The revolution will be televised, after all—if the rebels are telegenic, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart surmises from the first volume of this space opera, which pokes fun at reality shows and modern war coverage.
"This is not a drama…and it is not a drill."
"If I entered a quiz show on the Galaxy Network, I just might win the grand prize," Defense Force candidate Sinon Kouzuki says, when asked why she has mostly average grades despite a keen mind.
"You just might surprise us all and become a great captain," her instructor tells her.
Something tells me that little exchange summed up where Starship Operators is heading, but still I have to say more…
Aboard the Amaterasu, an academy training ship, Kouzuki and the other cadets are getting ready to graduate and return to their home planet. Kouzuki's friends are mainly concerned with guys—until war is declared. The Kingdom has declared war on Kibi, their home planet, and the training ship Amaterasu is likely to be disabled and left in orbit, unless they buy it. How can a bunch of cadets come up with that kind of dough? They can't, but the Galaxy Network can, future captain Cisca suggests.
"It's the live broadcast of space wars we've been waiting for," reporter Dita Merkov says.
Soon, the cadets own their own spaceship and, with the arrival of former Prime Minister Mamiya, are charged with the preservation of Kibi's government-in-exile. They've also got to contend with the mysterious producer, a bleary-eyed man with a cigarette perpetually hanging from his mouth. "You're cast members of the show first and soldiers second," he cautions.
By the end of the first episode, they've found a big problem. As cadet Miyuri puts it, "The Galaxy Network is aired in the Kingdom as well, isn't it?" Soon, Cisca's making decisions based on the concerns of "tens of millions of viewers," rather than just those on the ship.
This disc features the anime show's first four episodes:
I found the first episode a blur of faces as it rushed to set up the situation. You might wish you had a scorecard to tell the players apart (or you might peek at the official site, which has bios for 15 of the principal characters). There's also a lot of plot setup to go with the characters: Cisca and Rio, the niece of the Prime Minister, weren't the ones who came up with the idea of dealing with the Galaxy Network, for example, and Takai may not know that Sanri has had a crush on him for the past two years; but with cameras poking around everywhere, soon he and the entire galaxy will find out at the same time.
At times, the reality-show conceit of Starship Operators seems like a pretense for romantic stuff like Sanri's crush on Takai and the embarrassment that comes with playing out such stuff in front of a galactic audience. However, the question of how to fight a war in the age of instant global media is an intriguing one as well. The newly-minted space soldiers learn to turn the situation to their advantage quickly, so much so that by Episode Three the Kingdom's press officer is calling the shots. The media intrusion works its way into each episode's resolution, and the writers don't overlook the opportunities for clever twists with their premise.
By the end of this first DVD, the Kingdom has seen the threat and has formally declared war on the "space pirates," raising the stakes for Volume 02.
I found the plot and setup intriguing, but found the characters uninvolving. To a one, they're good looking and bright, but with a large cast and a plot point or two with each one, I really sketched out that scorecard I was joking about a few paragraphs back. The character who forms the heart of the show seems to be the very professional, detached Sinon and, at least for the first four episodes, the series shares that detachment. New characters who might prove important later still were turning up by Episode Three. If this show had concentrated on a core few characters, the opening four-episode flight would have been much stronger.
The animation is limited, but there's some neat art of the starry stretches of space as the Amaterasu glides through its adventures. The transfer and sound are good as well. If you're an anime purist, you'll be dismayed to see that the yellow type on the subtitles is a pain to read against some of the backgrounds. I tried to stick with it, but switched to the English track halfway through; on the bright side, the characters are well voiced.
The extras were sparse, but I liked the Kotoko music video, "On the Earth," which put the pop song into a different context.
Should you run out and buy this DVD? There are some good plot twists and concepts, but the fast pace needed to set up those plot twists and concepts left the characters underdeveloped. I'm curious about Volume 02, but I'm reluctant to recommend Starship Operators, since it didn't hook me right out of the gate. If you were catching this on Adult Swim, it'd definitely be worth a look; but I'd advise waiting for the reviews or word-of-mouth on the second DVD flight before shelling out money.
Guilty, but on probation.
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• Kotoko Music Video: "On the Earth"
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