Stephen reviews: Undersea Super Train: Marine Express (1979)

marineexpress_1Undersea Super Train: Marine Express [海底超特急マリン・エクスプレス Kaitei Chō Tokkyū Marine Express] (1979)
AKA Seabed Express

Starring Junichi Takeoka, Kousei Tomita, Nachi Nozawa, Mari Shimizu, Hisashi Katsuta, Fumi Koyama, Chikao Ohtsuka, Kaneta Kimotsu, Toshiko Ota

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


I’ve got another Osamu Tezuka film lined up for you. Marine Express doesn’t have the same crazy aliens that Bander Book reveled in, but it still has all the wacky antics that gave Bander Book its charm. It also has a more cohesive plot that more than makes up for any lack of strange wonders.

It starts out as a murder mystery in which the bodies dissolve into nothing, making it difficult for detective Ban Shusaku to convince people the murders are actually happening. The short, pudgy detective takes on the mysterious assailant in an epic martial arts battle that leaves trees broken and toppled. Old ’70s animation couldn’t keep this scene from being fantastic fun and it immediately absorbed me into the film, and the rest of the movie kept me just as eager to keep watching.

When Ban later sees one of the villains board the experimental Marine Express, he slips aboard himself. The Marine Express is taking its first test run across the bottom of the ocean from California to Japan, and the whole affair is fraught with skulduggery, hijackings and more recurring Tezuka characters than I could count.

marineexpress_2Black Jack makes another appearance here, this time as the doctor he usually is. He follows Ban onto the train in order to get his fees paid. He’s far from the only recurring Tezuka character in the film either. Ban himself has been around in other Tezuka works. I also remember Rock as a total badass from the much later film Metropolis. Leo the White Lion shows up towards the end with the mysterious ability to fly, while Astro Boy gets a name change to Adam and mysteriously loses his ability to fly.

What struck me most is how intricate the plot becomes as it follows half a dozen characters with their own agendas. I wondered how well kids would be able to keep up with it all. But underestimating what children can comprehend is not usually a good thing. After all, Harry Potter was almost never published because no one thought children would be able to deal with its length. So I think children would be quite happy with this one, and it doesn’t have the nudity that Bander Book has.

marineexpress_3The ending, like Bander Book, makes a sudden time travel leap that threw me off guard, but it doesn’t really feel that much out of place. The central themes about the progress of technology resonate just as well, and are in fact enhanced by the sudden shift in time. Another theme that surprised me is its straightforward confrontation with racism. This is still a kid’s film, so there really isn’t anything graphic about it, but it’s spoken of in a blatant way that is striking and unexpected.

Marine Express still has that same quirky blend of serious themes with goofy comedy. I’ve always admired anime’s ability to switch between the two at the drop of a hat, and this film, though it leans heavier to the comedy than the drama, does an admirable job of presenting both well.

There’s not much of anything the film doesn’t do well. It’s pretty dated, but that’s nothing to complain about. The commercial break points are rather obvious at times, but that’s not much to complain about either. Especially when they usually have the awesome theme music shouting “Marine Express!” along with them. I get a kick out of that bit every time I hear it.

marineexpress_4Obviously I had a great time with this one, and I think anyone willing to give it a chance will too. Anyone even slightly interested in Osamu Tezuka owes it to themselves to see this one. It’s a wonderful film that showcases a huge variety of his characters. So check it out!

And if you are going to check it out, it’s available to US/Canada residents through the Anime Sols website in the 24 Hour TV Specials section just like Bander Book is.

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