CREST OF THE STARS (2000)

 

Format: 12 24-minute episodes and one extended episode on 4 DVDs

Rating: PG-13 (BN, AC, V)

Type: Sci-Fi

American Production:  Bandai Entertainment

Japanese Production:  Sunrise

 

Grading

 

Premise:

C+

Story:

B

Writing:

B

Character Design:

B+

Animation:

B

Artistic Merits:

B

English Dub:

D+

Musical Score:

B+

Opener:

C

Closer:

B-

 

 

Humor Content:

C+

Action Content:

B

Drama Content:

B

 

 

DVD Presentation:

B-

DVD Extras:

C

 

 

OVERALL:

B

 

Synopsis

      In the distant future, a genetically engineered offshoot of humanity called the Abh has formed a space empire with one overriding goal: to dominate the spaceways. They care little for administration of the planets that come under their control, instead preferring to control interstellar travel, which they see as a means to prevent warfare by denying opponents the ability to reach each other. Thus they are content to let planets that surrender to them peacefully govern themselves under the overwatch of the Humankind Empire Abh. This was the case with Jinto, a boy whose father was ruler of the planet Hyde when the Abh came to claim it. In exchange for his peaceful surrender, Jinto’s father was made an Abh nobleman, which made young Jinto a Count and thus ultimately obligated him to learn Abh ways and do the traditional Abh tour of duty in the Spaces Forces when he came of age. Several years later, while en route to the Abh capital to receive his training, he meets Lafiel, a young Abh Pilot Trainee who also happens to be an Imperial Princess. (Space Forces service is considered absolutely essential for anyone who is a possible successor to the imperial throne, you see.) When forced to depart their transporting warship in the face of an imminent battle, Jinto and Lafiel find themselves increasingly relying on each other through many adventures while they struggle to return to safety. In the process they form a close bond even while the threat of interstellar war between the Abh and a coalition of human nations hangs over them.

 

The Long View     

      Crest of the Stars is a good series which falls only a few flaws short of being a great series. Described as an epic space opera by some, it gives a viewer the feel of being only the first chapter in a much longer story – and, in fact, two follow-up series called Banner of the Stars and Banner of the Stars 2 (both currently available in the U.S.) have already been produced. Its closest American counterpart would be Star Wars, although that was more of an action series rife with alien races while this is more of a drama with no sentient races beyond the humans and Abh.

      The merits of Crest rest most heavily on two key aspects. One is the meticulous construction of the Abh culture. The Abh were originally genetically engineered to serve humanity as “biological machines” in spacefaring roles. Eventually they claimed their independence and formed their own feudal society built on genetic manipulation and life exclusively in space; it would not be unusual for an Abh to never go planetside during the course of her life, and indeed they feel uneasy on the ground. As a result, they call themselves “kin of the stars” and pride themselves on being the only race native to space itself. Their genetic manipulation both originally and over time has led them to have blue hair, bodies more suited to the rigors of space travel than an ordinary human, an extra sensory organ in their foreheads that allows them to directly plug into the sensor arrays of their ships, and extreme physical beauty and youthful appearance that they retain through a lifespan more than twice the length of a normal human. In addition, members of the royal families can have pointed ears. This combination of traits makes some Abh – and Lafiel in particular - look so distinctly reminiscent of the fantasy anime take on elves that I have to think the idea “elves in space” came up during the conceptualization of Crest. Their absolute devotion to genetic manipulations means that Abh children born naturally and/or as part of a loving relationship are the exception rather than the rule, hence the name “child of love” being given to such children. Although the Abh certainly know love, left unclear is whether the Abh even have a concept of marriage. They do, however, have a strong sense of family and loyalty to one’s lineage.

      The social structure of the Abh is built on a heavily-regimented feudal system which, interestingly, does not exclude outsiders. It is possible for one not born an Abh to become an Abh by joining their nobility (“Abh” is a term used both for their race and their nobles – yes, this does get a bit confusing at times). All Abh nobility are expected to participate in genetic engineering, so if one becomes an Abh by adoption then his children would be born as true Abh. The Abh are ruled by an Emperor/Empress, but their succession is not a linear one. Instead, candidates from all eight royal families compete for succession and the new leader is chosen based on merit – and performance in the Space Forces is the primary source of merit considered. The Space Forces are, in fact, central to the whole of Abh culture, not just the power structure; as well as being its offense and defense, the Space Forces are the glue that holds Abh culture together.

      Abh also have distinct personality traits. They tend to be arrogant and pragmatic, but reluctant to shy from a battle; in Abh philosophy, even a 10% chance of success is worth pursuing. They strongly believe in completely finishing anything they start, so a war with the Abh would not be resolved until one side or the other was utterly defeated. This can lead them to boldly face risks that most sensible people would see as suicidal – a problem Jinto constantly runs into with Lafiel – but it also means that pissing off an Abh is one of the last things you’d want to do. They do have enough of a sense of aesthetics that artwork can be found displayed even in their battleships, but they do not seem to honor any religion.

      The other key aspect of Crest is its central characters, both of whom are 16 years old for the bulk of the story. Jinto and Lafiel come from starkly contrasting backgrounds and yet find common ground in the fact that both are uncomfortable with their nobility; he because of its unfamiliarity to him, she because the way she gets treated differently because of her standing is all too familiar. Jinto’s friendly, outgoing nature proves to be a welcome complement to Lafiel’s more serious – but not completely mature – demeanor. As a result the two quickly find themselves more relaxed in the presence of each other and grow to trust and respect each other as the series progresses. Although they don’t make it as far as love (at least not yet), the strong friendship and loyalty between them is quite evident by the end of the series. And it’s certainly possible that love will come eventually; the series makes it clear that Jinto is attracted to Lafiel (on several occasions the camera suggests that he is eyeing her figure), though he never voices the sentiment beyond referring to her in his thoughts as “the most beautiful woman in the galaxy.” Notably, she is the one that is usually saving him from trouble, and he is the one that voices his loyalty to her, rather than the traditional reverse. Other recurring characters pop up and pass on as the series progresses, but only Jinto and Lafiel are in all of it.

      The writing for Crest is erratic. When at its best – such as when Jinto and Lafiel are conversing about their pasts on the ship Gosroth in episode three, or when Gosroth is faced with a battle against steep odds in episode five, or when the final episode is wrapped up – the writing is truly inspired. It gets bogged down late in the series with an overemphasis on supporting characters, however, and the dialogue in places leaves a bit to be desired. There are also some problems with perspective. Most of the story is clearly from Jinto’s perspective, although there is one occasion – but only one – when we are allowed a glimpse into Lafiel’s mind as well. This should have either been expanded to occur more often or left out, because it seems a bit incongruous when it happens. That an entire language was constructed for the series and incorporated into it is a nice touch which earns bonus points. Unlike most sci-fi anime, mecha are not used in any form in the series, and instead of missiles ships use specialized mines, short-range beam weapons, and rail guns in combat. Crest’s explanation for long-distance space travel involves transport that can be seen as roughly equivalent to Babylon 5’s take on hyperspace.

      The artistic merits for Crest are good overall. The rendition of the Abh is quite effective, and most of the other characters are also appealing. Lafiel in particular is a winning effort, especially the way her expressions are drawn. Notable here is that all the female characters in the series are drawn with realistic proportions; Lafiel is clearly quite petite, and even those female characters that do have significant cleavage are not depicted as being ridiculously busty. The cel-based animation seems fairly smooth, and the space combats are dynamic. The fully-orchestrated opener and series musical score reminds one of space epics like Star Wars or 2001 and serves fairly well in the series. The use of spatial phenomena in the opener instead of characters and scenes from the series is an interesting and original approach, although not particularly dynamic, and imbedding the episode title in the middle of the opener was irksome. The closer, which alternates between scenes of Jinto growing up and scenes of Lafiel growing up while a guitar-based song plays, is a bit more effective.

      Crest is mostly a serious series, although the few bits of humor in it are pretty funny. (The revelation of who Lafiel first believed was her mother is the best moment.) The action scenes are used sparingly, and the drama ranges from ordinary to powerful depending on the episode. Mostly, though, this is a series about two young people developing a friendship under extraordinary circumstances, so those looking for something especially weighty or dynamic may be disappointed. The rating given for the series should be considered a very mild PG-13; people are killed but not graphically so, the nudity is limited to one relatively brief bath scene that doesn’t really show anything, and the “adult content” qualifier is there only to reflect the way the camera occasionally ogles female characters. (That is also the sum content of fan service in the series.) The average 10-year-old could probably watch this series without offending his parents.

      Finally, the series has two significant problems that must be addressed. One is the English dub, which rates among the worst for any series or movie I have reviewed to date. The voices were well-chosen for the roles, and the literal translation is followed closely, but the dub is crippled by a delivery that frequently sounds stilted or – for lack of a better term – cartoonish. At first I thought this was just an attempt to give the Abh a distinctive speech pattern, but the problem is so pervasive that only a couple of the characters in the series escape it. The Japanese voice work didn’t impress me, either, but this is one case where I specifically recommend watching the series subtitled rather than dubbed. The other problem is that translations of the Japanese subtitles, which are used primarily in the intros when the speaker is giving a commentary in a different language, are printed directly over the original Japanese subtitling rather than in place of it, which might serve to preserve “artistic integrity” but definitely makes the subtitles difficult to read.

      Crest is not a series without flaws, but it’s definitely worth a look.

 

DVD Extras

      As an additional flavor touch, the DVD menus use the language of the Abh, which is translated in a print-over when you click to the option. Also, subtitle options are separate from language options. Extra are limited, including company trailers and a four-part “History of the Abh” feature which provide additional explanation and backstory.

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Lafiel

Jessica Yow

Jinto

Matthew Erickson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Admiral Spoor

Mariette Sluyter

Kufadis (aide to Spoor)

Paul Hunter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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