Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Fourteen years ago, an apocalyptic event called Eden's Hammer flooded most of the world, killing 6 billion people. As the survivors, led by Secretary-General Aoi, struggle to form a new United Nations, everyone involved seems intent on trying to take advantage of the situation. Such matters are of little concern to Aoi's grandson, 14-year-old Keel, who spends his time swindling people at gambling and looking in on the older and very pregnant Isla, on whom he has a crush. When Captain Gould, commander of the U.S.S. Ulysses (one of the few remaining nuclear subs), declares war on the remaining world governments by launching an attack on the forming coalition, Keel not only encounters his long-thought-dead twin Teen, who turns out to be an officer on said sub, but finds himself forced to take up his twin's offer to seek refuge on the Ulysses when Isla unexpectedly gives birth early. While Keel and Isla get caught up in life, battles, and adventures aboard the sub, Teen, who was captured by the U.N. Forces, travels with Aoi.
Tide-Line Blue is merely the latest of a lengthy series of a submarine-based anime adventures to make its way to North America over the past decade. Based on its first few episodes, it shares some the same key flaws as one of its most recent predecessors, Mars Daybreak: an inability to decide on what aspect of its storytelling it wants to focus, and an uncomfortable balance of dramatic, action, and comedy elements. If that one didn't interest you much, this one probably won't, either.
One of the main problems with Tide-Line Blue is that it uses a very stereotypical shonen slacker-type hero as its main character and tries to squish him into a serious story, an environment not generally conducive to that type of character. Such heroes normally require a prickly, uptight character to play off of, and one is provided in Commander Josie, whose “comical” overreactions feel forced and out of character. Such characters also require a good-natured love interest to go trippy over and get all protective about, and Keel certainly has that in Isla, although the big twist this time is that she's older and, by the end of the first episode, has a baby. (This being a teen-oriented anime series, they are, of course, not bold enough to make Keel the “baby's daddy.”) By the end of this volume she is, unfortunately, a much more likeable character than Keel, who also has the requisite special past and cluelessness. It also does not help matters that Captain Gould, who feels like he should be a stern but forgiving commander, never quite settles on a personality mode throughout these four episodes. And let's not even get into how impossibly annoying the ostrich is.
The storytelling does have its positive points, however. The post-apocalyptic world it has constructed is a moderately intriguing one which features all sorts of interesting and logical power dynamics, such as remaining islands vying for increased influence based on the importance and exclusivity of the resources they can offer. Yet to be explained is why Captain Gould, who is shown in flashbacks as being very optimistic and cooperative, has turned against Aoi and the coalition reforming the U.N., but his curious disfigurements do pique interest in that backstory. Numerous flashbacks allude to Keel and Teen being on a space station in their earlier years and some tragedy which killed their mother and left Teen long-thought-dead, and sorting out the details of that and why Keel seems to hate Teen so much holds promise. The sub action scenes are not without merit, either, and the proper, efficient, and reserved Teen, who stands as a diametric contrast to Keel, makes for a more interesting alternative lead, although the story so far features him much less than Keel.
The visuals are at their best in the vividly-drawn explosions and CG renderings of the space station and submarines, which generally integrate well with the non-CG backgrounds. CG renditions of smoke clouds stand out more. Background art also fares well, although the sub settings seem improbably roomy, to the point that they lack the claustrophobic feel that typifies live-action sub movies. (But that tends to be a common flaw with anime subs.) Character designs eschew typically huge anime eyes in favor of ones that are just slightly oversized, while younger characters generally having lanky, rail-thin builds. Keel has the look of a stereotypical shonen lead, and most supporting characters also look like something out of a standard shonen series. Isla, with her natural smile, more rounded look, and colorful garb, is both the most visually appealing character and a dramatic visual contrast to Josie, who needs to discover the wonder of hair coloring product. The quality of all the character renderings varies a bit, looking sharper in some scenes and rougher in others. Animation generally looks good, although the series seems obsessed with having its big subs make needlessly dramatic entrances.
The musical score works well in purely dramatic scenes, less so in more light-hearted or action-focused moments. The opener and closer, while decent as anime themes go, do not particularly distinguish themselves.
The English dub, provided for Bandai by Ocean Group and recorded at Blue Water Studios, may be passable for dub fans but is unlikely to be found acceptable by purists or fence-sitters. The problem here is a generally inexperienced cast, as beyond Carol-Anne Day (of Mai in My-HiME fame) playing Josie, all the principal roles are filled by actors with few or no titles under their belts. Some roles still sound fine despite the inexperience (Isla, Aoi, and, for the most part, Keel), but too many don't; Teen is a particular sore thumb, but that's no surprise given that it's the same English VA who so underwhelmingly performed Takumi in My-HiME. The English script stays quite close to the original, perhaps too much so, since some of the original wording does not sound right in a direct translation.
Extras include a short interview with the theme song writer/vocalist and extended anime music videos for both the theme song and an insert song. Fair warning, though: the visual for all three use scenes from throughout the series, so they contain massive spoilers for future volumes.
Ultimately the first volume fails because it tries to do too much at the same time. It wants to be funny, a shonen action series, a sub action series, and a serious dramatic piece which analyzes human behavior in a post-apocalyptic world, and does not, in these episodes, find a satisfactory way to put them all together. The story has potential and respectable technical merits, but so far the structure is flawed.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Good animation, some story potential.
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