Outlaw Star – episodes 14 to 26

April 18, 2005 on 6:37 pm | In Outlaw Star | Comments Off on Outlaw Star – episodes 14 to 26

Outlaw Star generally maintains a high standard in the last stretch, but does fall into some dangerous territory along the way. Dangerous, arbitrary territory.

The MacDougall brothers, until the halfway point, were the main “villains” of the story. They were menacing and, in the case of Harry, borderline psychotic. This was some good material, but along the way the writers seem to realise that they were making these two characters a little too sympathetic, and need to inject a threat. The brothers’ drama is great, but narratively they are seen as less important.

So along comes the the Anten Seven, Outlaw Star‘s equivalent of Rurouni Kenshin‘s Shinsengumi, Kyotogumi – just about any -gumi, really – and Trigun‘s Gung-Ho Guns. A group of seven warriors, among them a face copier, a straight up gunman, some sort of necromancer, and a mistress of using cats in space, the Anten Seven are also after the Galactic Leyline. For a while, it looks like the Anten Seven are going to infect the show and make it a countdown to inevitability. This, fortunately, does not eventuate.
This storyline does throw something for a loop. One might expect that an “expert with cats in space” would be a funny thing, especially when this deadly assassin is a twelve year old girl. Yet this episode turns out to be one of the more serious in the series, and has a truly unexpected outcome – the height of the storyline.

The final break before the home stretch is the episode titled “Hot Springs Planet Tenrei”. It is exactly as it sounds, and is one of the best fan service and comedy extravaganzas ever. The fan service isn’t ultra servicey, but it goes a long way to producing big laughs while also providing some history of the universe. Not an overall important episode – it was skipped in American TV broadcasts due to the simple issue of Aisha naked – but definitely entertaining to the max.

The final arc builds well, with plenty of drama and laughs. The sole problem is that it becomes extremely arbitrary at the very end, introducing the idea of making Hazanko, leader of the Anten Seven, centre of a big final confrontation piece. The journey had been fine, but this seemed like the wrong way to conclude it: with giant big growing things that should not ultimately have been as important as they were.

Outlaw Star was fun to watch, with one of the most shocking episodes and one of the best fan service episodes ever. The thing that makes this sort of series work is a great crew, and the Outlaw Star definitely had one of those.

Outlaw Star – episodes 1 to 13

February 27, 2005 on 7:41 pm | In Outlaw Star | Comments Off on Outlaw Star – episodes 1 to 13

The work, which becomes a new genre itself, will be called … Outlaw Star. Wait, no.
Outlaw Star is another in the seemingly endless line of sci-fi Westerns that were produced in the late nineties. Produced by SUNRISE, no less! This 26 episode series about a womaniser, his twelve year old side-kick, their frequently naked navigation android, their faithless computer system and the occasional drop-in woman assassin and cat-girl – in space! – is surprisingly fresh and amusing.

A universe with three factions: the Space Forces, on the side of good; pirates, on the side of wanton abuse of the law; and outlaws, people who can swing either way but are fiercely independent about it.
Gene Starwind and his assistant Jim Hawking run Starwind & Hawking Enterprises, a “problem solving” company. They are hired by a mysterious blonde woman as a bodyguard. When it is revealed that the horrible Kei pirates are after this blonde woman, she removes her mask to reveal that she is the notorious eye-patched outlaw, Hilda.

Hilda leads Gene and Jim to a naked android, Melfina, and then the fastest ship in the galaxy. Outrunning the pirates’ Tao magic(!), Gene and Jim, along with Melfina inherit this ship and name it the Outlaw Star. The three of them now search to find the Galactic Leyline that Hilda told them of, and also to find the reason for the brutal death of Gene’s father – all while trying to pay off their constantly increasing debts.

Exposition is handled in “cold opening” narrations; these never feel like they are forcing information upon the viewer, and are frequently quite funny in their presentation. The background information for the universe inhabited by Gene is actually quite deep and intriguing, even if some of the revelations are suspect (such as one of the six alien races being the “Sith”).

The story starts taking a break around episode 13, but in this case it is just fine because the material is hilarious. The plot threads tie themselves together in unexpected ways, and the central idea is ingenius. If all alleged “filler” episodes were like this, the world would be a better place.

Gene himself is an interesting character: a blatant womaniser at first, but then curtailed by duty. Gene is a blatant “space cherry”, terrified of voyaging beyond the stars since a horrible incident some years before. The Outlaw Star feels natural to him, and with his crack team he has no difficulty manning it. Gene is a very personable character, and his quest for the past is interesting, as well as the perfect reason for him to assist Melfina in her inquiries.

The rest of the characters are simply supporting acts at the moment, with Melfina being the traditional character who needs to discover an entire past, Jim being the voice of reason and the delightful Gilliam II (the Outlaw Star’s computer) being plain delightful. There’s even Fred Luo, a man in love with Gene who just so happens to be his sponsor, thrown in from time to time for good measure. The characters are clearly defined, purposeful beings that definitely populate the series; when the story’s not in gear, it’s simply fun to watch them.

Much loved in the world of anime is cross-genre pollenisation. Outlaw Star is an excellent result of this experimentation. The first episode is set on one of those traditional big cities that is surrounded by desert. There’s an escape to an old castle, and then the characters move into space. The science looks ancient in style, with controls that look quite similar to mandalas – and, unlike a lot of Japanese SF, the displays are written out in giant characters rather than English.

Outlaw Star works well in space, with what one would assume is sound physics. Touching back down on Sentinel, the biggest genre jam is introduced: Suzuka, the lady assassin. Cowboys and samurai have always been an excellent match, just like pirates and ninja. While the cowboys have been modernised for Outlaw Star, Suzuka is traditionally Japanese. Not only can Suzuka cut buses in twain, she can also produce cups of tea out of nowhere for her drinking enjoyment.

Another level is added to the space combat with the inclusion of grappler arms, an idea that at least looks original. There are several classes of ship, and the most expensive to maintain are the grapplers. Grappler arms are essentially as they sound: grappler ships can lash out and grab onto other ships; two grappler ships in battle turns to hand to hand combat! So while there are machine guns and missiles, the grappler arms are a welcome change. They are not exactly genre changing, but they are definitely cool. That is the best word for them.

SUNRISE productions have a blessing and a curse: consistency. The scenery, colour design and, in many instances, supplementary characters look very similar from series to series. The El Dorado ship, for example, is an instant notification of this series’ origins.
The characters themselves are a mixed bag, with Gene, Jim and the rest of the male characters looking fine. The women have extreme cases of “hash markings” under the eyes (a common complaint for Mike Toole) and generally their faces are too narrow and obscured by hair. Saito Takuya has made the series generally attractive, but he should have reined in Melfina somewhat.

The mechanical designs are at least partly done by the masterly Kawamori Shoji, which guarantees that the Outlaw Star itself is a beautiful sight to behold. The highlight of all the mechanisms are the Ctarl-Ctarl ships, which are shaped like fish and feature almost organic insides and waterfalls running throughout. Organic technology is a nice idea, although it is unlikely that this will get a look in; it’s just pretty to look at.

The casting is exemplary. Shibuya Shigeru is just right as the nice, slightly arrogant guy Gene. Matsumoto Rika unsurprisingly is excellent as Jim; her trademark is pre-teen boys, and nigh on ten years of playing Satoshi (Ash Ketchum) has definitely helped this. Kawasumi Ayako is in one of her earlier roles as Melfina, and her meek voice suits the character; it is surprising that she sounds shy considering that she spends all of her ship operation time naked, but it still works.
Miyamura Yuko is always a joy to listen to when she plays pissed off characters, and that is precisely what Aisha is. Rounding out the main cast are Hashi Takaya as the excitable narrator and brilliant Gilliam, and Sayuri as Suzuka. Sayuri really has made a name for herself playing aloof, strong, women. She’s just too damned good at it.

Outlaw Star offers not just an interesting story and characters, but more than a fair amount of comedy. While it does not play up the drama, this is definitely worthwhile.

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