Appellate Judge Dave Ryan didn't know how easy it was to take an 80,000 ton battleship and turn it into a flying submarine. Anime, is there nothing you can't do?
It's not just Atragon…it's SUPER Atragon! That's gotta be better, right?
I'll give you a second to get a pen and paper for some notetaking…(twiddle, whistle)…Okay, everyone ready?
Super Atragon: Volume 1 is really just a straight repackaging of the 2002 ADV release Super Atragon: The Motion Picture, which was itself a package containing the two OAV Super Atragon (Shin kaitei gunkan in Japan) episodes from 1995, which were inspired by the 1963 Japanese film Kaitei Gunkan (distributed in the U.S. by the legendary Sandy Frank as Atragon), which was based on a popular Japanese science fiction novel, Kaitei okaku. Got that? Everyone still here? Okay, moving on…
Facts of the Case
It's 1945, and unbeknownst to…oh, everyone in the civilized world except for the Japanese military, a meteorite containing some kind of magical energy material crashes in Manchuria. The Japanese military uses the stuff to make a gigantic "Yamato class" super-submarine, the Ra, staffing it with crack crew that includes an attractive young woman from the center of the Earth. Oh, by the way—there's an advanced race that lives in the center of the Earth that's really bitter about being forced there by us surface humans, or something. But everyone knows that. Anyhow, it turns out that another attractive young woman from the center of the Earth went to the Americans and helped them build their own super-sub, which now threatens the Ra. Then, Hiroshima is nuked. Everyone on the Ra is upset. Then, the American sub attacks them. A big, but quick, fight ensues, and only one person survives—the ship's executive officer.
Meanwhile, despite possessing technology that's about 700 years ahead of everyone else on Earth, the Japanese lose the war. Fast forward to the present day, or thereabouts, when Japan is now a happy, prosperous, and non-aggressive world resident that gladly cooperates with U.N. projects. One of which is the investigation of a strange phenomenon at the South Pole. It seems that a gigantic black rod is melting the polar ice, which could lead to a few problems. Among the researchers investigating the phenomenon is young Go Arisaka, who lost his father to the perils of exploration when he was just a young boy. He's sort of sweet on one of his co-workers, Annette, who's a good-looking young woman adopted by a great scientist who was a friend of Go's family.
When the U.N. gang arrives at the big black cylinder, it promptly starts firing at them, using highly advanced gravity wave weapons. Even nuclear weapons can't stop the giant black cylinder. The cylinder cuts through the U.N. forces (they wisely brought some military backup with them) like a knife through butter. During the battle Annette falls overboard and disappears, and Go follows soon afterwards. He passes out.
When he wakes up, he's inside an abandoned ship. He eventually realizes that it's his father's ship, and that it's laid up inside a titanic drydock seemingly carved into the side of an island. Also in that titanic drydock is…the Ra, rebuilt and spiffier than ever. You see, some of those who knew about the Ra during the war had been working over the years to rebuild it, but as a weapon of peace to defend humanity from evil. Now, it's just about finished—and just in the nick of time, because that big black cylinder is reproducing itself and threatening to destroy all of civilization…
Ah, what wistful memories I have of the days when highly advanced hotties from inside the Earth would play havoc with humanity via their ability to manipulate gravity on a quantum level…The air was filled with the scent of jasmine then; the cacophonic symphony that is the laughter of children filled my ears…
Wait a second—I think I accidentally took the brown acid. At least that's what the purple anthropomorphic gila monster sitting in my den is telling me. Either that, or I spent too much time watching Super Atragon. Because this is one wacky anime—if nothing else, it certainly puts the "fiction" in "science fiction."
Oh, it's entertaining enough—the storytelling here is solid. It's just that everything feels wrong in this anime. Is it a war story? An H.G. Wells-inspired science fantasy story? Space Battleship Yamato set underwater? The animated Japanese Das Boot? I still don't know. There's only so many ridiculously unrealistic plot elements you can have thrown at you in 100 minutes before your ability to logically process information starts to falter. And this anime bursts past that limit. If, as we see at the beginning, the Japanese had the ability to manufacture a small craft that could function as a submarine and a jet aircraft (seamlessly transitioning between the two), how the hell did they lose the war? And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Apparently there's no problem converting a battleship's guns to fire underwater, and super-submarines can also fly, and…ouch, I think I stubbed my brain.
But ultimately, the biggest problem with Super Atragon is its torrid pace. All of the questionable technology could be explained away, at least to the point where we, the audience, could swallow it for a while—if the show took the time to do so. But no. It attempts to cram a novel's worth of exposition and story, plus a number of battle sequences, into a 100 minute window. The result is a show that feels like it's running through an airport to catch a plane. In fact, the two shows are more like a rushed, two-part pilot for an episodic series than the stand-alone product they're supposed to be.
The video transfer here is merely adequate. Super Atragon tends to be very dark, and the contrast is good. But colors just don't pop here, and the overall visual image is a bit bland. Which is a shame, because the artwork and animation are generally superb. As with most ADV offerings, your sound options consist of the original 2.0 stereo Japanese track or a dubbed 5.1 surround English track. The English voice actors are pretty good here—there's a noticeable lack of the typical "screaming" style of anime voice acting here.
There are no extras provided with this release. One final note: there is a brief topless scene in the second episode; consider yourself warned (or titillated, if you go in for such things).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I hate to be so harsh with this anime, because it's really a classy product that is creative and entertaining. The story is interesting, and remarkably lucid given the rapid pace of its telling. The battle sequences are reasonably well done, with a good war-movie kind of tension pervading them all. Had this been turned into a weekly series, it probably would have been a good one. But I can't get past the fact that Super Atragon simply does not tell its story effectively. It throws the kitchen sink at you every five minutes, and just hopes you catch it all before you get smacked in the skull. Ultimately, it's not really entertaining to have to constantly pause and figure out how the avalanche of exposition you've just heard fits in to the whole piece.
Super Atragon could have used about 45% less Atragon, or about 400% more running time. Then, it could have been an anime legend. Instead, it's merely an above-average anime war/sci-fi story that feels incredibly rushed.
Everyone gets probation—this isn't bad enough to convict, but it's not good enough to release.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
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