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The crew of an advanced Japanese submarine learns Hiroshima has just been destroyed, right before they take their ship into battle with an advanced American submarine.
And so begins the meandering, disappointing movie Super Atragon, an ADV title based on "Japan's Greatest Science Fiction Novel," Kaitei Gunkan (Underwater Battleship). Super Atragon was remastered by ADV to add 5.1 English surround sound, and given Essential Anime status. Whether it deserves to be in your collection depends on how much disposable income you have.
We'll bet the book was better, and we'd read it if the local library had it, because it sounds like this project started with great source material.
Both America and Japan have developed super submarines from an energy source they believe crash-landed here from space. Yet the true origin of the energy is from another group of humans who live beneath the Earth's surface, aptly named Subterraneans.
The Subterraneans gave the surface humans the power to see what they would do with it. If mankind uses it for war, the underground residents would destroy the surface. If they use it for peace, then all is well.
Predictably, the humans use it as a weapon, and find themselves fighting for their survival against a more powerful, advanced force.
That may be giving too much away, but that's where Super Atragon's biggest weakness lies: The force fighting against mankind is represented by a lone, dainty woman named Avatar.
Why is she carrying out man's destruction? Who knows. Why are the Subterraneans more powerful than Earth's surface dwellers? No idea. Why do we never, EVER see the Subterranean cities, culture, people, etc.? Beats me.
The idea of fighting a force you can't see or understand is usually a fun one, but in Super Atragon it only confuses.
For the first hour of Super Atragon, you've got a really interesting tale: giant, black cylinders are rising out of the Earth's surface, shooting super-hot microwaves everywhere. Magnetic circles attack mankind's military forces, easily destroying them. Our only hope lies with the Ra, the Japanese super sub that was supposedly lost during World War II. It can dive into the depths of the sea and it can run across the surface of the water faster than anything else. Oh, and it can fly.
A sub-plot has a son searching for his lost father, and a second Subterranean torn over whether she's done the right thing by siding with the humans. But many parts of their stories become convenient, like the creators of Super Atragon knew where the focus of the movie should be, but couldn't help but try and wrap up every loose end, even if it strained credibility.
This is an older anime, and some visual problems are evident: the ocean looks awful, with some ships in the background floating above it, and some anime cells were used more than once. However, the sea and aerial battles are quite excellent; the animators spent a lot of time making sure they got the battles right.
The claim that Super Atragon is "The Most Incredible Military Adventure Ever Filmed!" is a bit silly. OK, a lot silly. There are better military stories in anime than Super Atragon (Robotech instantly comes to mind) and about 100 live action war films blow Super Atragon out of the water, so to speak.
Super Atragon isn't an awful movie, not at all, but it's not something you'll find yourself replaying over, and over, and over again.
Isn't that the definition of an Essential Anime?
4:3 aspect ratio for Super Atragon, which is split into two parts. The first part has a lot of grain, white flecks, and other noise, leading us to believe the print used for the DVD transfer was flawed. The blacks are not going to challenge your TV levels, and there's a lot of shimmering in backgrounds. The second part isn't nearly as troubled, but it isn't nearly as entertaining as the first half. We liked the credits a lot: names of the movie staff appear over weathered, time-torn schematics of the Ra.
Remastered for 5.1 English, the ambient noise is fantastic, much better than in the Japanese 2.0 version. A couple odd breaks occur – a man is still talking while he sips his tea – but the battle sounds are very enjoyable. Surround sound is a must if you want to appreciate the effort put into the remastered version.
Slim in the extras department: clean opening animation, six ADV previews and DVD credits. If this is really based on the best sci-fi novel Japan has to offer, then why not tell us more about it? When was it written, how did it get from page to screen, and what was left out? These things would have been nice to know.
It didn't do much for me, but I can see why some fans love Super Atragon. It's got world military battles, some funky sci-fi spin, and a few excellent visuals. But is it Essential to your collection? I'd say Rent It first.