Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bargain Bin Reviews - Starship Operators (TV)

Sometimes there are just shows that pass beneath my radar, or rather I get so caught up in the other stuff that I'm collecting that they get put on the backburner. Starship Operators is one of those shows.

The story follows the 73rd class of cadets from the planet Kibi's military academy. After finishing a run on the space battleship Amaterasu (pronounced Ah-mah-ter-ahs), they find their home planet is taken over by the Kingdom (the exact political structure is a bit shaky, but more on that later). They make the decision to buy the Amaterasu, and declare war on the Kingdom. But to do it they need money, so they do what any saavy group should do - they sell their story to the media.

When I first heard about this title, I was skeptical. As I mentioned before, most fiction either treats the news media as the heroes or the villians, but never really delves into the interplay between the media, the government and public opinion in a way that's really meaningful.

Also, the whole thing had another strike against it. The original idea came from Ryo Mizuno, the person responsible for the horror that is Record of Lodoss War. So, I didn't really expect much.

Boy was I surprised. The overall handling of the relationships between the government officials, the crew, the media and the public were so well done, I almost fell out of my seat. All of the sides scheme for the support of the public, and use the media and in turn the media uses them to get their show. But the media isn't portrayed as consistently money hungry, no, they're also shown as noble and compassionate at times. Those relationships were so well done, I just wish every show about the media was that intelligent.

It's too bad they didn't spend as much time developing out the characters. The story mostly follows the vice captain (and military genius), Sinon, and does an adaquate job filling out her as a character who starts off as reserved and standoffish, but becomes fully committed to winning by the end of the series. But most of the side characters get little to no development. Rather they end up being plot devices. While that in and of itself isn't necessarily bad, it makes several moments in the series that should be heart-rending simply fall flat. Trust me there is a pattern for any character that gets developed later in the series. I won't spoil it, but you'll see what I mean.

Second, much like Crest of Stars, Starship Operators avoids any exposition like it's the plague. Which is great, since we don't get lines like, "As you know, this ship is equipped with a plasma cannon." And horrible because I still don't understand the political structure of the world. And in a series that is so much about politics, that could have been really helpful.

However even with the character and plot problems, the animation and character designs were still solid. There is almost no fan service, and even with the obligatory moe design, I didn't feel put off by the artwork. The CG effects were blended well into the animation and did enchance the space battles.

The score was pretty standard fare, with the orchestral going to war sound to it. But the opener and closer were both throw-aways that really can be skipped.

All in all, Starship Operators suffers the fate of most thirteen episode series. It tries to do too much with too little space and never really accomplishes everything it should. But what it does accomplish is interesting enough that it's worth picking up.

Recommendation: I picked up the series off of Amazon Marketplace for about $20. I would say it's a reasonable price for the series. I wouldn't spend more than $30 on it.

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