by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Outlaw Star ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Outlaw Star ?
In the far flung past of 1998, there was a strange confluence in the anime scene. At almost the same time, 3 separate and unrelated space western series aired and would compete to see who would come out as the most revered. Over 20 years later, that competition feels pretty lopsided: Cowboy Bebop still comes up whenever someone talks about classic anime or sci-fi, and as recently as last year you could still sell a show to people by just saying it was from the creators of Bebop. Comparatively Trigun hasn't weathered time quite so gracefully – its animation certainly hasn't – but you can still find the odd Vash cosplayer sweating it out at anime cons, and it at least got the Badlands Rumble movie as a followup.
That leaves Outlaw Star, seemingly the least remembered of the trio and certainly the one I've been given the least encouragement to check out before now. But that makes finally diving into the show exciting, since it means I have almost no idea what to expect. For instance, I figured I'd be in for some old school spaceships and maybe some cyborgs and gunslinging, but I didn't expect there to also be magic, which really gives hero Gene Starwind an edge on his peers. Sure, Spike Spiegel can kick some ass with martial arts and Vash the Stampede can pull off Bugs Bunny nonsense with a six-shooter, but neither of them had to battle space magic or have knife fights with power suits.
Gene himself is the standout of these opening episodes, with the series dedicating the lion's share of its time to fleshing out his personality beyond the archetypical sci-fi adventure hero. We know he's cool, since his first scene is him effortlessly beating a deadly cyborg bounty hunter. We know he's kind hearted despite his bloody profession, immediately using part of the reward money from said fight to pay for the damage he left behind. We know he fucks, because we see him casually spending the rest of that money on a sex worker immediately after that. But it's in episode two that we get a glimpse into just what makes Gene tick – specifically the traumatic origins of his problems handling space travel. The sad backstory is nothing groundbreaking, but it's striking that he keeps quiet about it even to Jim, seemingly his closest companion, choosing to let the kid tease him from being a “Space Cherry” than come clean about the totally understandable reasons behind it. It adds just enough texture to make Gene sympathetic along with his already likable personality.
The rest of the cast are is more nebulous, at least for now. Jim's your standard tech-savvy kid sidekick, though thankfully he never veers into feeling annoyingly precocious or bratty. Melfina's had maybe 5 lines since climbing out of a suitcase, and doubtlessly her mysterious past will fuel some conflict later down the line, but for now she's little more than a plot device to get Gene involved with the space pirates. Hilda, meanwhile, is already the lead contender for my favorite character, a fact that left me very bummed out when I noticed she's nowhere to be seen in the OP. It'll be a shame if (when) she doesn't stick around, since episode 2 establishes a pretty charming chemistry between her and Gene, plus I can't not like a woman ready to taser-punch her enemies. I imagine the supporting cast will show up in their own time, but what we've got now is serviceable while Outlaw Star goes about building its space setting and setting up story bits for later.
The visuals are a tad less consistent. Episode 1 looks nice, with plenty of moody lighting and shadows to leave an impression, with enough cartoony reactions and motion to keep it feeling fun, and there are some stellar cuts and effects animation during the action scenes. Episode 2 is where the problems start – noticeably they can't seem to decide how to draw Melfina's hair, and there are a number of medium shots where Gene's face just looks...off. It's not enough to be distracting yet, and it's not like Trigun was a pristine production, so as long things don't melt too drastically I'll be content. I'd complain more about Gene's lack of nipples – if we're going to see him shirtless every episode they really should put the extra effort in – but the 90s were a far less enlightened era in this respect so I'll excuse it as a product of its time. For now.
Outlaw Star has all the makings of a fun adventure, and there's just enough character work going on under the surface for me to sink my teeth into. My main uncertainty going into the series is how well the eventual cast will work once we inevitably hit the episodic hijinks portion of the sci-fi travelogue. My Twitter mutuals have made me very aware of their abiding love for somebody named Aisha Clan-Clan, but otherwise I'm totally in the dark about anyone's personalities. That's likely to make or break the series for me, but for now I'm more than happy going on whatever space adventure Gene and his crew have planned.
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