Reviewby Carlo Santos, Aug 17th 2005
Across the oceans, a terrorist group known as the USR is indiscriminately attacking other ships. To combat this menace, eleven countries join forces to form the Peace Keeping Navy, or PKN. Among them is Japan, whose representative—the Submarine 707—is a plodding underdog compared to the technological marvels of countries like America. In fact, the 707 is so slow in getting to the PKN's first meeting that it inadvertently sacrifices itself when the USR makes a surprise attack. After a new submarine is built, the 707's Captain Hayami comes out of retirement and prepares to defend the seas again. One by one, the technologically superior USR picks off the other nations' vessels, until finally Hayami must lead the 707 into battle with sheer guts and skill.
The military fanatic side of anime comes out to play in Submarine 707R (the R is for Revolution), which is essentially a shoot-'em-up action flick that suggests, "Wouldn't it be cool if Japan saved the world from something?" While it is pretty cool to watch a ragtag submarine crew take down a syndicate of sea bandits, don't think for a moment that this is going to be a realistic portrayal of world affairs and combat tactics. Submarine 707R is a military fantasy at heart, evoking a sense of stirring heroism with its carefully staged nautical combat. For that to succeed, however, it has to leave common sense at the dock, and so should you if you want to enjoy this undersea adventure.
It's reasonable to imagine that Japan has a decently equipped submarine among its defense forces, but that's about as far as it goes with realism. Everything beyond that is a contrivance intended to set up a final battle where the 707 shows off the indomitable spirit of its crew. The USR's rationale for their behavior is a flimsy one: they're fighting for peaceful seas, yet sneaking up on ships and blowing them apart doesn't seem like the best way to go about it. But every great action feature must have a sneering, calculating villain, and that's what the USR's Admiral Red is for. Then there's the PKN itself, whose fleet somehow gets wasted in about 15 minutes, just so that Captain Hayami and the 707 can have a solo shot at Admiral Red. And what's with the military lady in the PKN who secretly talks to her superiors about their battle plans? The conspiracy is never explained. There's even an implausibly advanced artificial intelligence that runs the USR's flagship vessel. Cutely named "Gödel-1," it flippantly parades its omniscience—right up until Hayami outwits Red, which apparently makes the world's smartest computer go stupid and start panicking. If we're to believe this whole story, then the balance of world peace rests entirely on submarines, equipped with cutting-edge technology that's still too dumb to think itself out of a plot hole.
Submarine 707R isn't all about military posturing and contrived combat situations, however. It makes some effort at establishing character sympathy, with scenes of Hayami at home with his family and even Admiral Red spending some time with his wife and kids. However, their family lives seem like nothing more than cheap inserts to slow down the pace, and even the side characters aboard the 707 feel like an afterthought. Those three high-school boys, in particular, seem to be completely in the wrong place. Hayami and his second-in-command Nangou are the only well-developed characters here, displaying the grit and heroism of true military men when they finally take on Red's forces. It's the classic pattern of every action blockbuster: evil villain does threatening stuff; heroes go on a mission to stop villain; hero faces off against villain in do-or-die battle. It's a tried-and-true structure, and in this case, it's held in place by some ridiculous turns of plot.
Like its military characters, the animation style in Submarine 707R has a well-disciplined look to it, employing clean geometric shapes and realistic details. There's a strange disconnect among the character designs; Hayami and Nangou look far more cartoony (presumably due to their appearance in the manga) compared to the supporting cast. Meanwhile, the other main characters—the submarines—are rendered in fanatical detail, presenting a visual delight to any fan of radical vehicle designs. Their stately motion through water, often animated in CGI, paints a grand picture of undersea travel. Various effects like splashing water and bubbles are handled confidently, and the explosions, which form the centerpiece of the visual style, are devastating yet spectacular to watch.
Every action movie must have its swashbuckling orchestra score, and Submarine 707R is no different. Stirring fanfares and declamatory chords form most of the musical vocabulary, although there are pockets of gentle beauty like the piano piece in the opening sequence. (Drawn by Hideaki Anno, the pencil-rendered opening is a treat for the eyes too.) Sounding a lot like diluted John Williams, the music score uses all the clichés of pompous brass and string arrangements, but it does it in an emotionally striking way that complements each scene.
Although the English dub is competent, it lacks an emotional spark that usually shines through in Bang Zoom!'s other voice acting projects. The cast deserves praise for twisting their tongues around the technical and military jargon of the script, and they get the right tone of voice for each line, but rarely do those lines bring out the spirit of each character. Instead it sounds like typical action movie fodder, which is no surprise given the original subtitles. The adaptation works a couple of Americanizations into the dub script ("Takeshita Street" becomes "Times Square") and inverts several phrases, but once the focus turns to combat, the translation becomes much simpler work. One memorable exchange involves rapid back-and-forth cuts between Captain Hayami going "Arrrr!" and Admiral Red going "Arrrr!" until the whole scene is one big "Arrrr!" chorus.
Fans of explosive, high-tech military action will find their ideal anime in Submarine 707R. Like a Tom Clancy novel gone underwater, this OAV has it all: impossibly advanced vehicles and weapons, government conspiracies, maniacal terrorist villains, and a rugged hero who wins with finesse over force. However, it's also distinctive in what it lacks: a believable premise, deep characters, and a logical plot progression. With all the resources available at their fingertips, surely the PKN and USR could have bought themselves some common tactical sense. Ah, well. At least they've got firepower.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ A visually impressive action feature with lots of stuff blowing up.
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