Reviewby Theron Martin, May 19th 2006
DVD 3: Truth
Kingdom-sponsored problems arise when the Amaterasu docks at Palmyra, causing the supply contract the cadets have been relying on with AGI to be cancelled. Soon after The Kingdom sends a fleet of five ships after the Amaterasu, determined to eliminate the black mark on their military record handed to them by the Amaterasu's success in previous battles. It will take all of the ingenuity of Sinon and all of the determination of the rest of the crew just to survive.
But much more is also happening on the political front. A power struggle has arisen over the replacement for the recently-deceased leader of The Kingdom, while the senior Mamiya seeks help from the Earth Alliance for the cause of the Amaterasu. But when the Earth Alliance does get involved, things get messy.
The last volume of Starship Operators makes an attempt at character development by giving screen time to some of the bad guys and setting up romances for some prominent characters (especially Sinon), but it's a token effort which only serves to telegraph the death of another Amaterasu crew member. The strength of the series has always been in the practicalities surrounding its premise (a reality TV show about the life-or-death struggles of a crew of “pirate” space cadets) and its execution of space combat tactics, and that doesn't change for the final five episodes. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a series better at portraying the strategy and realities involved with futuristic space combat, and unlike in the first volume the execution of said tactics in a key space battle carries with it a good degree of tension. So often in sci-fi anime space battles are determined by extraordinary individual effort or the implementation of some sort of ultra-weapon, so it's refreshing to see fights determined by teamwork and clever use of normal resources within a sensible frame of physics. That Shinon is principally responsible for all the cleverness finally justifies her marketing as the series' most prominent character in what is otherwise a broad ensemble cast. She is not someone you'd want to see on the enemy side in any battle!
Becoming more prominent in this volume is behind-the-scenes scheming involving The Kingdom, the Earth Alliance, and planet Kibi's government-in-exile, which have a major impact on how events play out. Also dealt with is the potential political and strategic impact of the broadcasts involving the Amaterasu. More-light hearted content is kept to a minimum and is non-existent after the middle of episode 10; this is a pure drama flavored with a bit of action, but those who have stuck with the series this far aren't likely to mind. The drama is executed well enough in the later stages to make this volume the most satisfying view of the three, including a definitive ending likely to leave viewers wanting more but realizing that it won't happen. It's also the way a series like this has to end if it wants to remain true to itself.
The other thing Starship Operators does consistently well is its visuals. They are invariably sharp and distinctive, with explosions in particular looking exceptionally good. The CG work done with exterior shots of ships blends in better with the regular animation than in most series, and computer screen displays are both detailed and believable; someone on the creative staff certainly put a lot of time into logically extrapolating what combat displays would look like on a futuristic battleship. Uniform designs are maybe just a little too colorful for crew uniforms, and my earlier gripe about the stark contrast between male and female uniform designs still stands, but they are still drawn well and complemented by consistently appealing character designs. The whole thing with female characters' eyes being drawn like they're always staring wide-eyed can be a little off-putting if one is new to the series, but someone who's made it through the previous eight episodes probably won't be bothered by it anymore. The animation is also good, especially in battle scenes. While the series isn't quite on the level of, say, a Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG on its visual quality, it does plenty well enough.
The “blah” musical score was such a weak point for the series in its early episodes that it was actually a detriment, but in this volume the score carries a more dramatic feel and is used much more efficiently to support the events on the screen, which is perhaps the key reason for the series' improvement in dramatic impact. Particularly important and effective is the use of the lovely closing song "Chi ni Kaeru ~on the Earth~" by KOTOKO to anchor the score for the final episode and close out the series. The techno-themed opener “Radiance” is still lame, however.
Another problem that has been corrected over the course of the series is the English dub, which sounded tentative and forced in its earliest episodes but has steadily improved as the series progressed. Now used to their roles, the English cast members are all turning in acceptable performances in voices well-matched to the original performances and characters. Kelly Sheridan does turn in a performance in the key role of Sinon which sounds a bit gentler than the original, but nonetheless it's a good job. Although the English script is quite liberal in rewording the original dialogue, it's never loose enough to be any more problematic than a nuisance to purists. It's not a stellar dub overall, but it should be satisfactory for most viewers and does feature a lot of new vocal talent.
Extras on the DVD this time around include company previews, a clean closer for the extended ending for the final episode, and a pair of promotional music videos: one is the upbeat rock-styled “Bravery Wings” and the other is the gentler, more low-key “Blue Star.” Included in the packaging are a reversible cover and another mini-poster featuring female Amaterasu personnel.
Though the series has had its weak points in the past, the final volume offers up its best music and most effective drama while maintaining high visual standards. Its serious nature, strategic focus, and weakness on character development may not be something that everyone will appreciate, but those who have at least tolerated the series so far will be treated to a strong ending.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Excellent visuals, vastly improved music and dramatic tension.
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