R1 DVD Reviews
Monday, 16 November 2009 00:00
For all that Banner of the Stars is about relationships, it also does space combat extremely well. Up until now said combat has been in frustratingly small doses, but no longer - be prepared for four episodes of space combat done right, as Lafiel and Jinto join a battle that sees the lives of nearly a quarter of a million Abh lost. Epic scale? You betcha...
10 - Shooting Star
Basroil's opening shot at an approaching mine signals the start of the battle - but rather than destroying the mine, their shot just causes it to split into two separate mines, which continue their attack. As Lafiel had suspected, the United Mankind have come up with a new kind of mine - one that could well tilt the odds decisively in their favour. They're also launching enough of them that they don't appear to be holding any in reserve. The scale of the assault catches the Bebaus brothers by surprise - the Abh defenders are being wiped out by the new mines more quickly than they'd planned for, meaning they need to revise their plans - and quickly...
11 - The Flaming Battlefield
With 5 hours left until reinforcements are due to arrive, a large chunk of their fleet already destroyed by the United Mankind mine barrage, and the main enemy fleet yet to emerge from Plane Space, Aptic's Abh defenders have their work cut out for them. When Lafiel was younger, they used to play a game called 'jousting' at school - it was a game that required tactical skill, and typically if you lost your balance or concentration, you lost the game. So it is with the Basroil's battle - a constant game of tracking everything near the ship, with all on board aware that one lapse of concentration by the bridge crew and it's all over. An order for a temporary retreat gives the crew a chance to catch their breath - but to Lafiel, any retreat, even temporary, is a shameful thing. Meanwhile, the Bebaus brothers struggle to come up with an alternate battle plan that will let them win the battle...
12 - The Battle for Aptic Gate
Things aren't looking good for the Abh - the emerging United Mankind fleet has easily broken through the cordon surrounding the Gate, and even the Bebaus brothers' flagship, far behind the "front line", is finding itself in the line of fire. Just the right time, then, for the Admiral to take a bath - is this perhaps the Spectacular Insanity beginning to manifest itself? Meanwhile, the Basroil has taken heavy damage and is forced to withdraw from the battle - but even then the ship's damage is too severe, and Lafiel is forced to order her crew to abandon ship. During the evacuation, though, Jinto finds himself trapped and unable to reach the shuttle...
13 - The Shape of Bonds
Jinto and Lafiel just manage to get off the Basroil before it explodes - left stranded together in an escape pod, there are unescapable comparisons to their escape from Sufugnoff, with the exception that this time there's no guarantee they'll be picked up - and their pod only carries 24 hours worth of air. Meanwhile, the main Abh fleet has finally arrived at Aptic, leading to a withdrawal by the United Mankind forces - a victory for the Abh, by some measures, but with heavy losses sustained by the defending fleet. Admiral Spoor isn't about to let the retreating enemy fleet get away intact, though...
This volume is 90% battle and 10% dialogue - pretty much a straight swap from the show's usual format, but I doubt it's one that's going to leave anyone disappointed. The way Banner handles space combat, giving the audience the thrills of whizz-bang explosions and other mayhem while making sure that the human cost of war isn't forgotten (from "seeing" the deaths of the Kidroil's bridge crew to the tally of deaths at the end of the battle) makes for compelling viewing. The relentless war is broken up by tactical retreats - the Abh are aware that their crews can't function forever and rotate the active units accordingly, no matter how much this rankles with a certain royal captain - and by cuts to the various command ships, with some Admirals watching dispassionately from a distance, some looking forward to their chance, and some wondering if they've bitten off more that they can chew. Guess which one's which.
Even in battle, Lafiel and Jinto find ways to spar with each other or to show their feelings for each other, in their usual unspoken way. There's actually one scene where Lafiel does make her feelings known - although it's done in such a way that the scene cuts away and you never get to hear her say it. I call that toying with the audience, and I love it. Part of the fun with those two is that everyone knows what they think of each other, audience and other characters alike, but they just keep pussy-footing around each other when it comes to making it known. That seems to be down to a combination of Jinto's deference to Lafiel, and Lafiel recognising that her position may not allow them to have that sort of relationship. The audience are left to fill in what could be.
Along with the core pair, the Bebaus brothers, Spoor and Admiral Abriel all play their part in various ways, as much providing a light form of comic relief as through being part of the battle going on around them. They keep the atmosphere around these episodes from becoming too heavy, rounding out the whole experience nicely.
This series has been a slightly difference experience than Crest of the Stars - the first season was more personally focussed on Lafiel and Jinto, while in this one they're cogs in the much greater wheel of the war that's going on around them, and that gets "equal billing" for the series. That hasn't hurt the fact that Lafiel and Jinto are still the main draw, it just gives a little more for you to look at over the course of the series, and the end result is no less enjoyable - in fact, if you're an action junkie, Banner will probably have more appeal than Crest. But that's still a choice between two great series, and both the series and this volume come highly recommended.