Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Claude C. Kenni is a young man on his first interplanetary mission whose spaceship runs into an asteroid field. Making emergency maneuvers, the crew lands on an unexplored planet, where Claude accidentally sets off an artifact that transports him to another world. The first thing he does there is to defeat a monster and rescue a girl named Rena Lanford, who quickly deems him the Legendary Warrior who will save her world. In the past few months, this world has been beset by natural disasters, and it's believed that the Sorcery Globe on another continent is behind it. When Claude learns that the Sorcery Globe may also be linked to the artifact that transported him in the first place, he realizes that it could be his ticket home. A buxom sorceress, a surly swordsman, and numerous creatures await Claude and Rena as they begin their ambitious journey to find the Globe.
The quest continues for a decent anime based on a video game! If there's one thing more obsessive than anime fandom, it's RPG fandom, so a product like Star Ocean EX should be an easy sell. Unfortunately, producers also like to take advantage of that built-in viewership and create half-hearted efforts that fans will watch no matter what. Based on Star Ocean 2: The Second Story, this anime is essentially an RPG with all the button-pushing removed. The appealing characters and bright artwork will draw you in, but don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to hit the Triangle button and select "Use Common Sense" from the menu.
Anyone who's familiar with role-playing games will have no trouble following the story of Star Ocean EX. The first five episodes are a fine exercise in RPG exposition: ordinary guy gets thrust into an extraordinary situation, starts out with minimal fighting ability, joins up with party members of varied skills, and then begins a quest that will ultimately end with him having to save the universe. The only thing that really matters is seeing how he and his friends get there. If you're looking for innovative storytelling with twists and turns, this isn't the place to go. Everything plays out like a series of pre-planned video game events, such as Claude fighting a "boss" in Episode 3. Also keeping in line with video game logic, the characters do lots of dumb things to help stir up the storyline. In the initial space exploration segment, the commanding officer (and Claude's dad) gives his gun to Claude, which of course is just asking for trouble. Later on, when Claude and Rena are about to begin their quest, the Village Elder warns Claude that he hasn't yet told Rena about her being adopted. Who wants to bet this is going to play a HUGE part in the story later on?
Like all fantasy adventures, Star Ocean EX relies on a cast of characters with distinctive but simple personalities to grab the audience's interest. Claude is the archetypal male lead, with his iron will and sense of justice, while Rena is the ideal "girly girl" whose naïveté belies her powers as a healer and her potential as a romantic interest. Also thrown into the mix is the self-centered, bug-fearing sorceress Celine Jules, whose rowdy behavior can swing anywhere between really annoying and somewhat funny. With this colorful cast, most viewers will be able to find a favorite, and in case they don't, the preview at the end of Episode 5 also shows another promising character, Ashton Anchors. Just don't expect any of these folks to have deep, life-changing insights about who they are and where they're headed.
For years, role-playing games have provided excellent cosplay fodder, and the characters of Star Ocean EX are no different. It's always easy to spot the main characters in this anime, as they're the ones with elaborate, striking outfits—Claude (who is apparently exempt from wearing the same uniform as all the other space cadets) in his bright green jacket, Rena's turquoise pinafore, and Celine's heavily accesorized sorceress outfit. Equally striking are the simple but appealing character designs, with sharp linework and spiky, colorful hair that evokes the aesthetic of Playstation-era gaming. However, Studio DEEN's animation techniques fail to do justice to the artwork, clouding the action scenes with still frames and special effects. While heroic poses and dynamic camera angles are part of this show's visual repertoire, smooth animation is not, and it detracts from the battles—which are supposed to be the most exciting part about an adventure series.
Synthesizers give shape to the soundtrack of this show, revealing a musical vocabulary that's devoid of subtlety. Want to evoke a feeling of dread? Here, try these deep ominous chords! How about some battle music? Punchy brass and dissonances will suit you just fine. And of course, every comedy moment must be accompanied by a jokey vaudeville melody. There's no problem with getting the music to match the scenes, but most of it is so clichéd that it fails to lend any emotional depth to these moments. The ending song, at least, is rather cute and fun to listen to.
Interpacific Productions uses Ocean Studios' recording facilities to produce the English dub for this series, and the result is a translation that places natural rhythm above all else. Claude and Rena's voices are confident and well-suited to their roles, and the supporting characters—while less talented—all sound fairly comfortable with the script. However, it's a script that uses a lot of creative re-writing to give the dialogue a natural feel in English, so those looking for adherence to the Japanese track had best stick to the subtitles. What doesn't change between the Japanese and English versions is the fact that much of the dialogue is committed to stating the obvious. Yes, Claude, thank you for pointing out that your sword completely bounces off stone gargoyles. Just in case no one noticed it when you tried to hit them.
Star Ocean EX is hardly a mind-blowing series, but it's an adventure that can be entertaining if you're willing to switch off your brain for a while. Fans of the game, in particular, might enjoy this retelling of Star Ocean 2 as long as they can accept that animation and video games operate in different ways when it comes to storytelling. With likeable characters, brightly-colored fantasy worlds and a save-the-universe storyline, this is definitely comfort food for those who like swords and sorcery. If you're looking for a seriously good anime, however, skip this one, because there's not much fun in an RPG with all the button-pushing taken out.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : D
Art : B
Music : C-
+ Distinctive characters and potential for an epic adventure
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