Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
Banner of the Stars
DVD 1: No Turning Back
It's three years after the conclusion of the first series, Crest of the Stars. Lafiel is the captain of the starship Basroil and Jinto has finished up training as a Supply Officer. The two are thrust together again as war breaks out between the Abh and the Triple Alliance, leaving Jinto and Lafiel right in the middle of a deadly intergalactic dispute that the duo will ultimately have a major effect on.
The follow-up series to Bandai's science-fiction cult hit Crest of the Stars, which recently aired on TechTV's “Anime Unleashed” block, Banner of the Stars is, in all aspects of the phrase, more of the same. If you were one of the many who absolutely loved Crest of the Stars, Banner of the Stars will not fail to please. Unfortunately, if you found Crest of the Stars a little on the dry and boring side, Banner of the Stars has absolutely nothing to sway you from that opinion.
Banner of the Stars effectively drops you in to the middle of a storyline that's already happening. They explain what's happened to these characters since the first series, but they don't explain most of the back-story. There's a segment at the end of the first episode in which Jinto provides a long soliloquy set to footage from the first series, but it doesn't explain anything. The relationship between Jinto and Lafiel is disclosed somewhat; plenty of clues are dropped about the nature of their friendship when Lafiel storms off in a huff and Jinto is asked by the crew to follow and calm her down. It's not to say that Banner of the Stars is completely unwatchable if you haven't seen the first season, but it's fairly accurate to say that those who have seen it will enjoy this second series more than others who have not.
Credit must be given to Banner of the Stars, along with its sequel and predecessor, for having excellent character development. Dialogue between characters consumes most of the series, a focus on developing the relatively small cast. Jinto and Lafiel are fleshed-out, real personalities, and the screenwriter uses every possible opportunity to make their relationship grow and mature. Despite the somewhat dry backdrop and plot, the show is probably worth watching simply because you're bound to become attached to the characters. The dialogue and the way the dialogue develops the characters is very realistic. It makes it very easy to empathize, aside from the whole space-battleships-run-by-intergalactic-elves angle.
Unfortunately, the overall plot of Banner of the Stars is fairly dry. The series is mostly talking heads, and when there's a battle, it's talking heads in front of displays on a starship bridge, shouting technobabble at each other. It's worse than the average episode of Star Trek, and to top it off, none of it is animated very well, so you're stuck with talking heads at a low frame rate accompanied by the same few shots of starships zooming past each other and shooting laser beams around. If they'd stuck to the politics and left out the tedious space battles, Banner of the Stars would seem a lot more like Space Elf C-SPAN than an anime series, but it might be a little less repetitive.
As for the dub, well, it's pretty terrible. Nearly the entire cast is generic males and females, so everyone sounds basically the same. Jinto looks like he's 16 but sounds like he's 30, while Lafiel sounds like the whiniest, most stuck-up 15-year-old princess in the galaxy. The Japanese voice is considerably more regal and dignified. It's not that voice matching is an issue, but the English voice colors Lafiel in a fairly inaccurate light. Jinto's narration through the series winds up sounding a lot like The Wonder Years in the dub, but the Japanese sounds more introspective. I kept waiting for the dub actor to say "It was at that moment, I realized, Lafiel and I would be together forever."
The DVD itself is a nice package. It comes with an attractive reversible cover that features large, expressive cast shots. Banner of the Stars is a thirteen-episode series, but Bandai has decided to release five episodes on the first disc--an amazing value for a series so short--while maintaining superior video quality. Extras include a "newsletter" which contains some very insightful comments from the novelist who wrote the books from which the series was created. Also present is a summary of Crest of the Stars, which will be helpful to anyone confused by the start of this series.
Basically, if you saw the first series, you'll find a lot to like about Banner of the Stars. The character development and dialogue is top-notch, exceeding the standards set by the science fiction genre. The show has plenty of hardcore fans, and it's easy to see why. Unfortunately, if hard science fiction isn't really your thing, the bulk of this series will bore you to tears. The show needs to find a balance between technobabble shouted at monitor screens and heartfelt conversations between the main characters; as it is, each episode typically has too much of one and not enough of the other. The animation isn't really good enough to provide an extra incentive to watch the show, so the worth of the series is reliant completely on the plotline and characters. The series exceeds nearly all other examples in its genre for the latter but is an unfortunate reminder of how dry the former can be. At its heart, Banner of the Stars is a character-driven story; the ability of strong character development to overshadow its other shortcomings is a judgement best left to viewers, among whom opinions will likely diverge.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Excellent character development, possibly the most intelligent science-fiction show available on the market
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