In light of recent maritime incidents at the hands of terrorist faction USR, eleven countries across the world form a coalition force, the Peace-Keeping Navy (PKN). During the inauguration ceremony however, a surprise attack from the USR by Admiral Red and his submarine the UX sinks most of the PKN’s new fleet but the flagship Apollo Norm is saved by the self-sacrifice of Japan’s only PKN vessel, the obsolete submarine 707. Six months later, survivors of the 707’s crew are rewarded for their bravery by being assigned to a rebuilt 707R, which finds itself at the front line of the conflict with Admiral Red and the USR.
Submarine 707R is based on an old manga series penned by Satoru Ozawa, the original creator of another story that would eventually become the OAV Blue Submarine No 6; the opening animation sequence is particularly worthy of note too, in that it was directed by none other than Hideaki Anno. It’s quite far removed from other series’ OP sequences in that it is rendered in the unusual style of pencil drawings that show the submarine of the title in various stages of construction. One recurring Anno-ism is of course an innovative use of art styles that give an aesthetic and atmosphere that’s a break from the norm; this example is no exception.
The art and animation of the OAV as a whole makes up a significant part of its entertainment value: with the shots of some surface vessels looking like flat paper cut-outs aside, the attention to detail in the submarines and the underwater action scenes is of a very high standard, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given that a number of names involved also worked on the likes of the Macross Zero and both Gunbuster OAVs (the director, Shoichi Masuo, is another Gainax alumni too). While the sub designs themselves may lack textbook authenticity they look impressive and the CGI conveys this well.
It’s also great to see subject matter such as this handled with relative realism: rather than using futuristic weapons and power-ups, the 707 and UX do battle with conventional torpedoes and tactics, making use of the underwater terrain and convincing strategy to outwit one another and anticipate their opponent’s next move. The characters are quite engaging too: the 707’s Captain Hayami might look like a cross between Mario and a portly extra from a Tezuka cartoon but both he and Admiral Red are shown to be married men with homes and families, which adds a bit of humanity to the proceedings and gives them a little background. Time is also given to fleshing out the supporting cast, although the running time limits how much screen time they have.
The length of Submarine 707R is its greatest weakness in that it is quite literally an incomplete story. The secondary characters’ development suffers but what’s worse is that we don’t know why Admiral Red is waging war, Captain Nemo-style, on the rest of the world’s military shipping. He’s just a stereotypical villain with a burning desire to take out his enemies, which is reflected in the generic appearance of he and his crew. We don’t find out what the political machinations in the PKN will amount to either, so there are some scenes of talking heads and meaningful glances that don’t really go anywhere. If there was more to follow than what is contained in this disc, I’m sure I’d look at the storyline side of the series more kindly but on the basis of these two episodes alone there isn’t much here that we haven’t seen numerous times before; the lack of announcements regarding a sequel doesn’t offer any comfort either.
With numerous experiences of watching the likes of The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide over the years, I found this to be an enjoyable series for the tactical and suspense aspects of submarine warfare but Tom Clancy it certainly isn’t. The arrogance and hubris of the other PKN member countries, not to mention some very glaring tactical mistakes, will be obvious to fans of the genre; ever since one tragic maritime event in 1912, most of us will be aware that when crews are complacent about their ship’s invincibility it probably isn’t anywhere as ‘unsinkable’ as they would like to think. Hayami and his crew are a likeable bunch but when their intelligence and admirable bravery are placed alongside the stupidity and lack of foresight of the other navies (the USA is painted in a particularly cynical light) the contrast is so overdone it’s almost laughable.
The soundtrack does help matters though. There’s one quiet, family-orientated scene that features menacing BGM that would be better suited to one of the combat scenes but otherwise it suits the material very well. The delicate piano melody that plays out over the Anno-directed op sequence I mentioned earlier gives a much-needed air of maturity and sophistication and the end theme of the first episode is really quite pleasant; it’s performed by Yumi Sudou, the seiyuu who provides the voice for Hayami’s daughter Ayumi so builds on the theme of the absent hero leaving his loved ones behind.
The lack of resolution in the second episode means that Submarine 707R is little more than a forgettable CGI showcase: the submarine designs look cool, the characters are engaging but are not given the opportunity to develop fully and the storyline is a frustrating collection of loose ends. For a refreshingly different take on maritime combat it’s a worthwhile experience but beyond the impressive visuals my only lingering thought was what it could have amounted to had the story been allowed to continue.