Reviewby Mike Crandol,
Blue Submarine #6
DVD 1-4: Special Edition
The brilliant scientist Zorndyke has come up with a radical solution to Earth's overpopulation problem. By causing the oceans to rise, he is responsible for the deaths of two-thirds of the human race, and now the remnants of humanity seek to destroy Zorndyke's Antarctic base before he deals the finishing blow. Opposing them are Zorndyke's "children", monstrous aquatic mutations dedicated to claiming the planet for themselves. Blue Submarine No. 6 has been given the last-ditch effort assignment of nuking Zorndyke's base, and former crew member Hayami finds himself reluctantly brought along for the ride. But when Hayami forms an unlikely friendship with Mutio, one of Zorndyke's creations, he begins to question the madman's true motives. As the countdown to the nuclear attack nears, Hayami struggles to reach Zorndyke's base and find a peaceful end to the standoff.
In America, traditional hand-drawn animation is a rapidly declining art form. CG is the wave of the future, and every Shrek and Finding Nemo that comes along seems to be driving another nail in the coffin of good old-fashioned 2D cartoons. The movement towards 3D animation hasn't quite taken hold the same way in Japan, where computer-generated imagery is more often used to complement rather than supplant the time-honored tradition of pencil-and-paper animation. To this day, most anime make only marginal use of 3D graphics.
Yet there have been a few significant attempts at a more integral blend of the two mediums, the most prominent being Mahiro Maeda's 1998 OVA, Blue Submarine No. 6. Certainly the most striking features of this four-episode series are the CG-rendered vehicles and backgrounds, which share equal screen time with a traditionally-animated cast. While each episode serves as a showcase of computer animation, Maeda is careful to keep the imagery in the service of the story, proving that no matter the technical tools, the characters and the tale they tell are what ultimately make for a good show.
It must be said that the blend of animation styles is not a total success. More recent anime productions such as the Cowboy Bebop movie exhibit a more convincing mix of 2D and 3D, benefiting from the use of cel-shaded CGI. Perhaps intentionally, Blue Sub 6's CG animation makes no attempt to disguise its identity. By itself, the 3D is very impressive, but the hyper-realistic-looking submarines mesh awkwardly with the flat, anime-ted characters. The hand-drawn cast's limited animation style also makes for a stark contrast with the fully animated ships and vehicles they cruise around in, letting the series end up with a very patchwork look to it.
An equally uneasy fit is the music, which tacks a jazzy blues sound onto a deadly-serious doomsday tale. The gravity of the story really demands a more epic, orchestral sound like was achieved in Escaflowne or the End of Evangelion. The soundtrack appears to be emulating Yoko Kanno's contemporary work on Bebop, but fails to replicate the memorable nature of her compositions. The only thing you're likely to remember about Blue Sub's score is how inappropriate it sounds.
But none of that really matters, because Blue Sub 6 is a damn good story. Hayami is a great character, a disaffected ne'er-do-well who gets dragged into a battle for a planet he no longer cares about. A chance encounter with the mutant mermaid Mutio places Hayami in a unique position to save the world and put his morals to the ultimate test. Zorndyke's mutant creations and plans for global annihilation remain delightfully ambiguous up to the very end and keep the audience guessing at his true intentions. The anticlimactic ending perfectly illuminates what Zorndyke was getting at all along while at the same time allowing for a tremendous amount of growth for its main character. Like all good anime, it will make you think - and not just about how cool the submarines look.
It's easy to overlook the traditionally animated elements amidst all the CG sparkle, but the incredible character designs are responsible for much of the series' feeling. The human players, Hayami and the spunky pilot Kino, have a simple yet expressive look that conveys a lot of personality with minimal animation. The real success story, however, are Zorndyke's Moreau-like mutations. Creatures of pure visual fantasy, Mutio, her sisters, the sharklike Verg and all his followers look like they just sprang straight from one of Bosch's paintings of Hell. These are not your stereotypical bug-eyed anime creations, nor are they quite like anything from American animation, either. True originals, Zorndyke's children are a testament to the power of traditional animation to create unique visions unattainable in any other medium.
Giving voice to these inhuman creations is a talented troupe of actors that comes up with some distinct sounds for their unusual roles. The Japanese vocal casting is excellent and is expertly matched by an equally capable group of actors in English. The more "normal" characters like Hayami and Kino actually sound a little more convincing in English. However, while the DVDs feature an impressive 5.1 audio mix on the original vocal track, the dub is unfortunately only available in stereo.
Bandai's initial release of the series was hardly economical. With only one episode per volume, many potential buyers were turned off by the high cost of collecting all four installments. This special edition release corrects the error and offers the entire series at a more-than-reasonable price. Each episode is presented on a different side of two dual-sided discs, which preserves the high integrity of the presentation. Aside from the dual layers there is no difference between these discs and the original individual releases. The only added bonus is an extra disc that is largely devoted to promoting the Blue Sub 6 PlayStation game. This may sound odd at first considering the game was never released in America, but with over 50 minutes of fully animated cinema scenes from the game included on the disc, viewers are treated to an all-new Blue Sub 6 anime (sorry dub fans, Japanese with subtitles only). There is also a virtual encyclopedia for the OVA series, as well as all of the promotional spots from its run on Cartoon Network.
However, the real bonus here is the affordable price tag. There is no longer any reason to refrain from adding Blue Submarine No. 6 to your anime collection. Whether you prefer the high-tech look of CG animation or the old-fashioned techniques, Blue Sub 6 stands as a reminder that even the most cutting-edge animation in the world is only as good as the story it tells.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : D
+ innovative mix of traditional and CG animation tells a thoughtful story with feeling
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