Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 2nd 2005
DVD 3: Foundation III
It's crunch time aboard the space station Stellvia as everyone prepares for the Second Wave, an aftershock from a supernova that engulfed the Earth in electromagnetic radiation almost 200 years ago. Several students from the boarding school have been selected as support forces for the "Great Mission" to protect Earth, and among them is the gifted but nervous Shima "Shipon" Katase. Before she can even worry about the Mission, she has to cope with Rinna, a newly arrived prodigy who claims to be Shipon's rival. After that, it's time for training and preparation, but can Shipon gather up her skills and confidence when it counts? She'll find out soon enough when the Great Mission begins.
With the first major story arc coming to a close on this disc, you could, theoretically, walk away from Stellvia after just three volumes. Chances are, however, if you've already invested ten episodes' worth of viewing, you might want to stick around to see what they do with the remaining sixteen. In these three episodes, Shipon's self-confidence takes a few hits, and the woefully insecure teenager starts to make all sorts of blunders again. Not to worry! In the tradition of all great epics, our young heroine comes through in a time of crisis. The storyline may not have the epic sweep of Gundam or a Leiji Matsumoto work, but with its bright colors and uplifting message, this is one space adventure that boldly goes into the realm of cute.
At this point, Stellvia is basically a 24th-century coming-of-age tale, and Volume 3 doesn't disappoint when it comes to character growth and life-defining moments. However, it doesn't exceed those expectations either, so the stirring scenes at the end of the story arc are the kind that we've come to expect. Although there are hints of darker plot threads beneath the surface, they're pushed aside in favor of the usual training scenes, heart-to-heart conversations, and of course, the Great Mission (with a name like that, its occurrence so early in the series is sure to catch some people off-guard). All the preparation for this cosmic event seems like a convenient way of dragging out the episodes, but patient viewers will be rewarded with Shipon's finest moment yet in the last half of Episode 10. Whether or not you're willing to hang around for that, however, depends on how much you're invested in the characters.
Let's get one thing straight: Shima Katase is one hell of an insecure crybaby. By starting her character at that point, however, it makes her heroic journey look more impressive. Rinna's arrival kicks Shipon's ego down several notches just for good measure, but a few heartfelt conversations later, it looks like she might do okay in the Great Mission after all. The problem is that Shipon's drop in confidence takes her almost all the way back to Episode 1, and after her gutsy performance in Astroball (see Volume 2), nobody wants to sit through her nervous crybaby phase all over again. Unfortunately, we have to, but it makes for some sweet little moments of encouragement. Shipon's conversation with Arisa in the park brings slice-of-life to the 24th century, and the unexpected gift from her mother symbolizes familial love in a very strong but simple way.
Studio XEBEC pulls no punches in establishing the color scheme for this anime. With outer space tinted green, Shipon's uniform in orange, and the Bianca spacecraft painted yellow, there's no mistaking Stellvia for any other sci-fi anime out there. While the colors are very vivid and distinct, so are the character designs, and those huge buggy eyes might not appeal to everyone. However, the unique hairstyles and not-too-spiky linework give the characters a cute and friendly look that's missing in more serious shows of this type. Despite this lively artwork, the animation isn't quite as spirited, being limited to basic motions like walking, speaking, and piloting. Anyway, most of the action happens in space, and you know what that means—lots and lots of CGI. Although the dozens of spacecraft carrying out defensive maneuvers during the Great Mission are an impressive sight, the animators could have done a better job of rendering the vehicles in close-up shots. In particular, the giant robot Infinity has all the movement characteristics of a 3D animation student project; a little more time and money would have made Stellvia's defense forces look more convincing.
Although it doesn't immediately stand out, the music of Stellvia is notable for its restrained style—even in the face of intense action. With a sound dominated by solos or small groups of instruments, it's an approach well suited to the personal, character-driven moments in the series. Even spaceflight sequences take on a unique feel because the music avoids the brassy bombast of typical "space opera" scores. The background music won't stick in your head instantly, but the rousing theme songs that open and close each episode are dangerously catchy.
Bang Zoom! Entertainment's English dub does a fair job of capturing the characters' personalities in this series, although the rhythm of the dialogue often feels too deliberate. Carrie Savage manages to bring out the sweetness in Shipon's voice without being overly cute, and Lucy Hudson's feisty rendition of Arisa provides an excellent counterpoint. However, the dialogue sometimes sounds like a grade-school recitation; this goes away when the lines are faster-paced but it dampens the effect of the emotional scenes. The translation itself takes a handful of liberties from the original subtitles, but mostly for better timing and to fit the mouth movements (which themselves don't always sync perfectly with the Japanese dialogue).
With its positive outlook and happy-go-lucky characters, Stellvia is one sci-fi anime that doesn't worry about angsting itself into a dark, conflicted corner. Instead, friends and family come to the aid of one young heroine, giving her the confidence she needs to fulfil her duty. Shipon's initial insecurity can be bothersome, but watching her take charge as she carries out the Great Mission is a genuine feel-good moment. If you want to experience the thrill of spaceflight without getting bogged down in cosmic mythology or giant robot politics, then this volume of Stellvia will take you there.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : C+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ First story arc comes to a stirring conclusion as the Great Mission takes place.
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