by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 21 of
Outlaw Star ?
How would you rate episode 22 of
Outlaw Star ?
I do not enjoy love triangles. That might sound weird from somebody who's a die-hard Macross fan – love triangles are such a baked-in aspect of that franchise they named a whole TV series after them – but so often in media they exist as an awkward, hackney way to create drama and tension instead of crafting more cogent character conflicts. Things going too smoothly between your lead couple to be interesting? Just throw in a love rival for one of them so they can act petty and jealous for a while and extend the will-they/won't-they subplot longer! There are exceptions, and like any writing convention there's ways to execute them well, but more often than not they serve to cheapen drama and make the characters involved expose the worst of themselves.
So as you might guess, I'm not a fan of what episode 21 does with Gene and Melfina. I've been holding off on commenting on their romance, since it's only been developed across a sparse few scenes of intimacy and pinkie promises, but with 80% of the show in the can now, I feel confident saying it's just not very good. The two rarely have much chemistry in their dialogue, with Melfina melting into the background during any scene with larger or louder personalities, and their dynamic mostly serves to make both characters less interesting. Melfina wants to know who she is, Gene swears to help her, and then they both occasionally mope about it when they're not caught up in a side mission. Adding in Harry only makes things worse, as his stalking Melfina inexplicably brings out Gene's jealous side. It's telling that, after finding Melfina cornered by someone who violently attacked her mere episodes ago, Gene's first question isn't “are you okay?” or “did he hurt you?” but instead “is there something going on between you two?” as if Melfina was cheating on him. That kind of behavior doesn't make me coo over their romance, it just makes Gene come off as an ass.
But that would be alright if Outlaw Star seemed interested in unpacking that. Characters can have plenty of flaws, behave badly, or just generally be unlikable so long as that leads to interesting and entertaining material. Maybe this could lead to Gene and Melfina having a real heart-to-heart where they confide in eachother over their fears, resolving to do better and be more honest with one another. Instead of that though Gene shoots Harry during a fight and they flee back to the ship without so much as a conversation. Gene basically gives her an ultimatum on which spacefaring fuccboi she wants to fruitlessly search for answers with, and she predictably chooses the one who hasn't tried to brainjack her. It's played as a show of good faith on her part, but it rings hollow because they've done nothing to address the very apparent problems with the relationship that came up this episode. It's a band-aid on a laser wound, and with just 5 episodes left it doesn't seem like there's room to properly address it.
Especially not when Mel then gets put on ice by the annoying scientist guy who built the XGP so he can railroad Gene into a prison break episode. The ensuing adventure is fine enough, though the ending is a little anticlimactic considering how flawlessly Gene's escape plan goes, but outside of getting a new lead on the Galactic Leyline pretty much nothing happens. I perhaps shouldn't hold it against a standalone episode for not addressing or advancing anything from the previous one, but they chose to position this in the middle of the ongoing storyline so I consider it fair game. Either way it's a real lousy choice to have Melfina spend a whole episode comatose and off screen so Gene can save her for what feels like the 20th time.
Overall these episodes mostly manage to highlight the weakest aspects of Outlaw Star's ongoing narrative, while lacking most of the strengths that have made previous adventures feel engaging. Episode 22 is ultimately forgettable outside of a neat setting, and 21 is memorable in all the worst ways. I'd say I'm hoping things pick up from here, but considering next episode is previewed as a Hot Springs trip, well, I won't hold my breath.
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