Reviewby Theron Martin,
In the wake of the disastrous battle against the alien ships the Foundation forces regroup for a second attempt to rescue the crew of the Ultima, only this time they go in with the intention of fighting. Though Kouta and Shipon are to play an integral part with Infi, the mission also offers Ayaka an opportunity to redeem herself. The actions of the aliens eventually suggest that their intent is not necessarily hostile, but uncertainty over the possibility of war sends ripples through the student body on Stellvia. In light of those events Infi is again called upon to perform a critical mission, but the weight of the responsibility may be too much for some involved, causing tensions between and within students to begin to fray their relationships.
Stellvia is a title that's easy to underestimate. Its cutesy artistry, light-hearted spirit, apparently basic characterizations, and almost laughable use of mecha suggest a much simpler series than it actually is, and indeed its first three volumes did play out that way. The last three volumes have shown that the series has much greater depth, and its characters greater complexity, than was originally apparent. Each of the last three volumes has also had at least one key scene which demonstrates the series' serious dramatic potential. In Foundation IV it was Ayaka's actions, their fallout, and how they were connected to what happened to Yayoi two years earlier, while in Foundation V it was the shocking defeat of the Foundation fleet by the UFOs. In Foundation VI it's what happens to Shipon and those around her when she finally “hits the wall.” This is a sobering turn of events which reminds us that Shipon, for all her ability, is still very much a kid, and not as emotionally secure as her recent behavior would suggest. It also reminds us that even the most remarkably talented individuals have their limits and it often isn't a pleasant sight when they are forced to confront that fact. The way things play out results in the most heartfelt content in the series to date, in addition to one of the more peculiar (yet believable) methods of conflict resolution yet to turn up in an anime series.
Shipon isn't the only character who gets a hefty chance at character development in this volume, nor is her behavior the only quality piece of execution in this volume. Ayaka gets some serious attention as she struggles to deal with her emotional fallout over what she's done and how the others are reacting to her. Viewers also get a bit more about the background of Leila Barthes (the dark-skinned instructor) and an introduction to Juno Mayor, a man who is interesting enough in his brief appearance in episode 17 that I hope he is not just a one-shot guest. The action scenes in episode 17 are also a highlight. For a series as low-key about its action content as Stellvia has been in the past, this second round of battle is surprisingly tense and thrilling. Events in this volume also shuffle around some of the students and offer up some intriguing possibilities about where the story could go with the UFOs in its remaining seven episodes. Though only one key mystery (the identity and purpose of the UFOs) remains, a lot more story is still left to be told.
Counterbalancing the generally more serious bent of the storytelling is the artistry, which is as bright (almost garish) and cutesy as ever. Using weird combinations of hair color and style to distinguish characters is a long-standard ploy in anime, but Stellvia overuses it, creating some character designs that are over-the-top (Rinna) and others that are needlessly distinct. (Notice how every single nurse in episode 17 has utterly different hair, even though none of them have names and only one has dialogue.) The costuming also raises eyebrows, as the nurse uniforms look too sexy to be practical and pilot uniforms are remarkably form-fitting for female characters but not as much so for male characters. Perhaps this was meant to make up for the otherwise total lack of fan service? The designs of the UFOs are much fresher and more interesting; they are as alien in appearance as one would expect from an entirely different race. CG artistry and animation continues to be used heavily, especially in the space scenes and computer screen images. Though a little too distinct from the cel animation earlier in the series, the two now integrate well and complement each other. Background art has improved since earlier volumes, though it's still light on details compare to many other recent series, and the animation is better, with fewer (or at least less obvious) scenes where characters are talking where their mouths can't be seen. Overall it's pretty good artistry, even if the styling is sometimes too much.
The soundtrack quality for this volume is very uneven. Musical choices in some places (especially episode 17) are odd, resulting in scenes having a lighter tone that the content would suggest. In other places, though, the music is a fine complement to the drama of the scene. The soundtrack is at its most effective when it isn't heard, however. Much of episode 19, where the emotional turmoil surrounding several characters is being sorted out, plays without musical backing, which makes the emotions of the scene feel more real. The opening number has dropped the intro narrative by this point but otherwise remains unchanged, while two different closing songs are used between the three episodes.
The English dub does a fine job of handling critical emotional scenes and is generally good overall. Those VAs who struggled with their roles in the early going have now settled in quite nicely, especially Carrie Savage as Shipon, while newcomer Lucy Hudson continues to turn in excellent work in her slightly different interpretation of Arisa. The English script, for which longtime English VA Wendee Lee was one of the principle writers as well as the voice director, stays pleasingly tight to the subtitles without sounding awkward. The only dark spot in either dub is the “communication” of the UFOs, which sounds too much like whale song to be credible.
The biggest shortcoming of Geneon's DVD release of Stellvia has always been its lack of extras, and Foundation VI is, unfortunately, no different. There's nothing to see here beyond the three episodes, company previews, and some respectable interior artwork. At least Geneon kept the list price at only $24.98 to compensate.
Sci-fi stories that don't focus on action aren't as rare as they used to be, and stories about goings-on at a prestigious school (even military-oriented ones) are common anime fodder. Stellvia distinguishes itself from other titles of both types with its bold artistic style and unique storytelling. This particular volume effectively advances the UFO storyline while providing some solid drama and excellent character development. Those who have been following the series so far should find their interest only piqued further by the end of this volume.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ good character and plot development, effective drama
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