Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 27th 2008
Sub.DVD - Complete Collection
Japanese high-schooler Yukari is a hothead. Which is why she ends up in the Solomon Islands beating the bushes for her deadbeat dad, the man who years ago left her pregnant mother on the night of their honeymoon. When she muscles a ride out of an astronaut fleeing from the private SSA space agency, she unfortunately gets sidetracked. Permanently. The company's unscrupulous CEO Nasuda can't get his full-sized rocket to stop exploding in midair, so he decides to use the company's smaller, more reliable model. The problem? The payload is so low that their astronaut would have to shave off half his body weight to fly it. Thus the astronaut runs away, and his employer follows. But when Nasuda claps eyes on diminutive Yukari, he hatches a most nefarious plan. Before Yukari can make heads or tails of the situation, she's already a fully-trained and gainfully employed astronaut, soon to be joined in her undertaking by boisterous nature girl Matsuri and smart but underpowered classmate Akane. And SSA's Rocket Girls are born.
It will surprise many to discover that behind the gimmicky premise, chintzy title and cutesy cover art, Rocket Girls is a pleasingly paced, charming tale of commercial space exploration. Neither too serious nor overly frivolous, it's simple fun without the narrative frills and dramatic baggage that accompany so many series. It has its hokey plot developments and fan-service—no series featuring female astronauts would be complete without skintight spacesuits—but is so easy and amiable that only a grump would begrudge it them. Even science grumps will be pleasantly surprised. The series' gimmick has a legitimate foundation in the technical and financial realities of aerospace travel, and careful attention is paid to the physics of space-faring.
However its the series' attention to other details that sets it apart from the scientifically rigorous but narratively retarded likes of Moonlight Mile. Details like characters who live, doubt and feel pain. Yukari not only acts and thinks like a real teenager, but more importantly acts and thinks like a sympathetic teenager. For all her quaint language and precious native quirkiness, Matsuri is an insightful and empathetic young woman, while Akane is all iron determination wrapped in fragile loli cuteness. SSA's ground crew are little more than basic character types, but they're lively and believable types, and their company has a by-their-bootstraps small-business vibe that keeps the heavy business of building, maintaining and launching rockets refreshingly funny.
The series lets its three short story arcs unfold at an unhurried pace, allowing plenty of time for the feelings of the protagonists to seep out without resorting to cheap melodrama. Yukari's understandable resentment at being shanghaied into astronauthood drives the first half of the series, just as her growing love and mastery of the position dominate the second half. Matsuri's carefree concern for others and Akane's determination to change are also handled sensitively. The catastrophes that threaten each space venture do stretch credulity a bit far, and the treatment of the Solomon Island natives is rather jingoistic, but otherwise the series is clean, guilt-free fun.
Mook Animation and first-time director Hiroshi Aoyama give the series a clean look that matches its no-frills entertainment value. Characters are cute without being unrealistically so, the architecture and vegetation tend towards the blandly realistic, and machines and vehicles are given a heavy layer of CGI gloss. Care is taken to keep the visuals simple but realistic—from the wide honest eyes of the characters to the smooth majesty of SSA's rockets—while Shinkichi Mitsumune's score emphasizes invisible, ear-pleasing support over musical showboating. The series also has a quiet visual wit (as when a close-up of firing retro-rockets proves to be Nasuda's rocket-shaped cigarette lighter), but its most important achievement is the honesty with which it captures the wonder of space travel. No fuss, no blaring music, no references to 2001; just unearthly beauty, silence, and a genuine respect for what it means to be in space, looking down on terra firma.
Bandai's bargain-priced sub-only box set joins the ranks of many such sets decorating store shelves of late. The loss of a dub naturally limits a series' potential audience, which is a shame given the series' modest but rewarding charms. But any release is better than none, as would normally be the case with a pleasant B title such as this. Extras are limited to a pilot episode featuring older animation and sharper designs and clean opening and closing animation featuring the series' nice but forgettable opening and closing themes.
Rocket Girls' winning cast, light humor and reality-grounded space adventure add up to modest entertainment of a most agreeable nature. Yukari's outrageous father is an occasional annoyance, as are the handful of preposterously unlikely plot developments, but only the small-hearted could hate such a pleasant series for such minor irritations. Perfect for an afternoon or two of de-stressing.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Pleasant cast, pleasant plot, pleasant visuals, pleasant music and all at a pleasant pace.
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