Reviewby Luke Carroll, Dec 10th 2008
Starship Operators Collection
Survivor in space!
For the 73rd class of cadets of the Defense University of the small planet Kibi, a maiden voyage on the new warship Amaterasu is a fitting event just before graduation. However as they are returning home they are shocked to hear news of a declaration of war by the aggressive Kingdom of Henrietta against Kibi.
When the Kibi government surrenders without a struggle, the cadets decide to fight back using the Amaterasu with funding from the Galaxy News Network. The only stipulation? Exclusive airing rights to the action and good ratings. So the cadets find themselves the "stars" of their own reality show. Only on this reality show, you can die!
For many years now I have taken the gamble of picking quite a few anime titles up based not on their trailers or a first episode, but on their synopsis and my beliefs that it will be an interesting watch. Despite the obvious risks of picking up a 'dud' and being subjected to torture for a few hours, this approach has paid dividends far too many times for me to stop right now. So when I first managed to read the synopsis for Starship Operators way back when the now defunct Tokyo Night Train licensed it, I became intrigued to say the least. With Madman recently coming to TNT's rescue and bringing the series out as a single collection I let my trusting gut instincts lead the way, pulled out my faithful lucky dice and took a gamble. As I would find out however, even the most interesting of premises can be all for naught if a show struggles to pull itself together to begin with.
Having successfully completed their maiden voyage on board the Kibi government's new warship Amaterasu, the 73rd class of cadets from the Defense University of Kibi are beginning to make their final preparations for their return home when disaster strikes. A neighbouring empire known as The Kingdom declares war against Kibi and as a show of strength destroys Kibi's sister warship. Without hesitation the Kibi government surrenders and as a matter of procedure the senior crew leaves the Amaterasu using the escape pods. With only the cadets left on board, they decide that if they can receive enough funding they'll take control of the Amaterasu and fight back at The Kingdom. This funding conveniently gets offered by the Galaxy News Network, however it comes with the catch of exclusive airing rights to all the action and a promise of good ratings. With no other alternatives than to surrender, the cadets accept the deal and soon begin their treacherous voyage on board the Amaterasu to defeat The Kingdom and free their beloved planet from its grasps.
Despite its appearance, Starship Operators is very much a thinking fan's anime. Every battle shown is discussed thoroughly between the crew members before any action takes place. Although this does lead to copious amounts of tactical and political dialogue, none of it ever seems too overwhelming to downgrade the experience. Sadly the same cannot be said for the writing and storytelling. Characters die but they don't carry the same impact you would expect, cast interaction is very ordinary and overall there feels to be some unexplainable key component missing that would have improved the show immensely. Combine this with a story that never really reaches its potential until the final few episodes and you're left with a series that despite looking good on paper, never pulls itself together enough to be something special.
Visually Starship Operators is certainly one of the best looking space anime to be released in recent times. The CG artwork for the spacecraft rarely look out of place, with the detail put into various equipment such as the computer screens coming across as quite believable and well done. The characters themselves are also somewhat decent to look at, with eye pleasing designs and a nice colour-coding system on the uniforms that helps distinguish what areas the cast come from. Some people may be off put by the character facial designs though and the tendency for the cast to have fully open eyes, however along with occasional bland background art this is a small gripe that should subdue itself in time. All things considered, its hard to deny that this is a very good looking series.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the soundtrack. Composed by Kenji Kawai, the background score leaves a lot to be desired as it takes a backseat approach to drama. Action scenes lack the soaring intensive tones you've come to expect, with many of the emotional segments feeling somewhat underdone as the softer tunes fail to convey much of the sadness show on screen. As with almost everything else in this series though, it does manage to pull itself together quite well towards the final episodes, providing for a very nice and memorable closure for the show. The techno-laced opening by Mami Kawada may not be to everyones taste, however the closing theme by Kotoko certainly packs an emotional punch; arguably more than most of the show.
For the English dub, Geneon have given the reigns over to the veteran Ocean Group. Utilising a large team of new talent, the dub comes across as quite average at the best of times, with many of the lines early on sounding somewhat forced and stagnant. This obviously improves over time as the cast get into their characters more, however the bad taste left from the first half of the series never really goes away. Those looking for an accurate translation will also be disappointed here, as some of the technical jargon used on the show is seemingly put aside for more rougher equivalent meanings. This thankfully doesn't ruin a lot of the experience butit certainly is something to note if you want to get the most out of the series.
On the extras side of things, Starship Operators contains very little in terms of noteworthy items. Spread out over the three discs are a number of promotional trailers and music videos, the clean opening and closing animations, and a few Madman trailers. As is almost standard with all of Madman's current releases the cover can also be reversed for those who would rather a rating-less package. It is also worth mentioning that Madman have currently chosen to package Tokyo Night Train's first volume of this series instead of printing their own. Whilst it doesn't prove to be detrimental at all to the shows enjoyment, the slight difference the two companies have in regard to their subtitles and disc art still manages to be quite apparent.
At the end of the day, Starship Operators is not a series for the faint hearted. Its focus on the intellectual and tactical side of battling in space will certainly keep it from being appreciated by many anime fans. Although the series does manage to conclude on a strong and memorable note, it sadly comes far too late to save Starship Operators from being more than just another average show that unfortunately let a lot of potential go to waste.
© MIZUNO RYO MEDIAWORKS/SSO Project. All Rights Reserved.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : C
+ Wonderful looking CG art, Technical talk rarely overwhelms, Satasfying ending
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