Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 14th 2008
Cleo, going alpha-male after his encounter with Vetti, decides that his best chance for a rematch is to stick around idealistic young freedom-fighter Michel. He isn't particularly interested in joining the ranks of Michel's merry band of amateur rebels though. After reuniting with them, he spends most of his time lazing around and rubbing everyone the wrong way. But whether listening to Michel revealing a painful family secret, negotiating with a scheming countess, or just stomping the hell out of the forces Vetti sends to reclaim Michel, when the pressure's on he delivers. In the meantime Vetti plans on strengthening his hold on the galaxy by marrying the daughter of his kingdom's most powerful religious leader.
In the hierarchy of the good, the bad, and the indifferent, Glass Fleet definitely falls under indifferent. Here is a show that not only contents itself with maintaining the exact same mix of mild entertainment, bad drama and dully predictable politics, but also takes pains that even its surprises are unsurprising. This volume's big revelation has telegraphed itself so strongly that even the subtitlers have trouble remembering whether it's been revealed or not (look for some pronoun confusion in episode 6).
And that's the volume's highlight. As country folk might say, this is a series that suckled mediocrity from its mother's teat and never forgot the taste. Not that you'll ever hear anyone speak like that in Glass Fleet. For a series that purports to be about the struggle between the masses and the aristocracy, there is precious little of the masses to be found. The vast majority of the cast are aristocrats, and have the painfully flowery dialogue to prove it (Vetti's wooing is enough to make Romeo tell him to shut his trap). The rest of the aristocrats spend their time with ostentatious displays (and in even more ostentatious outfits) that the writers must have judged as reflective of the Renaissance culture they based their space-faring civilization on (a set-up that screams gimmickry if ever one did).
As for the commoners, their only real representation is Cleo and his comrades, a group so determined to boil themselves down that they've reduced themselves beyond even a single personality trait to embodiments of a single behavioral quirk. The gunner gets aggressive when he puts a helmet on, the encryption expert stumbles around looking for his glasses when they come off, and the engineer drinks a lot. It's enough to make the Outlaw Star's crew look like the cast of Hamlet. Cleo himself has developed none since the first volume; he takes his taciturn hardass role so seriously that he may as well be a rock or some other, less flattering, inanimate object. The only time he breaks his silence is to be a dick, which isn't really conducive to earning sympathy. That he shares his leading role with a thoughtless slogan-shouting do-gooder and a stereotypical egomaniac doesn't exactly improve things. Nor does the fact that Vetti and Cleo's conflict was lifted, respective complexions and all, from Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the carefully-considered humanity of which puts not only Glass Fleet's characters, but also its simplistic politicking and social dynamics to shame.
Not that they're in need of much help; they do a fair job of shaming themselves, or at least of making sure that no one cares about them. The sophomore volume is a customary time for the expansion of characters' worlds, and to be fair Glass Fleet does give it the ol' college try (okay, maybe the high-school try). This volume deals more explicitly with religion and political structures than the last, and introduces another major player into the fight between the empire and its disenfranchised people. Yet still the dynamics are infernally simplistic, too far removed from reality to arouse more than passing interest. In what universe is a "savior" the only way to overthrow tyranny? In what universe does a people's revolution run on ideals alone (without any hint of self-interest)? And what of Vetti? How did he consolidate power? Why does no one in his entourage think of challenging him? Perhaps these issues will be addressed later, perhaps not, but the series' battle-a-week pacing allows so little time for events and their consequences to sink in that, in terms of retaining interest, it probably won't make a difference either way.
The battles, however, do make a difference, if not a terribly large one. There isn't anything outstanding about their execution—even Gonzo's trademark blend of two- and three-dimensional animation, usually so striking, can't escape the series' curse of mediocrity—but they pull off some neat explosions, and their usual 3D mecha-fetishization insures that Cleo's glass ship is slickly designed and suitably (though sophomorically) cool. The fleet battles may be the space equivalent of those shounen battles where the hero dashes through a group of enemies, stopping at the other side to have them drop dead behind him (the series' conception of a single ship's capabilities is staggeringly simple-minded), but at least they don't skimp on eye-candy. And even the music—which embraces the show's every excess with wholehearted orchestral glee, be it mawkish sentimentality or imperial grandeur—is at its best when providing thoroughly obvious but appropriately thunderous backing for a dramatic reversal during battle. More personal battles, usually of the sword-fighting variety, in keeping with the stiff, distinctly inferior 2D artistry overall, are far less appealing—sometimes even embarrassing. Character and background designs alike are complex and detailed without being particularly attractive.
There is nothing wrong with Funimation's English version of the show that can't be traced back to the original. Sure the language gets bothersomely florid and the performances frequently range towards flamboyance, but it's all in the name of preserving the original intent. The roles have been carefully chosen (though Greg Ayres' talent for pathetic losers carries the poor encryption expert a tad too far in that direction), with Laura Bailey playing Michel in exactly the right timbre to communicate the right amount of maleness without betraying her own voice. Though they think nothing of altering incidental dialogue beyond recognition, the rest of the time Funimation sticks close enough to the subtitle script to make you wish, especially during each episode's opening narration, that they hadn't.
Of note on this volume's extras front are two more interviews with the Japanese crew, this time with character designer Okama and mechanical designer Shoji Kawamori. As blasé as they are, the occasional amusing morsel does come through. Okama, for instance, admits to at one time designing Cleo with an afro. Now that would have been something to see.
Forgettable as it is, Glass Fleet is a far cry from awful. A little decent space battling can go a long ways (though not far enough to forgive the show its flexible physics—it's amazing how selective depressurization is in this universe), and you have to respect something that can take three insanely talented people like Yutaka Izubuchi, Shoji Kawamori and Okama, and still produce something that impacts viewers the way shadow puppets impact a wall.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ The computer-animated space battles.
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