The year is 2002, and the Marine Express, the first underwater train between America and Japan, is ready for its maiden voyage. The chief engineer suspects that the train’s test run will be used for illicit purposes and hires private detective Ban Shunsaku. He arrives to his client’s mansion only to find that he has just been murdered. Armed with just a glimpse of the murderer’s face, Shunsaku boards the Marine Express to get to the bottom of this mystery. This job, however, is much more than what he bargained for, as the train holds secrets beyond anyone’s imagination.
summary by Griveton
Highs: Memorable characters; setting; mechanical designs; first half
Lows: Divorced setting and feel; ridiculous climax; occasional cheese
Marine Express carries a very interesting pedigree; it was the second movie which God of Manga Tezuka Osamu made for the charity television show Ai wa Chikyu wo Suku and uses several of his most popular characters. Putting these legends of anime in a well-thought setting sounds like a surefire recipe for success, but several problems prevent this movie from achieving the greatness of other productions by Tezuka.
Despite the relatively complex (and sometimes mature) themes, this movie looks like a kiddie show. From the intro song to Ban Shunsaku’s physical comedy skits, the general feeling and animation style seem to betray its darker setting. While Tezuka’s forte was creating multi-layered stories that could appeal to both children and adults, this purpose ultimately fails. At first, the plot seems to be a winner; we have mystery, science vs. nature, action, drama and topnotch sci fi, canned in a setting that just screams for character and plot development. However, it all takes a blatantly ridiculous turn just before the climax. Although this ultimately led to a good (if somewhat unoriginal) ending, it does much more harm than good. A less extravagant turn of events would have been greatly appreciated.
The characters work very well, particularly if you’re familiar with them. Having the personas that shaped anime, such as Black Jack, Ban Shunsaku, Astro Boy and even Leo (Jungle Emperor Leo), together has a certain indescribable charm to it, even if their inclusion feels a little forced or unnecessary. Sadly, the voice acting has its lion share of cheesy moments, and scenes there for dramatic effect and emphasis often feel awkward. While the animation is really showing its age, it’s not bad at all, more so considering it is a charity movie.
It’s a testament to this movie’s value that it manages to be a very entertaining feature in which both kids and adults will find something to like, even if it fails to fulfill its whole potential. Today, Marine Express stands as a memorable return to the times that shaped the path anime took in order to become what it is today.
Marine Express can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.