Banner of the Stars Complete Collection Print
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R1 DVD Reviews
Monday, 23 November 2009 00:00
Banner of the StarsDipping 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. Now that it's also available as one of Bandai's el-cheapo Anime Legends collections (and one of the few shows in the line that deserve the tag), there's really no excuse...

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.

Basroil's bridgeGratuitous Ekuryua pic

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.

Dead in spaceFleet launch

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.

For all that the talkie / character aspect of the show it what makes it tick, though, this season is set during war - and the war is always there, lurking in the background during the early episodes before becoming the primary focus of events. In some ways, it undermines the character stuff - he early skirmishes give you a feel for the epic battle that's coming, and once you realise what's on its way that primal urge to see things blow up takes over and you just want to get to the battle, to see the action - and character development be damned. Let's put aside the good stuff for the momentary satisfaction of things going "bang", and the talkie scenes - good & important as they are - get in the way of that. It makes for a strange viewing experience, as one part of your mind watches the show and the other tries to figure out what it wants to see in the next scene.

JintoAbandon ship

By the end of the series the format has switched to 90% battle and 10% dialogue - pretty much a straight swap from the show's usual mix, 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 unit 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.

This series has been a slightly difference experience than Crest of the Stars was - it 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.

For full episode summaries and screenshots, see our reviews of the individual releases:
» Volume One: No Turning Back
» Volume Two: The Basroil Unleashed!
» Volume Three: Only the Beginning...

Rating - *****

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