OUTLAW STAR (1998)

 

Format: 26 24-minute episodes on 6 DVDs

 

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

 

Type: Action

 

American Production: Bandai Entertainment

 

Japanese Production: Sunrise?

 

Grading

 

Premise:

C

Story:

B-

Writing:

B

Character Design:

B

Mecha Design:

C

Animation:

C+

Artistic Merits:

English Dub:

B

Musical Score:

C+

Opener:

C+

Closer (both):

C+

 

 

Humor Content:

C+

Action Content:

B+

Drama Content:

B-

 

 

DVD Presentation:

C

DVD Extras:

C

 

 

OVERALL:

C+

 

Synopsis

      In the future the discovery of a powerful catalyst called dragonite (roughly equivalent to Star Trek’s “dilithium crystals”) allows for the development of the Munchausen drive, which allows for sub-ether – and hence faster-than-light – travel. The result is a massive space migration, contact with several alien races, and settlement of numerous planets. No organized governmental body can rule it all, so the real power in space is roughly divided into three groups:

1.       The Space Forces and other private security groups, who represent law and order;

2.       The Pirate Guilds, who represent criminal enterprises; and

3.       Outlaws, who are independent agents straddling the line between the previous two groups. They consist of mercenaries and adventurers, treasure hunters and bounty hunters. Although individual codes of ethics vary widely, outlaws do subscribe to certain principles. Chief among these is that any true outlaw must have a dream worth pursuing, and must devote one’s life to achieving that dream.

      Young Gene Starwind is one such prospective outlaw. Though he and his boy-genius pal Jim get by running a repair business and doing the occasional bounty hunter gig, he dreams of making it big. He gets his chance when he encounters, and is employed as a bodyguard by, a beauty that turns out to be the outlaw Hilda, who is seeking to keep a very unusual prize from the Pirate Guilds: a unique bioandroid named Melfina. Involvement with Hilda and Melfina causes Gene and Jim to run afoul of pirates, but it also gets them to leave their backwater planet Sentinel for (hopefully) greener pastures in pursuit of another special prize: the grappler ship XGP-2, which eventually becomes known as the Outlaw Star. Together with Jim, Melfina, the female assassin Twilight Suzuka, and the alien Katau-Katau Aisha Clan-Clan, Gene uses the Outlaw Star to try to make ends meet while dodging pirates, conflicting with the outlaw McDougal brothers, and trying to solve the mystery of the Galactic Ley Line, which is said to have a great treasure at the end. The Wild West, it seems, lives on in deep space. . .

 

The Long View

      Although it was not a big hit in Japan, Outlaw Star became popular in the States due to regular airing on Cartoon Network’s Midnight Run/Adult Swim programming blocks from 2000 to 2002. I think it worked better for American audiences than it did for Japanese ones because it perfectly embodies the roguish spirit so beloved by American teenagers. Add a healthy dose of high-spirited action, some genuine humor, a touch of drama, and some neat toys and you have a winning formula for American audiences.

      One of the strongest points in the favor of Outlaw Star is its likeable cast of principle characters. The central hero is Gene Starwind, a studly, cocky young man who’s irresponsible, immature, and a dreamer but can handle himself quite well in a fight. His seemingly unshakable confidence masks some real vulnerabilities, though, and it’s those vulnerabilities that make him worth watching and rooting for. His partner/sidekick is Jim Hawking, a precocious 11 year old hacker and mechanical whiz who’s by far the more mature and responsible member of their duo. Melfina, the gentle bioandroid, is very human-seeming but her role as the navigation system for the XGP-2 and the fact that she may also be the key to the Galactic Ley Line make her very special indeed. Gene gradually falls in love with her as the story progresses, and it is that growing love which ultimately drives the story in its later stages. Joining them occasionally is Twilight Suzuka, a very proper, disciplined, and fairly powerful assassin who starts out against Gene but comes to play on his side because of her own interests in the Galactic Ley Line and opposing the Kei Pirates, who are trying so hard to get their hands on Melfina. Aisha Clan-Clan, who becomes a regular on the Outlaw Star several episodes in, is perhaps the most unique of the main characters. She is a Katau-Katau, a race of hyperactive werecreatures known for physical prowess and fierceness in combat. (Their key weakness? They have to eat a lot to maintain the energy for peak performance.) She is the series’ biggest source of comic relief; though supremely confident, she is so undisciplined that she got dumped from a high-ranking position early on, so she has to take a number of demeaning jobs to get by. She does, of course, constantly foul them up. Arrayed against the heroes are a wide assortment of pirate super-agents, the mercenary McDougal brothers, and occasionally other assorted odd creatures. (One episode, for instance, deals with the team’s ability to overcome a sentient and powerfully telepathic cactus.)

      Other strengths of the series are its style its toys. A good amount of the weaponry comes down to basic blades and projectile weapons, and even the more futuristic elements have a decidedly low-tech feel; the cockpit of what is supposedly “the most advanced ship in the galaxy” looks vaguely similar to a ‘90s-era arcade flight simulator, for instance (except for the water-filled tube with the naked Melfina in it, of course). The more advanced elements present include cyborgs, bioandroids, hover cars, space stations, robotic weapons, and grappler ships, the latter being spaceships with retractable arms that are designed for hand-to-hand space combat. Added to this is a strong element of Tao magic, which combines for an odd blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements. The mix of the two also allows the presence of the coolest toy, a special rare gun called a Caster, which is Gene’s weapon of choice. The gun is so called because each of the 20 different types of shells that can be used with the gun discharge a spell when they are fired.

The technical merits, while not bad, are not selling point of Outlaw Star. The English dub is good, and the series does avoid common shortcuts such as freeze-frame shots, but character design leaves something to be desired; the big bell the Aisha wears from a collar around her neck is just ridiculous, as is the way Melfina is typically dressed. The sheer excitement level and adventurous spirit the series generates outweighs these negatives, however. The action is as dynamic as you’ll see in any animation (although I’m certain that the ship-to-ship space battles violate many laws of physics), and the story achieves an excellent balance of serious and more light-hearted elements. Between these factors and good character development (even for some of the villains), Outlaw Star never gets dull.

The plotting is average and depends a bit too much on stock elements, though the writing fares better and occasionally sparkles. One example is episode 16, “Demons of the Water Planet,” which seems at first to be a typical story about a treasure hunt but becomes a poignant tale about the value and importance of pursuing one’s dreams (the series’ overriding theme). Another is episode 20, “Cats and Girls and Spaceships,” which progresses merrily as a light-hearted tale about budding young love before collapsing into heart-rending irony. And then there’s episode 23, “Hot Springs Planet,” which was never aired on Cartoon Network due to its pervasive risqué content, but it isn’t a big loss; the episode is unrelentingly silly and patently stupid, though it does provide some important information on caster guns and their shells. It does not fit the tenor of the rest of the series at all.

The opener for Outlaw Star is a high-tempo but unexceptional rock song. The closer changes halfway through the series, but both versions feature music while pencil drawings of girls or women in sci-fi/fantasy settings flash behind the credits. The song from the earlier version of the closer does pop up in the series, though it doesn’t translate very smoothly. In an interesting departure from normal anime series structure, a spoken prologue fronts the opener in every episode but the first and (I think) the last. Sometimes this monologue is philosophizing about situations that come up in the series, other times is provides crucial background info that the viewer wouldn’t get otherwise. It should never be skipped.

Finally, concerning the content: the unsanitized version available on DVD has swearing, graphic bloodshed, adult language and adult situations that were edited out of the Cartoon Network airings, but none of these elements are extreme or pervasive - except for episode 23. That episode also features the series’ only shot of frontal nudity; though Melfina is clearly nude in the tank in the XGP when doing the navigation thing, you only get back shots of her or shots where she is appropriately covered. (Though Cartoon Network still goes a step further and draws in a strapless two-piece suit.) Left unexplained is how she’s always clothed and dry when she comes out of the tank, but that’s an argument for another day.

If you like high-octane action that features likeable characters and respectable characterizations, then you will probably enjoy Outlaw Star.

 

DVD Extras

      Clean opening animation and Production Gallery for sure; beyond this I am not sure. (It’s been a while since I have seen them.) I do know that only two-DVD collections and the boxed set are currently available in the ‘States, but these are reasonably economical purchases.

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Gene Starwind

Robert Wicks

Jim Hawking

Ian Hawk

Melfina

Emily Brown

Twilight Suzuka, guest roles

Wendee Lee*

Aisha ClanClan

Selece Zan 

Gilliam

G. Gordon Baer 

Hazanko

Abe Lasser

Ronald McDougall

Jack Emmet

Harry McDougall

Steve Cannon 

Narrator

John Billingslea

Hilda, minor roles

Melissa Williamson

Fred Luo

Ethan Murray

Gwen Khan

Richard Barnes

Leyline voice, minor roles

Barbara Goodson

Claire

Ruby Marlow

 

 * - Also the ADR director

 

 

 

Home   |   Anime Reviews   |   Manga Reviews   |   References   |   Links   |   Bibliography