Blue Submarine No. 6 Anime Review
Ao no Roku-go
Blue Number 6
US Release By
Drowned Planet Sci-fi Submarine Action
4 episodes; 30 minutes (1-3) and 50-minutes (4)
1998-10-25 - 2000-03-25
What's In It
- Submarine Combat
- Speedboat/robot fighting
- Super Technology
- Super submarines (traditional ones, too)
- Big Robots/Mecha
- High speed boating
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 2 (moderate)
- Sex: 0 (none)
- Language: 1 (mild)
In the near future, the situation isn't so far from Waterworld--sea level has risen, drowning what were once the major cities of the world. Humanity is now at war with the Zorndyke--a race of water dwelling creatures with powerful war machines. But humanity is fighting back with high tech submarines and aquatic assault craft. At the forefront of the fleet is Blue 6 and her crew.
As the story beings, we meet Mayumi Kino, a young and talented pilot. Blue 6 is preparing to do battle, but they're missing a vital element--Tetsu Hayami, a master pilot who now hires out his skills as a freelance salvager. Hayami has no intention of rejoining the military, but when the Zorndyke suddenly attack, he might get pressed into service anyway...
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Blue Submarine No. 6 is a historically interesting series, marking both an early success in computer-heavy anime production and Gonzo's first foray into anime, but it merits recognition based purely on its own merits. The misleadingly simple start to the story eventually leads into a solid war drama with no clear right or wrong, and the small cast of well-developed characters play it out effectively, and though the short runtime leaves it feeling a bit underdeveloped at times, the non-action scenes are never rushed. The plentiful action is almost completely computer-generated undersea combat, and is fast, smooth, and exciting, with a great deal of effort put into creative touches, from odd camera angles to handheld camera-style action. The solid if unremarkable acting in both Japanese and English are complimented by a rich soundscape (particularly evident in the 5.1 channel Japanese), though the jazz soundtrack feels out of place.
In all, this is a solid, unusual series--it has good action and plenty of it, creative visuals and settings, interesting characters, and a more-than-it-seems, thought provoking (if a little formulaic) story.
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Although Blue Submarine No. 6 has since gained quite a bit of exposure thanks to a Cartoon Network run, I had barely even heard of it when I sat down to watch it. I like going in with no preconceptions, and I was pleased with what I found: A classic sci-fi war story that goes out of its way to be creative and manages to strike an effective balance between interesting visuals, fast action, and meaty plot.
The most distinctive feature of Blue Submarine No. 6 is its "arty" feel. From the visuals (a variety of unusual camera angles and handheld-style action), to a less-than-ordinary villain, to the jazz soundtrack, almost everything is a bit different from the norm. A lot of effort went into crafting unusual or disturbing images and thought-provoking contrasts. There is definitely a well-realized vision driving this Gonzo effort, though it (thankfully) stops short of the experimental nature of most recent Gainax productions. The creative flair is sometimes heavy-handed, but it is generally effective and I found several scenes quite engrossing.
The series is a short one, and it certainly wastes no time throwing you into the action, with fast-paced scenes making up a large part of the first half of the series. Establishing information and character background are almost entirely skipped in the opening episode, and the story doesn't really solidify until it's more than half over. Though this style keeps things lively and is a reasonably effective way of dealing with the short runtime, once the plot started to develop a little depth I would have liked to see more time spent on it.
Despite the chaotic and plentiful action scenes, another strength of Blue Submarine No. 6 is the relatively mild mood and measured pacing in the non-action parts. As short as each episode is, most of the significant scenes forwarding the plot are deliberate, unhurried, and the dialogue (or lack thereof) isn't overwritten. About the only real down side is that the philosophy gets pretty thick as the series builds to its conclusion, and the very end is a bit too opaque for my taste--I would have liked a slightly more satisfying (or just clear) conclusion.
Initially, the story looks like a classic sci-fi formula (come to think of it, it's almost identical to Agent Aika, without the humor and perversion) and the heroes and villains seem pretty obvious. But as it moves on, the underpinnings of both the characters and their world start to look more murky than their surface, and not just for the viewer--the situation is more complicated than most of the characters see, or want to see, and that is where the series starts to get good. People stuck in a war without a clear good guy or any hope of victory is hardly a new theme in anime, but I thought it was pulled off quite well here; the message is clear without being so blunt that it's annoying.
At the center of the series are two characters who mirror the depth of the story under its simplified surface, a jaded, world-wise pilot and a blindly idealistic one. These two (particularly the former) have some real personality, as well as conflict that is neither cheesy nor overly grating. The humanoid enemy pilot Mutio also plays a significant role, and is most notable for the fact that she can't speak. The resulting scenes of nonverbal communication are emotionally complex and visually engaging at the same time, and to me at least were worth watching the whole thing for. There aren't many other characters, but a couple in the supporting cast have distinct, relatively realistic personalities as well. My only complaint about the characters is that more time wasn't available to see them develop and interact.
Visually, Blue Submarine No. 6 is impressive in its own right, but also of some historical significance as the first anime production of Gonzo, a studio that has since become famous for their impressive computer-assisted animation but up until this series had only worked on video game cutscenes. As with later Gonzo productions, this early effort makes heavy use of computer animation for everything that moves other than the characters (who are digitally colored and composited cel art). The result is, although not perfect, quite impressive.
This early CG-heavy effort isn't without a few rough edges. The cel art and 3D rendered objects look somewhat uncomfortable next to each other, although it doesn't flow too badly since they're rarely onscreen at the same time and the backgrounds are more or less the same regardless of the animation in front of them. Some of the action also has a bit of the "soft" look that plagued early computer-generated attempts, but as the series progressed the animators found their footing and by the end it feels very solid, something I give high praise for.
Even early on, however, the plentiful (and almost completely computer generated) action scenes are impressive: fast, smooth, and exciting. There is a good sense of mass and impact that I particularly enjoy in action scenes. The underwater sequences also feature beautiful (and quite realistic) work with the sense of mass of the large ships and creatures, absolutely fantastic underwater explosions, and cool bubble effects. On the down side, though the action sequences make good use of shaky, handheld-style camerawork for added realism--something that has since become a Gonzo trademark--some of the early scenes are a bit too chaotic for their own good.
The cool visuals aren't limited to the action, though; the attention to detail in the ruined cityscapes is impressive, and the standing water has a very definite sense of depth, with buildings wavering below the surface and into the depths. Actually, all the water is handled well (a good thing, since this is a series about submarines)--lots of spray and splashing. As I mentioned earlier, the cinematography is quite unusual and equally impressive--conversations usually involve a variety of camera angles, and there are a few scenes with interesting, out-of-the-ordinary settings.
Last is the cel art, which is almost as good as the CG end of things. The art style is simple, but crisp, with distinctive character designs and costumes. The character animation is even better--realistic, expressive, and done with the same attention to detail evident in some of the backgrounds. My one complaint would be the designs of the half-animal villain Verg and some of his minions; I assume having them look so obviously "evil" was intentional, but they look too cheesy for their own good--way too close to Saturday Morning cartoon villains to go with the otherwise grim, realistic visuals and the personality that even they develop.
The sound effects are worthy of particular note, as they are well matched to the exceptionally realistic visuals--eerie noises under the sea, thudding explosions, splashing, and all manner of mechanical noise (they even use a proper delay for distant sounds in a few shots).
The music, on the other hand, is... well, inappropriate. The action themes are either drowned out by the sound effects or very loud, upbeat jazz. Although this is certainly out of the ordinary, it also feels completely out of place with the extremely dire situations. The end song is equally unusual, but a little better--an attractive, jazzy, melancholy tune. Sadly, Bandai's dub loses points in this area--the vocals are loud, but all the background sound effects and music are sort of dull and faint sounding, taking a bit of the punch out of the battle sequences.
On a related subject that will only be significant if you're watching this series off a DVD on a multi-speaker sound system, the Japanese audio is a full 5.1 channels (another thing that has since become a Gonzo trademark), and there is some amazing work in it--some of the scenes paint a sonic picture richer than all but a few big-budget movies I can think of. On the minor annoyance side, if your surround system has widely spaced front speakers you'll probably notice that they got a little carried away with the sound separation in the dialogue. The sound effects and atmosphere pull you in, but the dialogue jumps so far to one side or the other whenever the angle bumps a character offscreen that it's kind of disorienting. Worse, the volume of the speaking matches the distance of the camera so well that in a few shots with particularly creative (and distant) angles, the background noise actually makes it hard to hear what the characters are saying. True, most viewers will be reading the subtitles, but I can say that if I had been trying to understand the dialogue by just listening, I would have been straining at times. The English version, being stereo only, doesn't have this problem.
The acting in Japanese is solid, but the only real standout performance is Zorndyke's eerily calm voice. On the negative side, Verg's voice matches his appearance, so he's far too whiny to take as seriously as he should be. The English acting is a bit stiffer sounding overall, but is equally solid and actually better in parts--Zordyke's voice is quite well matched with the Japanese version, and Hayami, although a bit cheesy-sounding at times, sounds powerfully and believably shaken in some of his most dramatic moments (more so than in the Japanese version). The English Verg sounds a bit more fitting for his appearance, though he loses some of his growl.
In all, this is a solid, unusual series--it has good action and plenty of it, creative visuals and settings, interesting characters, and a more-than-it-seems, thought provoking (if a little formulaic) story. Check it out if you like the sound of a thoughtful war story heavily seasoned with underwater combat, or if you're in any way a fan of slick action or computer animation.
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If you liked the world of Agent Aika but not the rest of the series, you might enjoy this one just for the contrast. Fans of computer-generated animated action (of the sort Gonzo has since become famous for) will also find much to like--Saikano and Yukikaze are probably the closest of their works to this one, though others like Full Metal Panic, Vandread, and even Zoids (which they didn't do) have a similar visual style.
Notes and Trivia
Blue Submarine No. 6 is (apparently) based on a sci-fi comic series from the '60s by Satoru Ozawa about invaders from Mercury, but it shares little with the original story.
The first non-video-game work of the now-famous animation studio Gonzo.
US DVD Review
The original 4-disc set was Bandai's first DVD effort, and I was quite pleased with the discs, though buying each OAV individually (like the poor anime fan in Japan is forced to do) seems like usury in the US. It has since been superseded by a reasonably priced 3-disc set that includes the whole series and an entire disc of new bonus material: interviews, loads of information, illustrations, trailers, and info and video from the Playstation game. Video and audio-wise, I assume the re-release is similar, which is a very good thing.
Even though they're only OAVs, they have full Dolby 5.1 Japanese audio tracks (the English is only stereo), and fine ones at that. A bit too fine at times--I mentioned the dialogue problems above--but the sound effects are crystal clear and well separated.
Better yet, the video is still among best of any anime DVD, which is particularly impressive given the time it was released. This probably comes from the fact that even the cel art was computer colored and composited, making it very clean, but I was very impressed. The flat colors are smooth as silk, the computer stuff looks perfect, and the lines look like they've been cut with a razor. I even turned off all the lights and got close to make sure I wasn't missing some compression artifacts, but they're just not there. On close examination, some gradients show a little bit of banding, but even subtle gradients in very dark scenes (a classic DVD encoding pitfall) are crisp and smooth. Bandai, you've done good.
My other (very minor) annoyance was that the first three discs didn't include the Japanese cast, although at least they left the Japanese credits intact, and the first disc does have the cast written on an insert. The last one replaces the Japanese credits with a complete English translation, including the actors in both languages.
That's about all there is on the discs other than a few trailers for other upcoming Bandai DVDs and a chapter index, except the final disc, which includes a fairly thorough interview with the production crew with some really interesting comments (it was funny to note that the producer was the only one promoting this as a new chapter in the history of animation, which in ways it actually was).
Though not all of their later releases quite lived up to this one, this was the start of a beautiful friendship betwixt Bandai and the Digital Disc.
Bandai rated it 13 and up, and about right due to some violent content and some near-human nudity.
Violence: 2 - The violence isn't graphic at all, but there's a lot of action and some exploding boats, as well as some large dying sea creatures.
Nudity: 2 - Completely non-erotic, but a humanoid enemy pilot is unclothed onscreen for a while.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing.
Language: 1 - Not much.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Tetsu Hayami: Hozumi Goda
Mayumi Kino: Yukana Nogami
Shidll Dedson: Unsho Ishizuka
Tokuhiro Iga: Arimoto Kinryu
Yuri Maiakofski: Hirotaka Suzuoki
Mutio: Miki Nagasawa
Verg: Shotaro Morikubo
Freeda Verasco: Yoko Somi
Makio Yamada: Tsutomu Taruki
Mei Ling Huang: Ayaka Saitoh
Zorndyke: Takeshi Wakamatsu
Katsuma Nonaka: Toshihiko Seki
Alexander David Cekeros: Yoshitada Ohtsuka
Myong Hea Yun: Shinichiro Miki
Toko Gusuku: Michiko Neya
Kouichi Nakamura: Kousei Yagi
J.J. Barnell: Jurouta Kosugi
Akihiro Okawa: Kazunari Tanaka
Novo: Shinji Ogawa
General Gilford: Gara Takashima
Hugh W. Conwell: Ikuo Nishikawa
Daughter of the Beast: Akiko Yajima
Captain of the Shang: Kazuya Nakai
Based on a comic by: Satoru Ozawa
Producers: Kiyoshi Sugiyama, Takao Nagayama, Shinji Nakajima
Screenplay: Hiroshi Yamaguchi
Storyboard: Mahiro Maeda
Unit Director: Kouichi Chigara
Animation Director: NA, Toshiyuki Inoue, Takeshi Honda
Art Director: Masanori Kikuchi
Sound Director: Yota Tsuruoka
Music: The Thrill
Original Character Design: Range Murata, Takuhito Kusanagi
Animation Character Design: Toshiharu Murata, Kouichi Arai, Takeshi Honda
Mechanical Design: Shoji Kawamori, Takuhito Kusanagi, Mahiro Maeda, Ikuto Yamashita, Seiji Kio, Kanetake Ebikawa, Range Murata