Submarine 707 Revolution: The Movie

I'm not sure what it is about submarine movies that brings out the worst in Japanese nationalism. A number of years ago, I raked Silent Service over the coals for having particularly nasty stereotyped portrayals of Americans and a storyline where a Japanese submarine could rule the seas. Both of these issues are also true in a much smaller way in Submarine 707 Revolution: The Movie. However, this compilation of the two OVAs produced in 2003 overcomes the problems that might have come from its 1960s-era manga source. Those who really know their naval stuff will find realism lacking, but the second half in particular has enough tension and action to make up for the tedium of the first hour's setup.

A new threat has appeared on the horizon: the USR. The USR isn't fighting for a homeland; instead, it's a terrorist organization determined to rid the world's waterways of interstate commerce and military strength. (One might point out that the globe is something like 70% ocean, so it'd be hard to patrol, but never mind.) The major superpowers join forces to stop this threat as the Peace-Keeping Navy (PKN), but a sneak attack during the gala celebration of their combined might hamstrings them. The old bucket 707 -- the only ship the embarrassed Japanese can send -- shows up just in time to sacrifice itself to save a gigantic aircraft carrier and the thousands of lives on board. Most of its crew manages to escape, including her captain, Hayami. A short, stocky fellow, he nevertheless garners respect from all who know his history.

But the Japanese have a trick up their sleeves to defeat the USR...they are building a brand-new 707. They invite Hayami to command her, and he and his recruits take on the forces of Admiral Red and his UX boat that has been making mincemeat out of the PKN fleet. Red's got finesse and superior firepower on his side, but Hayami's been a navy man for a very long time. As the 707R sets out on her maiden voyage, she and her crew face catastrophe as they are all that stand between the USR and global domination of the deep.

Submarine 707 R's character stylings harken back to an earlier era, and they remind me a bit of less string-bean versions of Leiji Matsumoto's work. The rest of the visuals are definitely from the modern age of anime, and they are often excellent. It was fun to look at, even if the subs don't radiate the cramped confinement that is so clear in films like Das Boot and Crimson Tide. I also need to compliment the sound direction and certain contextual choices. For example, the second episode's opening credits roll as the com chatter of a submarine crew under attack unfolds all around you. The visuals at this point are nothing but static - it's totally aural. I've seen this sort of thing done in live action, but not in anime, and it was extremely effective. Had the rest of the program shown that kind of daring, it would have been an A-grade film without question. (I also admit that I watched the dub...and enjoyed it.)

The central problems of Submarine 707 R pop up in its lengthy set-up, its fall into cliché, and its lack of interest in accuracy. First, the show takes too long to get going. The opening episode takes pretty much a half-hour to set the scene, and then we get to watch the USR beat the holy snot out of the PKN. One-sided battles aren't that interesting to watch. The new 707 doesn't even make its appearance until nearly 40 minutes in, and by that time I was wondering if it was ever going to get interesting. (I have the feeling that only two episodes were made because people dropped it after finding the first OVA a dud.)

But more than that, the show brings along too many ham-fisted concepts. The Americans are arrogant, we get it. The superpowers on the whole don't listen to the little guys, sure. Only Japan can save the world...uh, what? I understand the idea of nationalism. It's not like Superman isn't a representation of the American way, after all, and there have been plenty of pro-American films over the years. I think every country has the right to pride in its own culture and innovations. But the idea that Japan has any significant military importance, considering that the only form of military it even has is the Self Defense Force, is absurd on the face of it. This sort of story comes across as wish fulfillment, no matter how pleasing the idea might seem. There are other elements as well that are hard to swallow, including young teens on board who nevertheless wind up playing important roles. Can't we have some anime that just stars grownups or something like it?

My last beef is with accuracy. I don't claim to be a naval historian or even a buff. Yet there are things that happen within these two episodes that stretch credibility. Believe it or not, the show's Wikipedia entry lists a number of mistakes that simply wouldn't happen in naval warfare, and it picks on the designs of the boats that go for look rather than actual usability. Your mileage may vary on this particular issue.

Now that it sounds like I've thoroughly trashed 707, I'm going to tell you why I will still recommend it. The second hour is good. Good enough, in fact, that it made getting through the tedious parts of the first hour worthwhile. The intensity, the mental game of chess, the things you expect in a submarine film...they finally show up. In fact, I was disappointed they didn't make more by the end. It was clear that the rough spots during the first episode (the "shakedown cruise," as it were) had been mostly dealt with. While the show has a dangling plot thread or two, the ending is satisfying...and there's always the manga to track down if you're that interested.

There's something else that made the show enjoyable in an unexpected way, and that was seeing the families of both captains. We have a heart for Captain Hayami with his sweet, understanding wife and his little girl bemoaning him always being away. But the real surprise is getting some down time with Admiral Red. We don't get to see a lot of time with his wife and kids, but his affection for them is real. Unlike some mercenary or megalomaniac, there's a trace of a hint that the warfare he's conducting is to build what he considers a better world for them. It was a nice human touch that a lot of action anime miss.

I can't say Submarine 707 Revolution: The Movie is worth more than a rental; I can't see watching it more than once in its current state. That might have changed had the series continued, but we'll never know. But if you find it cheap or can spare a slot in your Netflix queue, it's entertaining, particularly for submarine buffs.

Submarine 707 Revolution: The Movie -- ship-on-ship violence, profanity, obnoxious stereotyping -- B-