Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Star Ocean EX
DVD 3: Magical Moonlit Flowers
Adventurers Claude, Rena, Ashton and Celine arrive at Lacour Continent, the gateway to El Continent where the Sorcery Globe is wreaking havoc upon their world. Upon arrival they meet Precis Newman, a girl genius whose passion for inventing is matched only by her passion for Claude. When Claude and the gang find out that Precis's best friend is fatally ill, they head out to find the rare flower that can cure her. Meanwhile, Celine hopes to decipher the mysterious book that she found in the Cross Caves, but getting to the translator's house becomes harder than expected when Precis's latest invention goes haywire. Finally, Claude and Ashton enter a swordfighting tournament when they hear that it'll give them a chance to meet a renowned researcher of the Sorcery Globe.
There comes a time in some animators' lives when they realize that the only way to enjoy working on a lame show is to stop taking it so seriously. Maybe that's what happened in Star Ocean EX, where an entire episode is devoted to a comical giant robot rampage (plus some recaps), and the snappy exchanges between characters become more entertaining than the epic battles they get into. This adaptation of the hit video game continues to lack any semblance of originality, pulling out every cliché it can think of. Outside of the main quest, however, there's some light comedy that brightens up an otherwise dull series. Maybe there's some hope yet.
If you were hoping that this is the point in the series where it gets better, well, don't get too excited. With colorful characters entering left and right, it might get more entertaining, but it doesn't necessarily get better. Fantasy clichés never seem to run out in this quest-driven world: if it isn't about magical cure-all herbs, it's about the master swordsmith's prized blade, or the old adversary coming back to challenge the hero. The characters may act all surprised and dramatic when a plot twist happens, but anyone else watching the show will probably just groan. At least our heroes don't take themselves too seriously: Precis's robot rampage is the height of comedy on this disc, and while it's not high art, the sheer energy shows the animation staff having fun for once. (And hey, some lucky artist got to draw Rena as a race queen.)
In a world where character development usually means leveling up, the regulars get stuck on autopilot while new characters help to keep the cast fresh. Precis supplants Celine as the new screamy whiny girl, and Lacour has its fair share of smart guys who know just enough to advance the plot. Dr. Bowman's need for the healing flower "metox" (sounds like something pending USDA approval) keeps everyone questing for a full episode, and the mention of Sorcery Globe expert Dr. Leon—plus the swordfighting tournament—should be enough to propel a minor story arc. But what about that Precis/Claude/Ashton love triangle? She looks about 10 years old ... her infatuation with Claude is good for a few laughs, but let's hope that the main romantic focus stays on Claude and Rena.
The character designs in the show are diverse as always; although look-alikes and generic designs can be one of the biggest fantasy clichés, there's no mistaking the characters here thanks to their brightly colored costumes. The technical production doesn't fare so well, however, with uninspired animation matching the uninspired storyline. Most of the serious action is reduced to still frames and key poses, or characters sliding across the screen in a stylized simulation of actual movement. When people pop up randomly and slide across the screen for comedic effect, that's fine—a worn-out gag, perhaps, but still cute. Intense swordfights and magical duels, however, are not comedic events, and Studio DEEN ought to worry less about animating quivering eyes and more about animating heroic attacks.
The background music demonstrates the versatility of the piano as it becomes the main instrument in expressing just about every mood from jolly hijinks to tenderness to anger and fear. Although other instruments (mostly of the synthesized kind) join in regularly, it's still the piano that brings out the most effective passages. Of course, "effective" is a relative term, and most of the music here is just fragmented units of melody and harmony when compared against the best music scores in anime. It's enough to accompany the simple story presented here, but no more than that.
Like other aspects of the show, the English dub is just about average, with Claude sounding like a typical hero, Ashton playing the comedy relief, and high-pitched Precis compelling viewers to switch the audio language—until they realize she's even whinier in Japanese. The cast approaches their characters as RPG stereotypes rather than real people, which makes sense considering the material. At least they put on a natural tone of voice. Helping with this natural sound is a script that plays it loose when it comes to colloquialisms and dialogue. Star Ocean loyalists may be aghast at some of the differences between the dubbed script and the subtitles, but in a story that's this clichéd, you might as well have some fun. That's exactly what happens in the dub as characters quip and adlib their way through some surprisingly witty exchanges.
Extras are sparse in this volume—apart from some painfully short character profiles, there's only the mini-pencilboard in the DVD case.
I'm not going to say that Star Ocean EX gets any better after the start of the series—but I'm not hating it as much as I thought I would. Despite its predictable fantasy elements, melodramatic character behavior and shoddy animation, it does have its moments of fun, usually when everyone stops worrying about the main story. Anyone looking for seriously good fantasy adventures or seriously good comedy should steer clear of this title, but if it somehow ends up in your DVD pile one day and there's nothing else to watch, go ahead and put it on anyway.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : D
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Functions better as juvenile comedy than epic adventure.
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