Judge Paul Pritchard grabs his throttle and prepares to shoot off towards the stars.
The Race For The Ultimate Prize Is About To Begin!
Is your ram's horn only half full?
Facts of the Case
The year is 2082, some twenty-five years since Earth successfully defended itself from invasion by the Crogs, an evil alien race hell-bent on galaxy-wide domination.
A mysterious being known as the Avatar appears before the leaders of the Earth Coalition, inviting them to compete in the "Great Race of Oban," a race where the outcome could radically shift the balance of power in the galaxy. But this is not the first time the Avatar has made himself known to the leaders of Earth. Twenty-five years ago, the Avatar was instrumental in bringing about the ceasefire between Earth and the Crog's; a deal made in return for Earths participation in the race. Having ignored his previous demands, the Earth Coalition finds they are unprepared to enter the race and, at the eleventh hour, turn to Don Wei, manager of top racing team Wei Racing. Having been made aware of the grave consequences of a Crog victory, Wei assembles a team, headed by top pilot Rick Thunderbolt. They head off to meet the Avatar's ship, and then are whisked away to the planet Arouas for the preliminaries.
However, Don Wei soon discovers he has a stowaway, Eva Wei, Don's estranged daughter who he has not seen since his wife, a top race pilot, died on the track leading to Eva being taken into care. Since she's unable to tell her father who she really is and Don doesn't recognize her, Eva calls herself Molly and goes about showing her worth as a mechanic. But when Rick is severely injured in the first race after Earth's racer, the Whizzing Arrow I, is sabotaged, the Earth team find themselves without a pilot…until Molly shows some skills. Can she guide the Earth team to victory and gain not only the respect of her father, but also the ultimate prize?
Oban Star-Racers: Volume One contains the first 13 episodes of the show in their full uncut glory:
Remember the pod races in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and how they were pretty much the best part of an otherwise dull movie? Well Oban Star-Racers: Volume One takes those races and transplants them into a far more enjoyable experience. There are no trade embargoes to be found here, my friend (or cries of "Yippee!," for that matter). Instead we have pilots from across the galaxy racing each other one-on-one, for "the ultimate prize," kinda like Robot Jox or maybe Highlander, but with souped-up racers instead of decapitations…or Sean Connery sporting a ponytail.
Set predominantly on the planet Arouas, Oban Star-Racers isn't a million miles away from the vast majority of anime and sci-fi out there, at least design-wise. While there's an obvious debt to the pod races of the Star Wars universe, the series also has a number of similarities with the world of videogames, from the series' first real villain, Groor, who reminded me of retro gaming character Atomic Robokid (and whose ship is reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise), to the ship piloted by the Crog which wouldn't look out of place in the Halo universe. However, anyone seeing the somewhat generic design work and dismissing the show completely would be making a grave misjudgment.
By successfully laying out the basic outline for the series in episode 1, "A Fresh Start," Oban Star-Racers, is able to move along at a blistering pace, never feeling the need to slow down for lengthy dialogue to move the plot forward; the series instead finds a perfect balance between character and plot developments and action-packed races that are as gripping as they are visually stunning.
Despite what initially seems to be an overly simplistic storyline, Oban Star-Racers soon begins to reveal hidden depths, as allegiances are made and broken between the different factions, subplots are explored that take the series to previously unexpected places. From the discovery of what the ultimate prize is, and the consequences of it falling into the wrong hands, to a mysterious crest, and its apparent connection with a being known as "The Timeless One," the series fills each 20-minute episode to the brim.
Combining traditional 2D animation with 3D computer-generated imagery, the races themselves are an obvious highlight of the show. The ships themselves, unlike the rest of the design work, are fairly original with some of the ships (particularly that of the character Spirit) being unlike most anything you'd expect to see in such a setting. Rather than merely being tests of speed and/or endurance, the races throw in weapon-based combat offering competitors two options for victory; either cross the finish line first or immobilize the opponent. On top of that, race officials will often throw in special rules which spice things up further, from races that require competitors to hit the most targets on the course, to booby trap-ridden routes which increase the danger, you'll never feel like you're watching the same race twice. The racers themselves are often just as entertaining, from the bizarre Super Racer and creepy Spirit to the hulking, Viking warrior Rush, who insists on telling us how full his ram's horn is and the imposing figure of Toros, Colonel of the evil Crog Imperium.
The disc's extras are a definite weak point. A short making-of and some concept art really are all that you really get; the sneak peak at Volume Two is nothing more than a trailer in my opinion and not something I'd consider of added value.
The disc's full-frame transfer is extremely impressive. A consistently sharp picture with excellent color really makes the most of the action onscreen. The 3D animation is particularly impressive; it often had me wishing the entire show were done this way.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As stated earlier, Oban Star-Racers employs a commonplace design scheme. Although this results in characters and vehicles looking like they could fit in numerous other series/franchises, Oban Star-Racers will cleverly play on this and allow us to think we can easily differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys, only to flip our initial suspicions later on.
My first experience with Oban Star-Racers came when I reviewed Medabots: The Complete First Season, which had the first episode as a bonus feature. While I enjoyed the episode enough to request the disc when it came up for review, I had no idea how good the show would prove to be.
You have heroes you can root for, villains worthy of your finest boos, action-packed races, diabolical schemes, and a galaxy-wide threat…what's not to like? Oban Star-Racers reaches for perfection and comes mighty close.
It's this simple, if you like cartoons, buy Oban Star-Racers: Volume One, then start saving up for Volume Two. Oh, and to clarify, my ram's horn is full, it's full to the brim!
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