Saturday, April 30, 2011

In short: Outlaw Star (1998)

The future! Smart-ass ray-gunslinger Gene Starwind and his kid side-kick Jim are operating a combined bounty-hunting/mechanic company on a planet on the backend of the universe. One day, a simple bodyguard-job for the outlaw "Hot Ice" Hilda turns into a of life-changing event that leaves our two buddies with a dead Hilda, a stolen experimental spacecraft navigated by amnesiac bio-android girl Melfina, rumours of a treasure hidden at something called the Galactic Leyline, and quite a lot of enemies. Among the latter are the man who murdered Gene's father (and his bishounen brother) and a large group of Taoist magic using space pirates.

In theory, Gene and Jim are planning to use their new ship to find the Galactic Leyline and the treasure, as well as helping Melfina get her memory back, but in practice, they spent most of the show with various insane and dangerous projects to earn enough money to pay for the ship's upkeep. At least, our heroes are the sort of guys who can turn enemies into friends, so their crew eventually also features an intensely annoying cat-girl and the female wooden-sword-swinging assassin Suzuka, both initially out to kill our heroes. They will probably come in handy once the show remembers it has a main plot.

Yes, Outlaw Star is most certainly one of those anime shows that randomly sticks every idea one of the scriptwriters once had while visiting the toilet as well as every fashionable anime cliché of 1998 into one of its episodes, without a care of any of it fitting together in any way or form.

Fortunately, this scatter-shot approach works out quite nicely for the show for most of the time. There's a sense of glee and delight running through most of the episodes, as if the team producing it just had a lot of fun throwing Taoist magic, spaceships that fight each other with grapple hands, Old West mythology and chambara action - to only take a few of the show's more awesome bits and pieces - into one large, episodic semi-comedic space opera. The same sense of fun runs through the character and object design, a love for the colourful, the larger-than-life and the just plain weird that excuses a certain lack of originality.

This lack of originality and ambition is the show's biggest weakness on the writing side - if you know the character types and the show's basic plotline, you can guess what will happen throughout the series with frightening precision; the writing is keeping on the safe side so much that the show might be infuriating to anyone obsessed with the idea of "The New" in SF. The show's other weakness is the slavish way in which it fulfils certain otaku expectations, and basically writes its own fan-fiction - see the sleazy and pubescent hot springs episode, annoying cat girl, the highly uncomfortable way the show's gay character is treated, or little things like the fact that Melfina needs to step naked into a tank of blue liquid to navigate the space ship. It's by far not as bad as it could be - this is no Neon Genesis Evangelion undermining its own virtues every five minutes - but if you're allergic against this specific part of anime culture, you might find your fun suddenly interrupted by writers with the emotional development of twelve-year-olds.

For my tastes, the show's speed and enthusiasm, its tendency to nearly shout "awesome!" at every new bit of space opera weirdness it can come up with and the small fact that these bits often are as awesome as the show thinks they are, more than make up for these flaws.

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