R1 DVD Reviews
Monday, 27 July 2009 00:00
Dipping into the archives to take a look at 2003 release Banner of the Stars we find a show that's standing the test of time rather well - but then, being one of the best anime series out there, period, was always going to be an advantage...
1 - Reunion
It's three years after the events of Crest of the Stars - Lafiel and Jinto have both completed their stints at the Academy, and have joined the Humankind Empire Abh's war effort. With the war having descended into a series of holding actions, there's not much for them to do at the moment but carry out battle simulations. True to her word, Lafiel had arranged for Jinto to be assigned to the same ship as her - and now, with the crew aware that there's more than the usual Captain / crewman relationship going on between them, it's falling to Jinto to find some way of cheering the captain up after their simulations don't go as well as Lafiel would have liked...
2 - Operation Phantom Flame
After several years of rebuilding their fleet, the Abh are ready to take the fight to the United Mankind: Operation Phantom Flame is the name given to a co-ordinated assault on the enemy that, if successful, could change the course of the war - and the Abh fully intend to come out of this war assured that no-one will be able to challenge them again. But Admiral Spoor, commander-in-chief of the Third Fleet, is finding the task of dealing with occupied worlds rather dull. Jinto, meanwhile, is enjoying some shore leave ahead of the Basroil's deployment, and getting to know Samson and Ekuryua a little better...
3 - Assault Ship Basroil
The Basroil has finally been assigned to its battlegroup - and with that comes the news that their new Hecto-Commander is the elder sister of Baron Febdash, who Lafiel had killed several years earlier. So far, at least, Atosuruya doesn't appear to be harbouring a grudge, but her presence does cause Jinto and Lafiel a certain amount of unease, especially when she stops by for a friendly chat with Jinto - a chat that's interrupted by an approaching enemy fleet. Meanwhile, Operation Phantom Flame is progressing ahead of schedule, allowing the blockade fleet around planet Aptic to engage in some good-natured toying with the planetary President...
4 - The First Campaign
The approaching United Mankind fleet leads to Atosuruya's assault squadron, including the Basroil, being called into action. For Lafiel and her crew, it's their first real taste of battle, and the tension on the Basroil's bridge as they head out to meet the advancing enemy fleet is palpable - and for Lafiel and Jinto, tinged with their memories of what happened to the Gosroth. Watching other ships in their group join battle and disappear from their scanners doesn't help. When battle is finally joined, the Basroil's contribution is unexpectedly short - much to Lafiel's annoyance...
5 - Spectacular Insanity
While the Basroil is repaired following its first skirmish, Operation Phantom Flame is moving on to a new phase - aware that the United Mankind have been running reconnaisance missions and gathering intelligence, the Abh have decided that it's time to take the battle to the enemy instead of waiting for them to launch their own operation. The aim of the Abh fleet now is the complete annihilation of the United Mankind fleet - but with Admiral Nereis Bebaus and his twin brother Nefee assigned to hold the Aptic gate behind them, there concern that things could go wrong - the Bebaus family is nicknamed "Spectacular Insanity" for a reason. Meanwhile, Atosuruya has an unusual request to make of Jinto...
Banner of the Stars is in that category of "hard" science fiction that doesn't get much coverage in anime - there are no giant robots or overpowered starships here, just very well thought-through and believable fleets doing battle, a led by well-realised and hugely interesting characters. I loved Crest of the Stars, the prequel series to this, so the return of Lafiel and Jinto was something I was always looking forward to. That was back in 2003, though - it's now 2008. The anime 'state of the art' has changed a lot since this first appeared, but I'm pleased to say it's holding its own really well.
A lot of that is down to the focus of the series being its characters, and not the action side - if you were judging the show on animation quality alone, it wouldn't score particularly well (and it doesn't help that Bandai's DVD transfer isn't the best either). Everyone in the series, though, has a unique personality, with a number of strengths and flaws that are explored in detail as the show follows them through their lives.
Jinto and Lafiel we already know, and their more-than-friends-but-not-quite-lovers relationship is exactly as you'll remember it, while Admiral Spoor also returns from the first series, toying with her crew and adversaries alike. This volume also introduces a number of other characters, though, most notably the Basroil's bridge crew: human Samson, a down-to-earth lander who's using the Space Forces as a way to earn enough money to retire to the countryside and who is the father-figure to an otherwise very young crew; pilot Sobaash, who's quiet and controlled but clearly pays very close attention to what's going on around him; and comms officer Ekuryua, who if anything is even cuter than Lafiel and takes great pleasure in teasing Jinto at any opportunity. They're each very different, and during Banner's trademark talkie scenes you really do get the feeling that you're getting to know them personally.
Those talkie scenes are what has always set Crest of the Stars and Banner of the Stars apart from the usual SF anime series, and you'll either love them or hate them - to some, they get in the way of the action and can be terminally dull, but to me they're what makes the series really stand out. The series also benefits from being based on a series of novels that has had a huge amount of work put into developing a coherent, logical a believable universe around them, and that really helps the overall feel of the series.
There's a good sense of tension around the battle scenes, too. There's not a huge focus on the whizz-bang side, more on the tactical and the stress that comes from being in a life-or-death situation, but it just grabs you and refuses to let go. It's very impressively done.
Overall, I loved it five years ago, and I still love it now. Banner of the Stars is simple a superbly done piece of space opera, and well worth watching - just be prepared for all the talking...