Blue Submarine No. 6

With the dramatic box-office failure of Titan A.E., it would be easy to believe that the blending of obvious CGI with traditional forms of animation would be a stillborn art form. However, it's clear from Blue Submarine No. 6 that there is still a place for the two styles to merge, regardless of what the American public thinks. Although it's difficult to review the show fairly from only one 30 minute episode, that's all that's being released at a time, and at a cost of at least $12 a disc via preorder online, it's no small question whether or not the expenditure is worth it. The answer is a cautious yes, as there is much to recommend but a few things to nitpick at the same time.

The first nitpicking place is the there a plot, or did I miss it? What's there is this (and don't quote me on it): there are a bunch of undersea creatures that apparently are being led by the traitorous human Dr. Zorndyke. Blue 6 is apparently the top submarine in the fleet, and they are trying to win the war against Zorndyke's forces. The show begins with the young crewwoman Mayumi trying to persuade Tetsu, a loner and former crewmate, to return to help the fight. She doesn't seem all that successful, but when the sub gets called into action, it turns out that Tetsu might be interested in getting back into the war after all.

That's all you really need to know. It's not much, but the plot is definitely not the point here. Blue Submarine No. 6 is about packing an action-packed punch, and it does so very well. This is the first anime I have that has a full Japanese 5.1 digital soundtrack, and it is pretty honkin' awesome! The sound is very directional, to the point that it's a little disconcerting during spoken sections. But with the subs, you understand the dialogue anyway, and this show is not about dialogue--it is about massive explosions and guns blazing and ships splashing around mercilessly, and all of that sounds great. Meanwhile, your mileage on the visuals themselves will vary. Personally, I felt that the CGI animation was very well done in most sections of the show and downright spectacular at times, though it was usually clear what was CGI and what was traditionally rendered. In a couple of scenes, a ship that was rendered by computer was then traditionally painted, and the transition looked awful. Personally, I prefer the CGI in films like Princess Mononoke, where you can't even tell what was done by a computer. Parts of Blue Submarine scream out, "Watch me! You can't do this on your Pentium III, fanboy!" It works about 98% of the time, but when it doesn't work, it isn't pleasant on the eyes. Nevertheless, the video itself is clean and crisp, and it would be perfect to show to someone as a DVD demo. And don't trust the pictures on the back of the DVD box, which make the character designs look like something out of the 60s or 70s. Why they picked those shots is beyond me, because they aren't representative of the show as a whole.

If there was ever a perfect show to rent before you buy, it's probably Blue Submarine No. 6. Some will complain that it's not "true anime" because of the CGI, but since it's becoming a part of the animation landscape, it's something I believe we'll see a lot more of, and personally I think this looks miles ahead of the work on Titan A.E. (at least what they've shown in the trailers). Others will balk at the price, which is expensive considering the length of the program. However, this is a show I'll show to a few friends just to wow them a bit, and so it will be well used. I am not expecting a major plot to develop in this show, and those who expect one should just stay away. I'll probably rent the next couple to see if it's worth completing the set--at this point, it could go either way. If you've got the money to spare to try it out, it's worth a spin as long as you don't expect the next Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Blue Submarine No. 6 Vol. 1 -- violence, brief (non-realistic) nudity -- B+