Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Blue Submarine No.6: Blues

"It's what they want---
to destroy every last one of us."

We begin our thorough examination of the ocean blue with the Blu-Ray edition of Blue Submarine No.6 (1998-2000). The four part OVA begins with the appropriately color-titled Blue Submarine No.6: Blues.

Colors are notably sharp and the animation remains striking. While some of the digital animation coupled with computer modeling may qualify as slightly dated it still works.

There is a decidedly alternative look to this universe and the immersion of 2D and 3D animation makes for an engrossing visual experience. Though  very much a product of its time, the combination remains fascinating. Shading and coloring throughout the production have a lot to do with its on screen success.

It is clear Studio Gonzo was making a statement with Blue Submarine No.6, but unlike Production I.G's seemingly incomplete statement for the company's commercial viability, Blood: The Last Vampire (2000), Blue Submarine No.6 at least feels like a mostly complete and proper execution in story despite any flaws. Could it have been longer? Yes. The ocean-based adventure is certainly missing areas of depth of which it could have improved. As it stands, Blue Submarine No.6 remains a strong overall OVA ranking among the anime classics.

If Akira (1988) and Ghost In The Shell (1995) were gateway drugs of a sort to the medium of anime, Blue Submarine No.6 sealed a love of it for me personally and invited further exploration. It led me deeper into the wondrous universe of anime. It was quite possibly the third or fourth proper anime to aid in my legitimate discovery of the art form. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996) was another big player in that experience. And remember, given its relatively lengthy history discovering anime was not a chronological event for me. It was something I discovered at the turn of the new century after seeing those initial two major films. Since then I've been weeding through the garbage to find the more mature works of interest.

For Blue Submarine No.6 it took time between the four installments to reach its inevitable conclusion. The same holds true for Studio Gonzo production Yukikaze (2002-2005). These were not inexpensive productions and the timeline speaks to the genuine care and attention to detail that went into these early works by Studio Gonzo. Along with Last Exile (2003), these three happen to be among the studio's best. Unfortunately, Gonzo has not attained the quality or care of these works on a consistent basis. These OVA productions and the one TV series solidified a reputation and a name for Gonzo, one that sadly has not been maintained with care. Though Strike Witches (2008) seems to have struck a cord with fans and revitalized the studio to a degree. The overall quality was simply exceptional on these earlier projects and a standard that has been difficult to retain.

The opening sequence of Blues sets the apocalyptic stage. The polar ice caps have melted. An evil genius called Zorndyke is the villain. The state of the art Blue Submarine No.6 is the last hope for an ailing humankind. Tomboyish, 18 year old ("remember the average age of the combat soldier in Vietnam was 19") Mayumi Kino is sent on a mission to lure former Blue Fleet 6 ace pilot Tetsu Hayami out of retirement amidst a city of ruin that penetrates through the rising surface of the ocean. The apocalypse certainly couldn't look more beautiful with all those blues.

The attention to detail in the backdrops and the pillow shots is complemented by outstanding work given to the character designs of Range Murata.

As creepy computer mecha make landfall, or what is left of it, the designs are certainly peculiar. Massive attack mech are even replete with missile launchers. Zorndyke's forces give Blue Fleet a real run for its money. The visual spectacle created for Blues is still an experience.

The action is amplified by a jazz-based soundtrack compliments of a band called The Thrill. The Thrill, and it does that, is to Blue Submarine No.6 what Yoko Kanno did for Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999).

All of the players are generally introduced in the first part of Blue Submarine No.6 including Zorndyke's henchman, a shark beast called Verg, who leads Zorndyke's Moreau-like mutant fleet in its attacks against Blue Fleet.

Zorndyke's Phantom Ship is a notable creation in design. So too is a mini-type assault sub called the Grampas that is a fully loaded weapon that works both as a skimming boat or fast-moving submersible and can even walk on land like an evolving prehistoric ocean dweller moving from sea to land. But it is the Blue Submarine No.6 herself that delivers the biggest goose bumps to mecha design freaks. Sporting a dolphin-like curvature and grace, the submarine is something to behold. It is delivered throughout the series in a combination of 2D cel and 3D model-styled shots. All shots are exquisite to the senses.

One of the first installment's highlights sees Hayami witness a gelatinous discharge from a disabled mech. It flushes from the vehicle. Closer inspection reveals a mermaid-like creature called the Mutio. In an intimate scene, Hayamai watches the Mutio writhe in pain like a fish suffocating outside of the ocean. Hayami is clearly sympathetic, and despite being bitten, carries the creature back to the water. Returned to the water and now free from pain, the creature floats staring at Hayami. This is indeed one of the most dramatic character moments with real emotional weight in Blues.

The final minutes are quite thrilling as the Blue Submarine No.6 encounters a good deal of action in a battle with a Musuca, a giant whale-like creature. Some of the action can be a delight to the senses while other scenes can sometimes come off a bit clumsy or confused. The computer visuals, while state-of-the-art at the time are nonetheless in their infancy by today's standards. Yet despite this fact they still work impressively. Every effort was clearly made to give Blue Submarine No.6 a lasting appeal.

The final images of Blues takes us to a painterly, sinister, near graphic novel-like world of Verg and the Phantom Ship. The ship is populated by many creatures, all the sick, sad, twisted experiments of Zorndyke and are beautifully illustrated. The ship capable of moving underwater as easily as the Space Battleship Yamato can move through space emerges above the ocean's surface and fires its many cannons toward the Blue Fleet.

What's next for Blue Fleet in its war against the mysterious Zorndyke and his vast mutant army? What more will we learn of these great beasts called Musuca and of the sea humanoids known as Mutio?

Blue Submarine No.6 is a gorgeously realized water world and whatever its deficiencies in technology more than compensates with its imagination, attention to detail and a fairly compelling science fiction adventure tale. It's a bizarre little oddity in anime, but it is weirdly fascinating.

Up Next: Pilots.

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