive portions of the island country to disappear into the sea. The first half of Episode 1 is action packed, focused heavily on Genichirou Ryuu, a young boy who happens to be the grandson of a Japanese politician and is as close to a central protagonist as we get. The audience watches as Genichirou struggles to survive, alone in the wilderness, right in the middle of this earth shattering devastation. A lot of the tension and drama in this section comes from watching Genichirou narrowly escaping death over and over, bumping into a better situation, only to stumble again into the jaws of death.
The story goes to great lengths to showcase his sacrificing and caring nature, having him jump out of a rescue vehicle when his canine companion is tossed out in lieu of rescuing humans, even though this action spells nothing but certain doom for the both of them. In fact, it’s his very altruistic nature that seems to doom Genichirou to a watery grave when he insists on rushing to rescue shipwrecked people, despite the protests of his companions. This makes it feel like the show is maybe trying just a little too hard to establish his heroic nature, turning Genichirou from a clearly likable lead into a near altruistic moron.
Keeping the plot moving, segments are interspersed between Genichirou’s scenes, showing how the government and general public are reacting to and handling the situation. It really helps to sell the sense that this is an unprecedented and violent incident, one that no amount of preparing could have saved them from and really establishes the immense feeling of helplessness and tragedy, which is praise worthy given the ultimately short runtime the series is working with. The truth is A Spirit of the Sun is a special two episode TV adaptation of a 17 volume long seinen series by the name of Taiyo no Mukoshiroku, which translates to The Sun’s Revelation. Both episodes clock in at a total of roughly over 2.5 hours together, no where near enough time to cover its expansive origin content and that shows. While A Spirit of the Sun manages to shine in certain aspects, it stumbles in others.
A Spirit of the Sun focuses on a very real but often ignored matter; the rough treatment and fate awaiting immigrants and refugees in the new countries they now call home. Mass immigration, like the one in this story, are usually a result of a tragic and life threatening incident, such as war, natural disasters or rampant crime. However, this sudden and large mass of immigration often generates considerable strain on both refugees and host countries, resulting in mistreatment and hostilities on both sides. With no home and sometimes no country to return to, the refugees are often the losers in the situation and this show helps to shed some light on a matter that might be completely foreign to some, especially an anime loving crowd that’s perhaps only familiar with the more fantastical aspects of this form of media. It goes so far as to show how racial and national tension can cause further divides and problems for refugees, making it even more difficult for them to find and settle into a new life. Furthermore, the series highlights how complicated this situation can get and how there may be several forces that work for and against helping refugees and how help or harm may be lurking in the most unlikely of places. It tries its best to show how and why sometimes this causes certain people to resort to violent means in a desperate attempt at a better life, not condoning it but not shying away from the undeniable truth of the situation. For these reasons alone, I would recommend this series to someone who is on the search for an anime that’s more rooted in realism and might even feel educational and enlightening on some levels.
That said, there are also several things that make this series a frustrating watch. First up, the most obvious being its handling of its protagonist, the aforementioned Genichirou. Despite all that time spent with Gen in the first quarter, it is but roughly a day’s worth so it feels like a stretch to expect audiences to bond with him. This becomes all the more questionable when we then time jump to 15 years in the future and he somehow ends up becoming a pseudo leader of an attempt to use a peaceful protest to disable the attempts of a more violent group. Despite being a complete stranger to the 15 years of suffering the immigrants who are organizing this protest went through, and having the luxury of being raised and accepted as a bonafide citizen, he quickly ends up leading them. Moments like this really weaken the otherwise credible, if fictional, look at the plight of immigrants and make the story feel really convenient and staged. It’s where you see just how focused the series is on hitting story beats rather than selling the heart of the situation.
There are several other characters who contribute to the story, but they get even less build up and exploration compared to Genichirou, meaning they feel even weaker as engaging or endearing characters. They end up feeling like cogs, meant to fulfill a role and push the story forward rather than breathing life and emotion into it. The story shows its nationalistic love for Japan by having characters easily surrendering their privileges as Taiwanese citizens to fight for a country they only knew as kids. And when the show does try to inject some dramatic flair, it chooses to do so in a questionable manner, such as having a woman rip open her shirt to show off her white bra as a signal of her peaceful intent in lieu of waving a white flag. It also doesn’t help that the story chooses to flesh out and focus on inciting incidents and conspiracies, such as crooked politicians working with gangs to stage crimes that frame refugees, that feel like it’s marking off a checklist of stereotypes, with the cramped storytelling making that feeling even stronger. It’s all these combined that make the series feel like it fails to truly sell its otherwise very important message. What goodwill it earns for tackling such a vital real life issue, it ruins by delivering cookie cutter characters and sloppy narration. And fair warning, despite its sci-fi tag, there isn’t really anything one would generally associate with that tag besides the natural disaster element. If anything, this series would be best described as a socio-political drama.
Ultimately, A Spirit of the Sun is something you should try if you are tired of the magical teens running around in anime and want to watch anime handle a real life issue that needs a lot of addressing and discussion. However, if you’re expecting this subject matter to be handled in depth with a bevy of realistic and likeable characters, you might have to brace for disappointment.
A Spirit of the Sun is available for streaming via HIDIVE.com