Reviewby Mike Crandol,
Gall Force - Eternal Story
The feature film that kicks off the Gall Force saga begins with a war in deep space between the all-female Solanoids and a monstrous race of creatures known as the Paranoids. When the Solanoid battleship Star Leaf becomes separated from the fleet, its crew must deal not only with attacking Paranoids but a mysterious alien entity that has infiltrated the ship. Captain Ulza falls victim the creature's attacks, leaving first mate Rabby in charge of an ever-dwindling crew. Finally reaching their destination, Rabby discovers fellow crewmember Patty has unwittingly become embroiled in a secret plot between the Paranoids and the Solanoid High Command to bring the war to a radical conclusion. But the girls aren't about to be used as pawns, and a final desperate battle for survival begins.
When one considers Gall Force: Eternal Story was originally inspired by a series of model kits, it's almost impressive the movie came out as well as it did. Almost, because Gall Force is far from good; it's just not the abject drivel one might expect from a project conceived from the get-go as a merchandising tie-in. Featuring some of the sharpest artwork from the era and a noteworthy attempt at innovative storytelling, it regrettably falls victim to a dearth of characterization that plagues too many other anime with similar potential.
Things start out deceptively simple, and for the first fifteen minutes or so Eternal Story appears to be little more than a straightforward outer space shoot-em-up. It soon changes gears, however, and becomes more of an interstellar horror film as a mysterious invader stalks the crew (strong shades of "Alien"). The secret behind the Star Leaf's unwelcome guest is revealed in an imaginative if convoluted plot twist, and the final act transcends genres yet again as the surviving crew members fight both the enemy and their own superiors on a primitive jungle planet. The abrupt shifts in tone and style are not too successful, but they do make Gall Force stand out from the crowd. The film's final twist is also quite amusing as a hidden link between the Gall Force universe and our own is made plain in a move reminiscent of "Planet of the Apes."
The film's biggest asset, however, is its set of character designs from then-rising star Kenichi Sonoda, who would go on to be a fan favorite of the 1990s with Riding Bean and Gunsmith Cats. It could be argued the Star Leaf's crew is all unabashed anime eyecandy, and with names like "Pony" and "Catty" it would seem hard to deny. But to shrug Sonoda's designs off as mere pandering is to sell short his amazing talent for crafting distinct and expressive characters that transcend Gall Force's dated animation. Some crewmembers like Rumy and Lufy are striking for their unusual size or outré hairstyle, but more impressive are leading characters Rabby and Patty. Their realistic, even mundane, designs are every bit as memorable as their more flamboyant co-stars', and every one of them leaves an indelible visual mark in viewers' minds.
Unfortunately none of them are terribly interesting as personalities - Gall Force's fatal flaw. As the movie's episodic plot progresses the spotlight is turned on various supporting players, all of whom are cursed with one-sided, stereotypical personas; hothead Lufy predictably butts heads with the rest of the crew, cowardly Pony spends most her screentime whimpering in a corner, and the rest of the crew behave in equally foreseeable fashions. Late in the movie the entire fate of the universe is unexpectedly thrust on Patty's shoulders, a decision the audience might actually care about if Patty had any kind of personality at all. The cookie-cutter crew makes for a humdrum viewing experience, but it's Rabby that really brings things down. The only character to figure prominently throughout the film's several sharp turns in story, Rabby should be the emotional glue that holds things together. But her vague personality is never defined; she's assertive and able to stand up to Lufy's bullying demeanor, but beyond that we never learn a thing about her or what makes her tick. Her lack of character makes Eternal Story not just predictable but downright tedious viewing.
Better characterizations would have been extremely beneficial to the movie's unusual thematic structure. As it is the disjointed plot feels just that - disjointed, but some more three-dimensional protagonists might have been able to carry the tale convincingly through its many twists and turns, from Act 1's action to Act 2's horror and the final stretch's jungle survival mode. The story's unpredictable nature should make for an exciting roller coaster ride, but without an emotional investment from the audience, Eternal Story feels more like a bumper-car crash.
Adding to the schizophrenic feel are the two - count 'em - two English language tracks included on the DVD. The "alternate" English version is actually the original dub produced many years ago for the VHS release. The default English track was created especially for this DVD, and while it remains more faithful to the original dialogue than its predecessor, neither of them sport great acting. The actresses in the more recent dub may be subtler in their delivery but are every bit as wooden as their forerunners. While there are no standout performances in the Japanese language version, it is a far sight more believable in its presentation.
CPM's technical presentation of Eternal Story represents another fine effort from the company. Like many of their releases, it is light on extra material, with the standard still-frame gallery and previews of later entries in the Gall Force series. But the remastered video looks great for its age, and the inclusion of the old dub is a tremendous gesture to dub fans, many of whom are still yearning for the original, old-school dubs absent from DVD reissues of classic material like Akira and the Dirty Pair.
Despite its deficiencies in plot and character, Gall Force has proven surprisingly popular with fans on both sides of the Pacific. A slew of sequels has been produced since the original's debut; they take the story in some interesting directions, and the series dovetails nicely. But they do little to improve on Eternal Story's weaknesses. Though the splendid artwork still holds up, little else does--or ever did, for that matter.
Overall (dub) : D+
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : A
Music : C
+ classic Kenichi Sonoda artwork, unusual storytelling
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