Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 3rd 2006
As the Cosmic Fracture approaches the solar system, the crews and students of the Foundations are once again tasked with protecting all of humanity from a cosmic threat, this time under the auspices of Project Genesis. Though the project is a collaborative effort, the heaviest burden falls upon Kohta (who is to be the gunner) and Shima (who must correlate all the incoming data and locate the optimal target point) since they are the only ones who can sufficiently use the DLS system and pilot Infi and its new sister ship, the Halcyon, which are critical to carrying out the mission. Shima is still struggling to master the DLS, though, and the pressure is getting to her, so her friends secretly find a way to avoid Stellvia's evacuation and stay around to help out any way they can. But the Cosmic Fracture presents unanticipated threats, leaving all involved scrambling to deal with them as the Foundations themselves are put on the line.
The fate of humanity depends on the resourcefulness and teamwork of the Foundation crews and pilots. It is time for them to prove that they were worthy of the assistance given by the aliens and the grand new future that awaits them.
Stellvia is one of those series which cannot be accurately evaluated based on just a few episodes. Those who judged it to be merely a kids-in-school-in-space series based on the first few episodes were probably (pleasantly) surprised to discover that the cutesy veneer of the series covered a remarkable degree of character and story development once the series pushed past its initial story arc. It's in this character development that one of the three greatest strengths of the series lies. Any long-time anime fan has seen other stories centered around an emotionally fragile but still quite capable young heroine, as well as stories where the main character doesn't recognize or appreciate his/her own extraordinary capabilities even though everyone else does, but there's a freshness and realness about Shima Katase which makes her easier to empathize with than most. The stress that she is placed under – both self-imposed and from external sources – is palpable, as is the physical and emotional toll it takes on her (as seen in volume 6 and again in this volume). The caring concern of those around her for her balances out the sometimes-annoying traits of the various supporting cast members, and the relationship she has with Kohta takes all the twists and turns one would expect of young love trying to endure under such circumstances.
Stellvia isn't about Shima alone saving the day, though, and that's where it strays away from innumerable other mecha/sci-fi series. All four of the major story arcs in the series - Great Mission, Foundation Games, Alien Encounter, and Genesis Project - make it clear that, while Shima and Kouta might play vital roles in events, tasks the size of these require a collaborative effort involving the best and brightest of all of humanity (or, in the case of the Foundation Games, the best and most talented of a particular Foundation). Nowhere in the series is this more obvious than in the execution of the Genesis Project, where all the Foundations, their leaders, their ace pilots, Shima and Kouta, and even their fellow students must work together without the distractions of egos and pride to achieve a common goal. It's an exceedingly rare thing to see in a genre and medium which tends to focus on the accomplishments of individuals, but when it all comes together in this volume it's a beautiful sight.
The other great strength and distinguishing trait of Stellvia, when evaluated as a whole, is its vision. Humanity coming together in the wake of great disaster/warfare to create a better and nobler future centered around cooperative effort is not an unfamiliar theme in sci-fi; Star Trek set the standard for that back in the '60s, but it has been used innumerable times since in both anime and non-anime sci-fi titles. Rarely, though, has a sci-fi series been as optimistic or forward-looking as Stellvia is. All of its adults characters stress that everything they do is to promote and insure humanity's future, a view which, in retrospect, permeates the whole series but becomes most evident in its late volumes. It is this attitude which inspires the younger students to defy orders in an effort to make sure that they are contributing to the future as well as being part of it, and it is this spirit which transforms the final episode from tense drama to inspirational thrill as the viewer is swept along to the climax. The way the series ends is quite fitting given this theme.
For some viewers the biggest detracting factor to Stellvia will be the overly cutesy styling of the artistry and especially the character designs, which along with the bright color scheme gives Stellvia a very distinctive look. Everything is well-drawn, however, especially the CG effects used for the space scenes, with the red coloring of space giving it a warmer feel than space normally has. (This can be favorable or a distraction, depending on how you look at it.) The renditions of the computer images the DLS system allows characters to see are creative and impressive, especially the final gimmick introduced near the end. Although still imperfect, the integration between the normal and CG artistry is also at its highest level in this volume. The animation in the CG scenes shines, creating great scenes of flight movement, while animation in other scenes fares well but is not quite at the same level. Overall this is the best-looking and most visually satisfying volume in the series.
Stellvia's soundtrack has finally ironed out the quirks which sometimes detracted from earlier scenes, creating a score which mixes synthesized and orchestral arrangements to ably support the flow of the drama and fully enhance its peak moments. The course of events in this volume makes the opening song feel more appropriate then ever, with the opener for the last episode updating its graphics to provide a brief retrospective on the series to date instead of an assortment of random shots. A new closer is also introduced for the final episode.
ADR director and principal English script writer Wendee Lee produces a dub for Geneon which stays as true as possible to the subtitles, even retaining one American pop culture reference of the type which usually disappears in translation due to copyright issues. Some (not all) of the honorifics also survive the translation intact. English VAs now consistently and uniformly hit the right tones with their performances (something not necessarily true in the earliest volumes), and comparisons of vocal styles with the original seiyuu reveals few discrepancies; the only one of consequence is in the role of Arisa, but it's hard to be disappointed with the English interpretation. With one or two minor exceptions performances are uniformly good, especially Carrie Savage as Shima and Kevin Hatcher as Kohta. Unfortunately Geneon has made it all the way through this final volume without ever offering up extras beyond company previews, but at least there's four episodes this time instead of three.
The final volume of Stellvia is an example of what can happen with a series when all of the elements come together just right. The result is a thrilling, dramatic, inspiring, and ultimately very satisfying conclusion to a sci-fi series that's a bit different from the norm. While the series as a whole may not quite rank among the best of 2005, this individual volume does. An absolute must for anyone who's followed the series to date.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Nearly every element is at its best, breaks with staid sci-fi/mecha conventions.
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