Spriggan anime Season 1 available now on Netflix – is it a faithful adaptation?

A comparison between the Spriggan Netflix anime and the manga.
Adaptations always come with some changes, but is the Spriggan anime faithful to its source material? Pic credit: David Production and Ryouji Minagawa

News of a Spriggan anime has gotten fans both excited and anxious ever since the words ‘Netflix original’ were attached to the announcement. For every dud on Netflix’s roster, however, there’s plenty of gems such as Dorohedoro which — despite having some rough composition — was an overall entertaining show.

Often, the first question fans ask is whether a new anime remains faithful to its source material? It’s worth noting that a faithful adaptation and a good adaptation are not always one and the same. Different mediums often require different compositions or story structures to suit their strengths.

In the case of Spriggan, those seeking a frame-by-frame recreation of the manga will be out of luck, but does that mean it’s a bad show?

Is the Netflix adaptation of the Spriggan faithful to the manga?

The first chapter of the Spriggan manga (the Spriggan: First Mission one-shot) opens on a page of expository text. Humanity finds a tablet that warns of a future where evil triumphs. While the details themselves remain cryptic, players working from the shadows form an organization meant to hide the tablet and all details surrounding it. Members of said group are named ‘Spriggans’ after the trickster guardians in Cornish mythology.

This is then followed up by a fly-over of a modern city where mechanical churning and a crazed man’s ramblings pull readers into the manga’s world. Major Hummingbat — an American military officer — quotes the Old Testament as he talks about the Megiddo Flame and refers to it as ‘the power of God’ as he deploys a weapon capable of leveling Tokyo.

In the Netflix adaptation, the early exposition and biblical references are saved for later — opting to treat viewers to a visual bang from the start and give an early look at the protagonist, Yu Ominae. Although, Yu’s panic has been written away and replaced with the calm, carefree attitude he shows in later chapters.

While minor, in the first chapter of the manga, he’s characterized as young and terrified by the state of the world and the missions he’s tasked to endure. This makes him relatable to the reader as his missteps give him room to grow and his thoughts (like how he remembers receiving his armored muscle suit) provide organic exposition for the reader.

Comparison between the Spriggan one-shot and episode 1 of the Netflix anime.
The one-shot of Spriggan is meant to show Yu’s first mission. But based on the anime alone, that wouldn’t have been obvious. Pic credit: David Production and Ryouji Minagawa

It’s unknown for certain why the change was made, but it’s worth noting that Yu’s personality does take a noticeable shift between the one-shot and second chapter since it’s implied that some time passes between them. So it’s possible that David Production wanted him to feel more consistent throughout the first episode. This, unfortunately, has the consequence of Yu never meeting and saving the researcher who is later revealed to be Yoshino Somei.

Characterization changes, however, are minor to plot deviations. And manga readers wondering, “If Yu never saves the researcher, what happens to the big reveal when he bumps into her later in the chapter?” Well… That never happens either. The story skips ahead to chapter 2 of the manga and cuts out any grounding of Yu going back to his daily life as a high school student.

Granted, that change doesn’t become apparent until the third episode, The Forest of No Return, where the Yoshino’s return would’ve been memorable to viewers. A change that may bring more immediate confusion for fans is the choice to obscure Yu’s former memories of his childhood friend, Rie Yamabishi.   

Linguistics student, Rie, retains her memories of Yu (just like in the manga), but as for Yu himself? His memory flashbacks of Rie and a scene in which he believes she has been killed onto to later find her at the fire shrine have been removed. Perhaps those scenes got the ax due to time restraints? It’s hard to say since later episodes do show Yu as a high school student so the character changes weren’t done to wholly retcon his background.

What story arcs are included in the Netflix Spriggan anime?

The episode titles conveniently mark each of the adapted arcs. And the list is as follows:

  • Flame Serpent
  • Noah’s Ark
  • The Forest of No Return
  • Berserker
  • The Crystal Skull
  • The Forgotten Kingdom

Episode 2 and on are where the real changes start to take place. Skipping the Legend of the Mask arc entirely (save for the opening scene of Yu leaving class on a motorbike), episode 2 skips to chapter 17 in the manga that has Yu traveling to an excavation site where Noah’s Ark has been found.

From here, it gets harder to track where and when the story follows the manga. The general beats remain the same, and for viewers who don’t have a strong connection to the source material, that may be good enough. Compared to the treatment other Netflix adaptations have gotten in the past like the live action Death Note series, Spriggan does, at least, keep its general plot consistent with the manga.

While cutting scenes for time is to be expected, a lot of what was removed early on helped to establish Yu’s personality and background. Were they vital to understanding the plot? No. But they would’ve added more impact to scenes such as when Yu stops fellow Spriggan Jean from killing a surrendered enemy. Yu’s reluctance to kill — something expressed in the manga — was stripped from episode 1 of the anime.

Although, speaking of Jean, his anime character design was a welcomed change. It should come as no surprise to anyone that David Production, the studio behind Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, knows how to draw beautiful men. There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for why he now has the power of lycanthropy, but unlike the rest of the changes, one could at least chalk it up to, “Well… it’s kinda cool?”  

Comparison between the Spriggan one-shot and episode 2 of the Netflix anime.
Come to think of it, this adaptation could’ve been a lot worse and I still would’ve watched it for Jean alone. Pic credit: David Production and Ryouji Minagawa

As stated before, ‘faithful to the source material’ and ‘good’ are not always the same thing. Some adaptations manage to take a creative spin on the original in a way that enriches the story. In the case of the Netflix Spriggan anime… it’s hard to call the changes improvements.

A pivotal scene (again for Yu’s character development) was punching and standing up to Jean who wished to gun down their foe. Instead… Yu just asks him to take care of a pair of bystanders so he can fight alone — diminishing some of the impact when Yu expresses to Jean that he may be too soft towards his enemies.  

Moving onto episode 3, the Berserker arc and The Forest of No Return have been flipped. Since Spriggan arcs are generally self-contained, that isn’t the biggest issue. More importantly, remember the researcher that Yu never met in the first episode? She returns from the void and Yu, of course, knows her by name regardless.

Yoshino could’ve been a fun throwback to the first episode, but anime-only fans won’t get to make the connection. And this, generally, is a pattern that manga fans should expect.

Comparison between the Spriggan one-shot and episode 3 of the Netflix anime.
Perhaps Yoshino was cut out of the first episode so each did feel more ‘stand-alone’. It’s hard to know for certain! Pic credit: David Production and Ryouji Minagawa

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to call the Netflix Spriggan anime a bad adaptation. It captures the most vital points of the plot, is competently animated, and is entertaining to watch. Those who have never read the Spriggan manga will get a clear idea of the story… even if certain events are left out.

Those who want to see the protagonist fleshed out a little more — and some extra arcs at that — should check out the manga which is available for preorder now via publisher Seven Sea Entertainment. Pick up a copy of the digital deluxe edition now or wait until August 16th for the paperback edition!

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