R1 DVD Reviews
Friday, 11 December 2009 00:00
Banner of the Stars' second season comes down to earth with a bump - or a splash, if you want to be literal - as things planet-based become the centre of attention. With Lafiel stuck up in orbit, you can already guess that something's missing from this season, but is the separation of everyone's favourite SF couple enough to mess with the appeal of the show..?
1 - Operation Hunter
Operation Phantom Flame has long ended, and Operation Hunter is now underway. The war against the United Mankind is going well for the Abh, as their advancing fleets force the UM to abandon planet after planet - the main worry for Admiral Abriel and his Chief-of-Staff is to make sure that their forces don't stray into areas that could cause them difficulty. Otherwise, they're happy for additional worlds to fall to the Empire. That success comes with a price, though, in the form of the ships that must be left behind to bring Abh rule to the newly-captured worlds...
2 - Planet of Exile
As the Basroil arrives at the newly-captured planet of Lobnas II, it receives four separate transmissions from the surface, each from people claiming to represent the planetary government. It's the first indication for Lafiel and her crew that they've been assigned to a mess of a planet - and as the newly-assigned Territorial Ambassador, it's her job to sort it out. What they hadn't been aware of is Lobnas II's status as a penal colony - and with some groups of the inmates on the verge of revolting, they may not have much time left before the planet erupts into violence...
3 - Emigration Plan
Jinto has travelled down to the surface to deal with Meideen, the prison administrator, and is quickly becoming aware of just how much of a mess the planet is now in. With the prisoners having mainly been kept in check by the now-gone United Mankind military, the prisoner groups realise they have the upper hand, and Meideen has already requested sanctuary for his staff and their family - some 20,000 people. Now, faced with the prospect of being used as slaves by the men from the other sectors after the prison staff leave, the women prisoners are also seeking sanctuary, adding another 100,000 to the emigration roster - and giving Jinto a major headache in trying to find a way to move them all while maintaining order on the planet. Meanwhile, up in orbit, Lafiel is missing Jinto (although she's trying hard not to let her crew notice), while a major United Mankind fightback seems to be beginning...
4 - The Hunters
The emigration operation is underway, with a fleet of military transports running relay to remove those who want to leave Lobnas II. The first indication Lafiel gets of incoming trouble is when a communications ship she'd dispatched fails to return - a United Mankind fleet is retreating through Abh-held space, attempting to escape. It seems as though their path may bring them through the Lobnas system, but none of the Abh fleets in the area seem to be in any hurry to stop them. On learning this, Lafiel begins planning for a temporary withdrawal from the system - but when word of that reaches the surface, it's enough to trigger a rebellion...
This series is set about a year after Banner of the Stars - the United Mankind have been thoroughly thwarted, and the Abh are busy extending their dominance while the going is comparatively easy. We get to see a lot of that operation, through the same eyes we had in the previous season - the Bebaus brothers, Admirals Spoor and Abriel - plus a few new additions to keep things fresh. That side of the story is really incidental - it provides the background to the more focussed story of Lafiel and Jinto, as usual, as well as being the excuse for the usual space combat scenes, but it's not the primary focus of the show.
That honour again belongs to Lafiel and Jinto - but for the first time, we're not about to be treated to many long scenes of them chatting and dealing with problems together. Instead, the series quickly separates them, sending Jinto down to the surface to play diplomat while leaving Lafiel in orbit taking care of things military. In some ways, how they deal with being separated is a key part of the story, but as the disc goes on it becomes far more about Jinto than it is about Lafiel, who gets pushed somewhat to the sidelines. That's not a change that's going to please very many people - Lafiel's a large chunk of the show's appeal, and even when you do see her here she's generally quite miserable & definitely not the character I came to love over the previous two seasons.
So that's one big criticism. The second is that a lot of what Jinto does down on the surface can seem pointless or overly pandering, depending on your politics. A group of prisoners want to escape from their prison? So what? Don't the Abh usually leave surface-dwellers to their own devices, and if so why is Jinto taking such a lead role in getting involved in surface affairs? There's a lot here that seems to go against the typical attitude of the Abh towards surface worlds, and for no real reason. That said, it's Jinto's actions that indirectly create the conflict that the series relies on, but I still don't feel that the ends justify the means.
For all its flaws, though, I can't quite bring myself to get overly picky. Banner of the Stars II is still very enjoyable, if not quite on the level of the previous seasons, and the core cast are mostly as they were - it's just poor Lafiel that gets shafted. With this being a shorter season (10 episodes), the story also seems to be moving along at a decent clip already, addressing that pacing complaint that was perhaps the only criticism that could be levelled at the series before now. The end result is another worthy addition to the Crest / Banner universe, even if it's not quite up there with the previous incarcations.