Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jun 12th 2005
Star Ocean EX
DVD 2: Dragon's Teeth
Adventurers Claude, Rena and Celine continue their quest to find the Sorcery Globe, an artifact that's causing a worldwide monster infestation. Along the way they meet Ashton Anchors, a warrior who accidentally gets two dragons stuck to his back because of his own stupid behavior. Together they decide to seek out the "King's Teardrop" that will cure Ashton of his malady, and during this side quest, Claude meets another space traveler who might be able to help him return to his own universe. Meanwhile, Ashton learns that life with two powerful dragons might have its perks. When they finally get back on track and stop at a port town, a romantic misunderstanding causes a rift between Claude and Rena, and then the entire party must exorcise a ghost ship at the harbor if they're to continue on their journey.
What's better than a story with pirates? (Besides ninjas, that is.) Zombie pirates, of course! That's the payoff in Episode 10, the last one on this disc, where our brave heroes make like the Scooby gang and get to solve a groovy mystery. Elsewhere it's more traditional fantasy fare, with ancient palaces, stark mountain ranges, and giant demon birds setting the scene. The main characters even show different sides of their personalities, although they're still far from being complex and multi-dimensional. Reveling in its lowly place as an RPG adaptation, Star Ocean EX is now getting campy to the point where it's almost funny.
Anyone who's familiar with role-playing videogames (including Star Ocean 2, on which this show is based) will have no problem following the paint-by-numbers plot here. Having gotten past the introduction and setting out on their quest, our heroes are now at the stage where they start adding new members to the party and meet new enemies of increasing difficulty. This is also the part where, in the game, leveling up is still fun and you learn new attacks every twenty minutes. The series is neatly packaged into segments of one major battle every episode, with plenty of recap at the beginning of each. There's absolutely nothing intriguing or exciting about the storyline, but at least there is a storyline, which is more than what some other anime have to offer.
Star Ocean fans can look forward to the debut of the loud and wacky Ashton Anchors on this disc. The hard-luck comic relief character dominates Episodes 6-8, showing just how boring Claude and Rena are when set against someone with a forceful personality. Ashton's whine-whine-whine-I've-got-dragons-on-my-back shtick gets old really fast, but the show tries so hard to make him the butt of every joke that it's amusing in its lameness. Although this sort of stupid humor induces more eye-rolling than laughter, it works better than trying to be deadly serious all the time. Ashton is also at the center of a dramatic moment when the group confronts Demon Bird Jean, the final challenge in Ashton's quest to rid himself of the dragons. The clash of ideals between humans and demons (intelligent creatures, as opposed to plain old monsters) creates a stirring conflict where Ashton makes a wise but predictable decision. It's the strongest scene so far in a series that's otherwise filled with generic hack-and-slash.
Like all good RPGs, Star Ocean EX is committed to easily cosplay-able character designs, and the addition of Ashton is no exception: you just can't miss a guy with fire and ice dragons sticking out of his back. The supporting cast is equally colorful, right down to an eyepatch-wearing thief who gets about 5 minutes of screen time, and apparently anything can become a monster by being giant-sized—birds, bees, and octopi. Bright colors and varied landscapes make this an interesting world, but Studio DEEN's production standards turn the character animation and fight scenes into choppy collages of posed shots. Claude's "Kuhazan" sword attack looks quite dynamic, but it's a stock animation that they've been using since Episode 5, and everyone else has to settle for layer upon layer of special effects for their attacks. When a chase scene is highlighted by several blurred stills, that's a sign that it's just too much trouble for this studio to animate real motion.
A typical fantasy soundtrack sets the musical mood through these episodes, with brass fanfares and a full orchestra sound punctuating fight scenes and action. Meanwhile, the comedy moments have plenty of lighthearted melodies to back them up, and emotional scenes get taken over by sentimental piano music. The music is rarely annoying, and some of it is actually enjoyable, but there's nothing here that you'll remember after it's over.
Geneon's dub production with The Ocean Group is mostly their chance to say, "No, we haven't figured out how to make this show any better either." The voice actors have a good grasp of timing, and the loose translation helps the lines to flow better, but the cut-and-paste fantasy dialogue doesn't benefit much from being translated into English. Besides, stereotypical characters are fair game for stereotypical voices, so if everyone sounds like a Saturday morning American cartoon, it's mostly because that's what the show is like.
Along with a clean ending sequence and the usual previews, the DVD also includes character profiles that are so short they're all but useless. However, the mini-pencilboard might be a nice addition to someone's bedroom wall.
Unless you're a serious fan of the game, there doesn't seem to be much reason to get into Star Ocean EX. It's a strictly average fantasy story with strictly average visuals, and there are plenty of better epic tales to be found. However, if you can appreciate the finer points of really bad humor and even worse fantasy clichés, this could be worth an evening of ironic entertainment. After all, Star Ocean EX doesn't take itself too seriously—so maybe we shouldn't, either.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C-
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Entertaining due to its sheer triteness and lame attempts at comedy.
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