Imperial Calendar Year 956. Operation Phantom Flame has ended. Operation Hunter has only just begun.
This is the third incarnation of the series, and I admit upfront that until this DVD arrived in my mailbox I had never heard of this particular anime. Having not seen the two previous series, jumping in at this point of the series would be ill advised. It would be analogous to trying to learn the history of WWII by only starting at the German defeat on the Eastern front. While still interesting, it is akin to reading the last chapter of a book before you even crack the spine.
Facts of the Case
As space operas go, this one enters a realm few have the courage to illustrate: administrative meetings. All the action and excitement of the battles have ended. Now it's mop-up time. The Abh Empire has won the war, and their fleets are spreading out across the universe claiming their spoils. Combat veterans have been reassigned to ambassadorship roles, and the healing process has begun.
Lafiel was captain of the Basroil, but now has been assigned the duty of Territorial Ambassador to a world called Lobnas II, a role she does not enjoy in the slightest. Her charge, an insignificant speck of a planet, turns out to be a former penal colony, with four factions all fighting for dominance and authority to impress upon their new masters. As the meetings go on, the crew of the Basroil learn that successful negotiations and application of administrative decision making can be a lot more pernicious than actual combat engagements, if not significantly more boring.
The original series, Crest of the Stars, created by Hiroyuki Morioka, was adapted from his own original novel, then produced into a segmented TV series. This strain of adapting the book to TV is harsh to watch in the short episodic form in which it is presented. The short 25-minute episodes contain at least 5-10 minutes of credits each, making each episode feel cramped considering the amount of information they wish to portray. So, the four episodes on this disc are not episodic and independently contained from the others, but rather a disjointed series of stops and goes that left me anxious. It would have been an easier view had all the pretense been dropped that this first aired on television and instead recombined into one one-hundred minute long mini-movie. But there are the purists out there that would have rebelled vehemently against any form of blatant censorship such as this, so one must take what one can get.
The crew of the Basroil, and all of the personnel of the Abh Empire for that matter, all act like arrogant spoiled prep school kids without understanding the value of money. This is probably not the fault of the creator, but rather the fault of the English voice casting for the dub. To put it succinctly, it sucks. None of the voices fit the characters they are voicing. The Japanese language track would be the only way to go, especially if you understand Japanese. If not, you must rely on the English subtitles that are small and fleeting, barely gracing the screen long enough for them to be fully read, and not nearly long enough for it to be appreciated. And since most of the animation is spent sitting in chairs without moving, if you miss one line you can easily become lost for the next several minutes. To make matters more interesting for the Japanese-impaired, every so often Chinese characters appear as subtitles at the bottom of the screen, creating an unharmonious Chinese-English gobbledygook of bad feng shui, rendering both languages unreadable. So unfortunately, you may be stuck listening to the English track just to semi-understand what is going on!
Leaving the English subtitles on as well will only depress you further, whenever you see how they butchered the line for the American audience. If the line reads, "I was scared," why do they feel the need to have the English voice actors say, "Tee hee, I guess I was afraid too, Mommy." As my old theatre director would yell at us from across the stage, "READ THE LINES THAT ARE WRITTEN!" This is an anime gripe in general, not necessarily confined only to this release, but if you want the characters to actually say the same thing in English as they do in Japanese, find a fan-sub edition off eBay.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the animation quality is rather high, and the print is clean and rich. Some edge enhancement is evident, but really, if you have time to be distracted by the edge enhancement, you've already missed seventeen lines of dialogue so you'll have to rewind anyways. The visuals show thought and consideration of the future, with intricate planning done in the development of the graphics, but is not the best yet created. The CGI components blend quite seamlessly and are some of the more impressive visual aspects of the show. I especially liked the computer terminals displaying the locations of various spaceships. The fluid movement of the avatars, combined with the more traditional anime elements in the background, produced a surprisingly soothing dynamic reminiscent of watching a light wind blow across a calm still lake.
The DVD menus are dynamic and almost capture the feel of the computer systems in the movie, but fall short of delivering the goods. The setup menu is slightly confusing to navigate; hitting "down" on the remote doesn't take you where you expected, but to the side instead.
Extra content is sparse on this release. The newsletter is one of the few sources of background material available, and appears to be straight from the author's mouth. There is a small production art gallery of character sheets for the main characters, but nothing on the ships, buildings, or locations. Finally, there is a reversible cover for the DVD snapper case, so you can change the graphics on the box for your pleasure. Why you would want to or even bother is beyond me, but now you have the option. Does changing the graphics change the movie? I'll have to try that; maybe it'll be better that way.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To be fair and balanced, I'd have to be Fox News, or at least Al Franken. In spite of that, I'll say that this series may improve with the forthcoming DVD releases of the remaining episodes. There may be lots of interplay and ironic twists at work that make references to the first two series, but nothing of the sort was overtly evident to a causal observer.
Unless you've read the book, or seen the previous two series, avoid this disc. If, and only if, those two requirements have been satisfied, then you may proceed and rent this disc.
In daring to show the cutthroat action of board meetings, the court finds the defendant not guilty. On the treatment of the story, however, the court is forced to find the defendant guilty as charged. Court dismissed.
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