Monday, December 31, 2012

Golden Oldies

It's a slow season for fansubbing, as many shows are on hiatus for the holidays, and many team members are as well. Thus, for once, I have time to watch anime instead of just working on it. I decided to go into the back catalog of stuff I've collected but not watched to see what I was missing.

I recently completed working with macros74 on Shinkai no Kankai: Submarine 707, so I decided to keep with the submarine theme and watch Submarine 707R and Blue Submarine No. 6. macros74 described Shinkai no Kankai as a "ripe piece of anime cheese," and that description fits 707R as well. Although 707R is usually described as a sequel to 707, it's more like an alternate setting of the same story. If the two shows are meant to be part of the same timeline, then 707R would have to precede 707, because the mature minisub pilots of 707 are young teenagers in 707R. What they have in common is their protagonist (Captain Hayami) and his sub the 707, and his adversary, Admiral Red. In 707, though, Admiral Red is from outer space and is attacking the mythical continent of Mu, while in 707R, Admiral Red is a terrorist and is attacking the navies of the major powers. Both seem to believe that a World War II-vintage diesel/electric submarine can easily outmaneuver the latest in nuclear-powered (or alien-powered) technology. In short, both series are good for laughs but not much else.

Blue Submarine No. 6 aspires to be a more serious show, but that only leads to a great deal of muddle. Blue is set in a world where sea levels have risen and flooded most of the world's major cities, thanks to the dastardly actions of Dr. Zordyke. The evil doctor has also created a race of animal-human hybrids (mermaids, shark men, sentient whale-battleships) to challenge humanity. The Blue Fleet is mankind's last hope of preventing the total annihilation of human civilization. All indications point towards a decisive battle in Antartica... which never happens. Instead, we're treated to a long, rambling, pointless dialog between the hero and Zorndyke leading to a "Why don't we all be friends?" style conclusion. Although the first two episodes were pretty good, this show was a letdown.

At this point, I decided to switch from OVAs to movies, and I started at the beginning of the alphabet with Akira. My readers might well wonder how I had missed such an historic milestone in anime, but the fact is, I had. It did not disappoint. The animation is brilliant, particularly for its time. The story is original; if it looks derivative now, it's because so many later movies and series have stolen from it. And it's fearless in not giving the audience anyone to identify with. Tetsuo, the nominal protagonist, is a psychopath. (In Shin Sekai Yori, he'd be considered a fiend.) Kaneda, his friend at the start, is a reluctant hero at best. There is no happy ending.

From there I went on to Steamboy, because steampunk is one of my favorite sci-fi genres. It did disappoint. The film cost a fortune, and it shows: the animation is terrific, creating a steam-driven alternate reality in gorgeous detail. Unfortunately, the story is trite and cliche-ridden. The film tries to be a philosophical argument about the purpose of technology, but it never picks a point of view. The plot is as full of holes as Swiss cheese - would England let the US arms dealers that destroyed a fair amount of London go back to the US unscathed? The characters are straight from the anime tropes handbook, including the plucky hero, the tsundere ojou-sama, the eccentric scientist grandfather, and the unidimensional villains. I will say that it's a fine display of Japan's ambiguous feelings about Britain, which has been a prominent feature in other shows, such as Code Geass and Hellsing.

My final movie was the seasonally appropriate Tokyo Godfathers, another classic that I had never seen. The strange family formed by the three homeless protagonists; the way the discovery of an abandoned baby catalyzes them into action; and the peregrinations of the coincidence-driven plot; all add up to drive home a message about the importance of human connection, regardless of appearances. While it romanticizes the plight of the homeless somewhat, it doesn't hesitate to show the darker side of urban life, such as Gin's beating at the hands of a teenage gang. Thus, it's not your typical heartwarming Christmas story; it's not going to displace It's A Wonderful Life on the babble box any time soon. Nonetheless, a very good movie.

So that's it for 2012. See you all on the other side of the fiscal cliff.

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