New from Japan: Anime Film Reviews

by Fred Patten

Around 1995, Japanese animation (anime) began pouring into North America, Europe and across the globe in video form. Most of these titles were unknown outside of Japan and never covered by animation journals. Whether a title is highly popular or very obscure, a high-quality theatrical feature or a cheap and unimaginative direct-to-video release, they all look the same on a store shelf. Therefore, Animation World Magazine will regularly review several new releases (including re-releases not previously covered) that have some merit and about which our readers should know.

Outlaw Star was directed by Mitsuru Hongo. © Bandai Entertainment.

Outlaw Star.
TV series, 1998. Director: Mitsuru Hongo. V.1 - V.13, video, 2 episodes/50 minutes each. $24.98 subtitled/$19.98 dubbed. V.1 - V.3, DVD (bilingual), V.1 & V.2, 9 episodes/225 minutes each; V.3, 8 episodes/200 minutes. $44.98. Distributor: Bandai Entertainment.

TV animation has been trying for over twenty years to come up with a good counterpart to the original Star Wars. The 26-episode Outlaw Star, developed by director Mitsuru Hongo and writers Hajime Yadate, Takehito Ito and Katsuhiro Chiba, based on Ito's 1994-95 comic book, arguably comes closest in spirit, including the Lucas-authorized 1985 Droids and The Ewoks. The setting is our distant future in which the whole galaxy has been colonized, although the dominant culture is Chinese with "science" that includes Tao mysticism and feng shui. Gene Starwind and Jim Hawking are two orphaned buddies running a cheap repair service on a frontier planet. Gene, 20, is the cocky brawn of the team, while Jim, a precocious 11-year-old genius (a combination of Treasure Island's Jim Hawkins and scientist Stephen Hawking), is the brains. They get caught up in the outlaw Hilda's search for a fabled galactic treasure. An "outlaw" is anyone strong and free enough to live outside the authority of either the officious Stellar Police or the rapacious space crime guilds. Gene, Jim and Melfina (an android girl) have just been taken by Hilda to a hidden experimental spaceship which includes clues to the treasure, when she is killed before she can explain any more. The inexperienced trio find themselves on the run in the Outlaw Star from Hilda's old enemies including both the law and the pirates, as they take on interplanetary salvage jobs, enter a spaceship race, and generally just survive long enough to acquire new companions (including an obligatory furry alien pal, the cat-girl Aisha) to augment their crew, while they gradually decipher the clues that will lead to the treasure of the Galactic Leyline. The plot allows for padding in the middle, which is well used to flesh out personalities and allow some character growth while exploring exotic planets. The dialogue is constantly witty and there is plenty of excellently-directed suspenseful action, whether escaping from a space pirate ambush or a giant sun's gravity well. The story includes frequent surprises (nobody expected Hilda to die so early, if at all) and the jazz-themed mood music by Kou Ohtani is tres cool (I am listening to the soundtrack CD as I write this review). If you haven't already guessed, well, Outlaw Star is one of my favorites in over twenty years of watching anime. The series was shown on Japanese TV from January 8 - June 26, 1998, and has just been added to The Cartoon Network's Toonami block starting this January 15th. What took them so long? (Production by Sunrise.)

Outlaw Star is TV animation's answer to Star Wars. © Bandai Entertainment.

[While the DVD collections are untitled (merely called DVD Collection 1, 2 and 3), the 13 video titles are as follows: V.1, Outlaw Star. V.2, Into Burning Space. V.3, Beast Girl, Ready to Pounce. V.4, Creeping Evil. V.5, A Journey of Adventure...Huh? V.6, Adrift in Subspace. V.7, Advance Guard from an Alien World. V.8, The Seven Emerge. V.9, Between Life and Machine. V.10, Law and Lawlessness. V.11, The Dragon's Tombstone. V.12, Hot Springs Planet Tenrei. V.13, Labyrinth of Despair.]


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