Appellate Judge James A. Stewart doesn't look forward to the day when starship operators are replaced with starship voice-mail systems.
"In the year 2300 A.D., we lost our home and began a hopeless battle with one lone battleship."—from the TV spot for Starship Operators
In Starship Operators: Volume 01, audiences met the graduating cadets of Kibi's space academy, who had just bought the training ship Amaterasu to turn it into the lone fighting ship of Kibi's government in exile as they fought the evil Kingdom. They've paid for the ship by turning their battle into a reality TV show, a sort of "Big Brother Goes to War."
In Starship Operators: Volume 02, we find Prime Minister Mamiya getting a call from the President of Shu, along with an invitation. "Planetary nation Shu welcomes Kibi's government in exile, the Freedom Guard Ship Amaterasu. But he asked for one thing in return," the PM advises.
Captain Cisca finds himself telling crew members just what that one thing is. Seems that Shu wants to meet the newly-minted TV celebrities, so attractive female crew members Sinon, Miyuki, and Alley are headed to Shu for their moment in the spotlight—literally. Even before heading for that appearance, Sinon gets an unpleasant taste of what's to come when she sees herself—thanks to the miracle of CGI graphics—inserted into an infomercial for fitness equipment, a sight that her fellow crew members have been enjoying for two weeks but failed to mention to her.
Also visiting Shu are Renna and Akiho, who are escorted by guards as they take a look at the local stores. When they find out that the Planetary Alliance has extended its war to Shu, Renna suspects that a coup d'etat might be in the offing. After a blast from an explosion, she's sure that they're all in danger and must take drastic action to escape the planet.
Starship Operators: Volume 02 features four episodes:
"Great Escape, Part 1"
After hitting viewers with background information in the first four episodes, the two-parters give audiences more time to watch stories and relationships unfold. We're also seeing more of the Kingdom's strategic planning sessions; the first volume was nearly over before the villains appeared on the stage.
"Great Escape" detours from grand-scale space battles to more personal fights for survival, especially as it shows Renna and Ahiko fighting with handheld weapons as they try to reach their shuttle back to the Amaterasu. An ending twist makes this storyline more dramatic than the space combat strategy episodes seen in Volume 01. The volume ends with a daring space maneuver, the results to be shown in Volume 03.
There's nothing surprising about the typical animation of this show. Most noticeable here are the brief glimpses of the manipulative network boss's milieu in Hollywood on Earth, with that ever-present cigarette hanging from his mouth as he barks about cost overruns and excitement (or lack thereof). I had no problems with picture or sound quality.
The sparse extras here consist of Japanese promotional material—TV commercials and a longer promo for live events. These advertisements are repetitive; any one would show you the flavor of the material. Wouldn't it have been nice to see some reality TV clips from Japan to show how they influenced the show or heard a few words from the writers on the subject? Given the intriguing concept, the extras could have been more interesting, especially for the $29.95 asking price. Waiting for the complete set without extras won't be a loss here.
As it develops, Starship Operators is gradually showing a serious, thoughtful edge—characters die here and the loss affects the survivors. The constant battles and scrutiny also appear to take a toll. The gradual building of tension and of characters makes Volume 02 an improvement over the first volume. As a reviewer, I found myself taking a lot of notes to keep track of characters as I watched Volume 01, which distracted me a bit, but once the faces are more familiar, the stories are enjoyable.
If you're interested in Starship Operators but haven't bought it yet, I have a suggestion. Read the background material at the official site, then buy this volume, not the first one, as a starting point. You can always go back later if you like it. If you're intrigued by the concept of fighting a war before an intergalactic TV audience, you'll probably like the execution. If you're looking for stories with an emphasis on the characters rather than the larger scheme of things, Starship Operators won't be your first choice. Still, once I've been watching for a while, I'm curious about how things will turn out, so I'll have to say…Not guilty.
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• Japanese TV commercials for Starship Operators
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