by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Outlaw Star ?
How would you rate episode 20 of
Outlaw Star ?
Way back at the start of the series, Hilda described 3 major powers that shaped the Galactic Frontier – the law & order of the Security Forces, the equally structured criminal enterprise of Pirates, and the wild card Outlaws. That seemed like some important worldbuilding at the time, but until now it hasn't been particularly relevant, with the various Pirate factions acting as inconsistent antagonists and the security force as barely existent background entities, but after a dozen and a half episodes we finally meet some honest to goodness space cops for Gene to deal with.
The ensuing episode is probably Outlaw Star's tightest written story since Hilda left the picture. We get to see Gene's characteristic ego and snark directed towards a figure of authority rather than just an antagonist, and it's pretty satisfying to see him cut through the red tape Duuz and co. set up to obscure how they're bending the rules to keep the crew in custody without any real grounds to. Maybe the next crew member they pick up should be a space lawyer to get them out of stick jams like this. But as a covert pirate attack threatens the station we get to see the entire crew contribute in the escape and fight to follow, and it's a real treat after waiting so long to see everyone in action together. I'm also just tickled by the return of spaceship arm wrestling. In the end the episode doesn't really say much about its stance on law and authority vs ambiguous criminality, but then I don't really come to Outlaw Star for complex or pertinent themes, so Gene earning the begrudging respect of a space cop dinosaur is as good a resolution as any, especially for how fun this episode is.
Speaking of fun, how's about an adorable little episode about Jim falling in puppy love with a girl? Yep that's what this is going to be, just Jim having a meet cute with a girl and her pet cats and asking Gene for dating advice. No tragedy here!
Yeah, the moment Jim starting making gaga eyes at Hanmyo, I was sure this episode would tear out his tiny, nerdy heart and rip it to shreds. Be it fate or just cruelly dramatic irony, our boy hacker's first crush is unknowingly on one of the Anten Seven, who also doesn't realize what spaceship he's a crew member of. But even seeing the tragedy come a mile away, it's still pretty rough to see the crew work out a plan and buoyantly fighting off Hanmyo's attacks to eventually celebrate a victory. The addition of a somber harmonica to the score of the dynamic space battle sells it all pitch perfectly too. And to cap it all off Jim never realizes what's happened or who they just killed, leaving his first love a nebulous, transient story he'll never see the end to. It turns out it was my nerdy little heart that got ripped to shreds. Also that final shot of the flower is just rude.
That said, outside of the immediate gut punch, it again runs into an issue with Outlaw Star's loose relationship with continuity. This is a perfectly sad story, but one that mostly gets by on our presumed attachment to Jim. Hanmyo herself doesn't really get any development beyond liking cats and believing in fate, and there's no greater themes or ideas this particular conflict and its ironic resolution speak to, and that ends up making her death feel kind of manipulative. It's not enough to ruin the episode, but it does leave an aftertaste that's the wrong kind of bitter for me.
But on the whole these episodes feel like Outlaw Star finally hitting its stride in a way I've been anticipating for a while. “Law and Lawlessness” sets a new standard for the series' ensemble action, while “Cats and Girls and Spaceships” manages to strike a strong emotional chord. We're stepping into the endgame (of the anime, anyway, I have no clue how far the manga goes) and if the series can keep up this level of quality I'm very ready to see how it wraps up.
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