Anime Retrospectives is ComicsVerse’s series on anime that ended prior to the story’s true conclusion. 

It’s the not-so-distant future. Humanity struggles to survive amidst a global flood. Hordes of alien-like creatures are hell-bent on human extinction. Throw in some giant robots and some interesting looking submarines and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success. In 1998, Studio Gonzo began releasing a four-episode OVA called BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 that would be completed in March of 2000. One month later, Toonami debuted the show on television in the United States. As an 11-year-old child, it was right up my alley. Honestly, you could show me anything with a post-apocalypse setting or giant robots and I’ll probably give it a go.

BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 DVD cover art with Hayami and Kino
BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 DVD cover art | Image: Toonami Wiki

BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 had it all; an intriguing setting, cool action, and interesting characters. But as the credits rolled on the series I was left scratching my head. How could a series that had so much going for it limit itself to four episodes? Surely there would eventually be more? Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews and the release of two video games based on its story, the entirety of BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 is still just those original four episodes.

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What’s The Story Here?

BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 is an OVA. OVA stands for original video animation and is a title designated for anime that are released without airing prior in theaters or on television. In the 90’s, they went straight to VHS. Now OVA’s go straight to DVD and Blu-ray. Typically OVA’s are supplemental stories for larger anime. RUROUNI KENSHIN, for example, had ninety-five episodes in its original run but also has two additional OVA’s (as well as two movies) which supplement the original story-line. BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 has no such framework. The complete action of the BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 story takes place over the course of a mere four-episode run.

Zorndyke on the cover of
Even the Time Magazine knockoff in this reality is water related? | Image: Crunchyroll

BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 is loosely based on a manga of the same name, sometimes translated as BLUE SUB 006, which was written by Satoru Ozawa in 1967. The story begins in the near future. Earth’s oceans have risen and flooded most of the dry land. Infamous scientist Zorndyke is the one behind it all and he uses an army of half-animal “hybrids,” to wage war on humankind’s remaining population. These hybrid creatures take on a variety of aquatic forms. Some look like shark-men, others are a bit more ambiguous. Humankind bands together and, with the use of a fleet of submarines, begins to wage war against Zorndyke’s seagoing creations. The focus of the story is Blue Submarine #6 and its crew, who serve on the front lines.

You can find both subbed and dubbed versions of BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 here.

Game Changer

The director of BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6, Mahiro Maeda, has worked as a character designer, animator, and director in the world of anime. Maeda already had quite an impressive resume by the time he signed on for BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6. Among his titles to that point are the films CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986), PORCO ROSSO (1992), and ROYAL SPACE FORCE: THE WINGS OF HONNEAMISE (1987). He also worked on anime series such as GUNBUSTER (1988-1989), NADIA THE SECRET OF BLUE WATER (1990-1991) and even NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (1995-1996). 

Blue Submarine No. 6 prepares to submerge
BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 in 3D CGI animation | Image: Crunchyroll

BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 would prove to be one of his most ambitious projects to date. Maeda planned on blending the traditional 2D cell animation with 3D computer-generated images. BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 is among the very first anime to ever do this. The characters are hand drawn in a style that has a somewhat unclean texture. I’ve heard it described as having a “warm” ascetic. The mecha in the show is mostly given the 3D treatment. The CG in this show reminds me of REBOOT (1994-2001) in terms of quality. For its time, it was cutting edge, though it’s certainly difficult to put one’s self back in that headspace given the current state of CG technology.  

Even with today’s technology, it is still difficult to successfully blend traditional animation with CG animation. The two stylistic differences, if too disparate, can be jarring, and it can take a viewer out of the story. However, in BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6, the use of CG backgrounds helps the CG action look less out of place. The environments in the OVA tend to be a healthy mixture of both CG and 2D cell animation.  

The result is a very visually distinct final product. Though time and advancements in technology may have left BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 looking a little dated to a modern audience, the series is the first step on a path to where anime is now.

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A Hint of Character

Of course, there’s more to BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 than just revolutionary artwork that helped pave the way for countless anime to come. There’s also the story. The show accomplishes a lot in four episodes in terms of its story. It builds a world that is on the brink of total disaster. A world that is consumed by war: human against their would-be usurpers.

It spends time establishing a small cast of characters. There’s Tetsu Hayami, the lead protagonist and a pilot for underwater vessels. Mayumi Kino, a young girl who enlists Hayami to help Blue #6 fight against the hybrids. Zorndyke, the powerful scientist who plots humanity’s downfall. Tokuhiro Iga, the Captain of Blue #6, is a tough veteran who has experience in fighting Zorndyke’s fleet. Finally, there’s Verg, who is the leader of the hybrid fleet, and one of Zorndyke’s creations.

The thing our protagonists all have in common is that they must deal with a new reality. BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 is most interested in how our characters attempt to overcome the tragedy that has to lead them to their current situation. Whether it’s Kino, who is determined to take revenge for her family, who were among the victims of Zorndyke’s machinations, or Hayami who begins the story as a man who is content to run and hide from the situation altogether.

Kino aims her gun. BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6
Kino is ready to shoot | Image: Crunchyroll

Though the characters feel real and there is definitely something there to identify with as a viewer, BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 is criticized for its lack of depth in this department. There is certainly a hint of something deeper going on with all our characters, but the limit to their screen time prevents us as viewers from really getting to know anyone. This remains the show’s biggest drawback. With more time we would undoubtedly get to see more of Hayami’s seemingly complex back story. We might learn more about Kino, or better see Verg’s motivations. The characters themselves are fascinating, but they’re just a sketch compared to what they could be.

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BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 Understands Peace

The thing which resonates most from BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6’s story is its central theme. War is evil. True peace, a peace we can live with as human beings, can only be earned through non-violent methods. Violence only begets more violence. This is the path of understanding that Hayami walks toward throughout the show’s story.

Fighting a losing war against a seemingly endless horde of hybrid enemies and on the run and facing extinction, humanity’s best plan of action seems to be focused on simply taking revenge against Zorndyke and his creations. To take as many of them out as possible as human beings are slowly but surely wiped out.

Hayami finds the creature pilot alive outside of her craft
Hayami finds the hybrid pilot alive outside of her craft | Image: Crunchyroll

However, Hayami’s eye-opening encounter with a member of the enemy species leads him to reconsider humanity’s position. He establishes an understanding with the creature, whose name is Myutio. Though the two don’t speak the same language, they seem to share an understanding that neither of the rest of their species seems capable of considering. Perhaps peace is possible between the two races. BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 turns on this moment, from a story about fighting a war, to one about striving for peace. It points to the empathy these two character share as the building block to true and lasting peace.

The Anti-Climax

Hayami and Verg face off against one another
Hayami and Verg face off against one another | Image: Crunchyroll

As a child, this is perhaps one of the most disappointing endings ever. It was up there with the end of STARSHIP TROOPERS and CHINATOWN for me, and yes that’s undoubtedly the first time those two movies have ever been compared in the same sentence. However, as I’ve grown older I see the obvious merit in these endings more easily.

BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 does not end in a tidy package. As in this story, rarely in real life do we get an ending to a story with a bow on top. More often do events tend to tell only part of the story. The same is true here. BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 builds its story into a dramatic showdown. The battle to end all battles is sure to be a thrilling spectacle for us in the audience. Who will win?

Only its a spectacle that never comes, and who wins isn’t so clear.

In the end, what we have instead is two sides who still hate each other, begrudgingly acknowledging that perhaps peace is the best way to ensure survival for both sides. It doesn’t feel great, but that’s because it isn’t supposed to. Many from both sides lie dead. You can understand a revenge mindset. But a wise person once said that you can only make peace with your enemies. BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 ends with this necessary first step toward something stronger.

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We Need More

Okay, so there are tons of anime with this theme. Pacifistic themes in post-war Japan are extremely popular, for obvious reasons. Japan is a nation whose naked aggression and militarism nearly lead to its own destruction. It is unsurprising that the following generations would then uphold unflinching pacifism as the ideal all of humanity should strive for. BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 is still among the best examples of this theme though.

I’m not saying we need to go in and fix the show. I think for the most part it accomplishes what it sets out to do. But there are still just four episodes? BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 establishes such a rich and interesting world in such a small amount of time, and we get to see so little of it. The same with our characters. They hint at so much more than we get. I feel like there is some rich area to explore here. Perhaps we could get a longer version of the same story? What about a tangential story, or a prequel? Or maybe we can pick up where this story leaves off with a different group of characters? We could explore the difficulties of living side by side with a former enemy.

It has been eighteen years this month that BLUE SUBMARINE NO. 6 concluded. The world has changed a lot. And yet, now more than ever do we need stories like this. Stories where a hero is someone with the courage to lay down their arms in the face of destruction and make peace.

Featured image courtesy of Crunchyroll

One Comment

  1. Cookiemonster

    March 17, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Think you meant “aesthetic”, not “ascetic”…very different.


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