Geneon // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // November 11th, 2004
"A green universe filled with gas. This is the universe that I know. But I long to see the color of the universe as it appeared to the people of the past when they had gazed upon it." -- Shima Katase
The anime series Stellvia opens in the year 2356, nearly two centuries after the shockwave from a supernova struck Earth, rendering most of the planet's surface an uninhabitable wasteland. Humanity has barely managed to begin rebuilding itself before scientists discover a second shockwave, even more powerful than the first, is headed toward the planet. Six Foundation space stations are constructed and dispersed throughout the solar system. Designed to act as training grounds and military outposts, these stations, populated mostly by school age children, also form Earth's only line of defense against the oncoming shockwave.
The first four episodes of the series are presented on this disc, and here is a brief synopsis of each installment:
We are introduced to Shima Katase, the show's young heroine, as she leaves her family behind on Earth and travels to the Foundation Stellvia station. During the trip she meets Arisa Glennorth, who becomes her closest friend and roommate aboard the station. The two girls also meet Richard James, the kindly chairman of the Stellvia Academy.
Shima and Arisa meet Yayoi Fujisawa and Akira Kayame, two more members of the incoming academy class. Akira is stern and highly disciplined; her roommate Yayoi is making her second pass at completing Foundation training. Classes aboard the Stellvia begin, including training in the Ora-Avis spacecraft. (There are two models of the Ora-Avis: the Bianca is used for pilot training, while the Katie is employed during military operations.) Shima is not much of a pilot, but her skills in computer programming are formidable. Meanwhile, Mr. James unveils the Infinity, a human-shaped space vessel designed for exploration beyond the solar system.
* "I'm Sorry"
While cramming for midterms, Shima hacks into the Stellvia's server and accidentally rewrites the Foundation's Great Wall program, the plan by which the six space stations will form a barrier against the second shockwave. She and her friends venture into the bowels of the station in order to reach the computer core and correct this. This episode also sows the seeds for the romance between Shima and Kouta Otoyama, one of her classmates.
* "I'll Do My Best"
Shima once again reprograms the navigation system in her Bianca and inadvertently crashes into Leila Barthes, her instructor. Her punishment is polishing the lenses on the Stellvia's laser communications array, allowing her plenty of time for reflection. Shima realizes the mistakes she has been making during her training sessions, corrects them, and elevates her standing as a Bianca pilot. Shima also learns of the accident that cut short Yayoi's first term aboard the Stellvia.
The technology and some of the plot elements of Stellvia are fairly interesting, but the characters and the situations in which they find themselves are not, which is a surprise considering the driving force behind this series is Tatsuo Sato, the director of Martian Successor Nadesico. Whereas that series gently pokes fun at the conventions of a big, standard space opera, Stellvia looks to be nothing more than a big, standard space opera. There's very little here we haven't seen numerous times before, except maybe the focus on the female characters, which is something I've never really witnessed in this genre of anime. The characters and conflicts are routine, as is the bourgeoning romance between Shima and Kouta. It's pretty obvious where this series is headed, so it's a shame we have to venture down the same well-traveled roads to get there. (Sato must be commended for one thing, though: four episodes featuring young characters in schoolgirl outfits, albeit futuristic ones, and not a single up-skirt shot, which has to be some kind of record.)
I know this is old news by now, but Geneon has delivered another stunning transfer. Colors are vibrant and incredibly well-saturated, conveying every nuance of the beautiful animation (which also contains a few shots enhanced by computer generated animation). You can search all you want and won't find a single flaw. The stereo audio, available in the original Japanese as well as an English dub, has a nice wide soundstage. The voice acting in the English track isn't as annoying as it normally is in most dubs, but I'd stick with the Japanese track, which also exhibits better fidelity. Neither option contains much bass activity, primarily because there's been little action in the series so far. (I switched on Pro Logic II decoding at various points and was rewarded with some nice surround effects, which is something of a rarity with stereo anime soundtracks.) The only extras included on the disc are clean opening animation and previews for other Geneon releases.
Stellvia: Foundation Volume One didn't impress me, but I imagine diehard fans of the genre will be entertained. If you do choose to purchase it, you'll be more than pleased with the (gorgeous) picture and sound, although I recommend renting it just to be on the safe side.
The crimes here are minor, so the defendants are sentenced to a slap on the wrist. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Clean Opening Animation
* Anime News Article