Blue Submarine No. 6
In the near future, Zorndyke has forsaken his world and sent out his humanoid creations to wreak havoc upon the world. Melting icecaps have turned most of the major cities, like Tokyo into ocean shelf, and untold billions have died. It is up to the Blue Fleet and its submarines to turn back the threat of these bioengineered monsters, and it's up to the youthful Kino Mayumi and the jaded sub ace Hayami Tetsu to find out the truth behind Zorndyke and why he's so seemingly intent on destroying the Earth as humans know it.
Okay, that plot seems pretty stock, right? The character designs look pretty average, and Blue Submarine No. 6 is based on a manga that's older than most members of THEM! At first glance, it sure didn't seem to be all that.
And then I actually sat down and watched it, from beginning to end. Well, the reviewer is always entitled to change his mind, and Blue Submarine No. 6 turned out to be another of those sleepers that looks average, but delivers much more.
The first thing you will notice is the integration between 3D backgrounds and effects with the 2D cel characters, kind of like rotoscoping, but totally animated rather than with any live-action. Most times, it looks nice, though occasionally some of the cloud and smoke effects look obvious. Not quite as good as Babylon 5 (much less Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) but it's no slouch, either. It's also nice that they acknowledged the then-limitations of CG and decided to keep 2D character animations (unlike the poorly-regarded Visitor, which isn't likely to be reviewed here in the near future).
To continue with the CG effects (man, these are cool!), check out the jaw-dropping battle sequences, whether it's between the submarines and that massive gun-studded "Phantom Ship", or between the 2-seater Grampus and the Kumo (spider-like assault craft). Awesome stuff to behold, even if you aren't particularly a mecha fan.
Though the plot and characters seem at first like just about any other mecha show, the rapport between the characters is well established, and the villains aren't as stereotypical as they should be, which is always a bonus. Also, kudos to the English dub staff for providing a product that is just as valid as the Japanese language track. The music is quite nice, giving the right atmosphere for the show, especially the action scenes, though the slow, sultry end track is really just there to fill the (very long) credit sequence. Also in most series with bioengineered humanoids, the humanoids tend to get the short end of the stick with characterization, and though Blue Sub no. 6 isn't perfect about it, the characterization of the humanoids isn't exactly horrible either, though the berserk weirdo shark thing gets grating until the very end, where even he redeems himself somewhat. More points for Hayami, too, who is well acted (in the dub, too) and pleasantly angsty without being completely hopeless.
A good twist ending wraps everything up nicely, and Zorndyke himself is about as clever as villains get. Solid direction and tight pacing makes for a sterling production that's marred perhaps only by the prohibitive pricing structures Bandai has put on this series (how much for a single episode? COME ON!). The "Special Edition" release should rectify that ... three years after the initial DVDs were made available, mind you!
However, that shouldn't deter people from trying to get their hands this series. Blue Submarine no. 6 is exceptionally good and perhaps a more fitting homage to The Island of Dr. Moreau than any movie with that title. That certainly has to count for something.
UPDATE: A decade has elapsed since the initial review and we find it high time to re-examine this series. Sadly, it has simply not held up, as many of its perceived merits (particularly technical merit) have been surpassed by numerous TV series by this point, now that CGI has become the norm.
This leaves us with the unfortunate effect that the truncated, often confusing plot and thin characterization now take center stage, and this considerably lessens the impact of the series. Sadly, there is really only one championable character here (who is treated like garbage), and while Zorndyke remains interesting, his tactics and theories do not mesh particularly well with modern knowledge: what he is attempting would actually have the opposite effect of his intentions using real world planetary physics, WHOOPS! Part of this may stem from the source material having been written in 1967, when we frankly didn't know the full extent of planetary magnetic fields or their effect on the existence of life on Earth. 50+ years of scientific progress means even this updated version is thickly encrusted with Zeerust.
Either way, this leaves this work coming off as naive or even ignorant to savvy modern viewers, and while it never truly hits bottom-shelf territory (or even comes close), Blue Sub No. 6 has fallen prey to age and progress. Anime has moved onto bigger and better things, and this is best regarded as a relic of that transitional stage between the classic "acetate age" and the modern computerized form of Japanese animation.
The lack of plot and originality hurts quite a bit more now that the animation has dated beyond relevance. Imperfect ... but not bad. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: The most violent scenes were edited out of the television version, but considering there wasn't an incredible amount of bloodshed to begin with (mostly submarine explosions and such), the cuts weren't very noticeable. The action can get too intense for young ones, but teens and above would probably enjoy this exciting, well-paced series. Some minor nudity with the mermaid-like humanoids, but nothing of consequence, really.
Version(s) Viewed: VHS, dubbed and subtitled
Review Status: Full (4/4)
Blue Submarine No. 6 © 1998 Satoru Ozawa / Bandai Visual / Toshiba EMI / Gonzo
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