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Submarine 707R – missions 1 & 2
A region 2 DVD review by CNash
 

Submarine 707R, released in Region 2 on 6th March by Manga Entertainment, is based on the manga Blue Submarine No.6, by Satoru Ozawa. Strangely, it appears that there is another animé adaptation of this manga – named Blue Submarine No.6 – released as an OVA in 2000; having never seen this, I can't comment on it, and even if I had, I'd be loath to compare the two. From what I can tell, the first series goes into more detail, having four episodes to relate the story (compared to 707R's two).

Set in the near future, Submarine 707R focuses on the conflict between the newly-formed Peace Keeping Navy (PKR) – a coalition of naval forces supplied by several UN member countries – and the terrorist group Underwater Silence Revolution (USR), who wish to keep the oceans free of man's interference. Yes, even though they're one of those "bad guys with a pseudo-good cause", their leader is portrayed as ruthlessly evil, and it is ok – for the most part – to hate them. More on the leader later.

When the USR's flagship, the UX, gate-crashes the PKN's inception ceremony and destroys most of the fleet, Captain Youhei Hayami – arriving late – is forced to sacrifice his old but reliable submarine, the 707, to save the PKN's flagship aircraft carrier. Several months later, Captain Hayami is called back into service aboard a new 707 sub in order to patrol the oceans against the USR and its leader, Admiral Red.

707R is an OVA – that's "Original Video Animation", basically an animé series that is released on video before it's seen on TV – in two "missions", though it's really two parts of the same story. Mission 1 opens with a naval battle sequence, guest-directed by Evangelion's Hideaki Anno, and then gets right down to the USR-PKN conflict at the PKN's inception. The rest of the episode deals mainly with the families of both Captain Hayami and Admiral Red, and how they respond to their husbands and fathers continually going out to sea.

Once the backstory and characterisation parts of the story are out of the way, Mission 2 can let loose with the furious undersea battle between the new 707 and the UX. By the simple luck of the two captains being the main protagonist and antagonist, respectively, both supporting submarine fleets have been completely destroyed – leaving the two submarines to battle it out one on one. This sacrifice of realism for the sake of the story was a little off-putting, but bearable.

I've never been too much of a fan of "mechanical combat" animé – things like Evangelion and Gundam Wing never appealed to me. I had Submarine 707R pegged as just another mindless combat action animé, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the battles the subs engage in are handled with strategy and grace. There's no air of "let's just shoot and blow everything up" about it – as Captain Hayami alludes to in the first episode, the battle between the principal opposing submarines is akin to the "Tortoise & Hare" story – with the 707 being the slow and steady one, obviously. In the later stages, it turns into a battle of wits between the two captains, each desperately trying to outdo the other in terms of strategic bluffs and maneuvers.

It's brave of this series to go with a protagonist who isn't at the pinnacle of human fitness. Captain Hayami is a short, portly man with a joculent demeanour; the type of design usually reserved for the gluttonous buffoon character. Though perhaps I've spoken too soon – 707R's got one of those, too. He and his junior seaman friends conform more to the animé-character stereotype than most of the main characters, yet are shoved into the background and given few scenes. Whether this was a conscious decision on the part of the writer, or a constraint of only having two episodes to tell the story, I don't know. The design of Admiral Red, the antagonist, is less inspired; he's just so stereotypically evil! He's got it all – an imposing red uniform; long, unkempt black hair; a beard; and eyes with wandering, insane pupils. And speaking of pupils – the few women that we see (there are no female crewmembers aboard either submarine) appear to have large, glassy eyes. Either they have no pupils, or they're drawn very faintly.

The submarines are often rendered with CGI, and with what appear to be cel-shading techniques (as popularised in video games like Dragon Ball Z: Budokai) – especially shots of the two "Junior" mini-subs, and several cruising shots of the 707 and UX. This works quite well, though it often breaks the illusion of realism with the 707's vibrant colouring. The aircraft carriers are traditionally-animated, and incredibly detailed. Finally, the various explosions and images of ships on fire are excellently animated with bright orange and red tones.

At times, the music seems as though it was written with a video game in mind. The opening theme – a wistful piano piece, heard throughout part 1 – juxtaposes with the thumping battle music, and there are some exuberant "cruising" themes to be heard too, as well as the traditional image song. The English dubbing, though mostly good, falls a little short of what I'd expect from the direction of Dave Wittenberg – some of the jokes are a little hit and miss, and I get the distinct feeling that it's either been lost in translation, or is sailor's parlance that I don't quite understand.

One criticism, however, that I would forward in regards to the plot is that the story leaves so many hanging plot threads in its wake. The USR/PKN conflict isn't resolved; there are scenes with the family of Admiral Red that don't lead anywhere; there are supporting characters that aren't themselves supported. I blame this on only having two episodes to tell a complete story in – it's obvious that these plot threads were tackled in the manga, but that the restrictive two-episode format of this animé wasn't enough to answer every question raised.

In conclusion: if you're a military-drama aficionado, you'll likely lap this animé right up. In fact, if you're a fan of mechanical combat animé in general, you should enjoy it. But the series has just enough decent characterisation to offset the action scenes and let casual animé viewers in.

sound and vision

The anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 picture is good, with colours and detail impressive and distracting compression artefacts at a minimum. The CGI submarines in particular come over well.

There are three soundtrack options in two languages: Japanese and English 2.0 stereo, 5.1 and DTS surround. Of the three, the DTS tracks are the best, though its should be noted that the Japanese and English DTS tracks appear to have different mixes, with the Japanese track noticeably superior – in places the English track is suprisingly flat by comparison, though is fine elsewhere. The surrounds are well used in the battle scenes, as is the LFE channel, and the music is well spread throughout.

extra features

Unfortunately, there are no special features present on the disc, save for a Short Promotional Video (2:10) showcasing Manga Entertainment's back catalogue, the trailer for Submarine 707R itself, and also for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and Millennium Actress.

Submarine 707R – Missions 1&2

Japan 2004
100 mins
director
Shoichi Masuo

DVD details
region 2
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
Dolby surround 5.1
DTS surround 5.1
languages
Japanese
English
subtitles
English
extras
promotional short
distributor
Manga
release date
13 March 2006
review posted
11 February 2006

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