Friday, February 09, 2007

Crest of the Stars

Crest of the Stars is one of those classic anime series I'd heard mentioned often, but somehow never made the time / room in my Netflix queue to actually sit down and watch it. Thanks to the relative lull of the winter anime season, I corrected that injustice recently, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun to watch Crest of the Stars was, despite being in a genre (sci-fi) that I don't normally watch much of. For me at least, it easily beats the entire winter season, and if you're looking for something to watch until the deluge of spring shows comes, I'd highly recommend it.

CoS stars out slowly, with the first episode largely devoted to Jinto, a boy who lives on a planet that's about to be taken over by the Humankind Empire Abh. The Abh aren't like normal people--thanks to genetic engineering they're all beautiful, live for 200 years, have blue hair, and don't age like normal people. The Abh see themselves as "kin of the stars" and have little interest in the planets they conquer--they just want to control space itself and the "sords" (for those of you old enough to remember Buck Rogers, think stargates) that allow spaceships to travel long distances quickly. Jinto's father happens to be the president of the planet, and he makes a deal with the Abh fleet--he surrenders his planet without firing a shot in exchange for him (and by extension his son) being named Abh nobility. Fast forward to a few years later, and Jinto is preparing to go join the Abh military--before he can assume his duties as count, he has to serve in the Star Forces for ten years. As he goes to start his new life, he meets a beautiful Abh woman his age, Lafiel, who's come to pick him up to escort him to the Imperial Capital. Although at first he thinks she's an ordinary shuttle pilot, she's actually a princess, the heir to the throne of the empire, and while their cultures are completely different, they end up getting along well.

To start with the negatives, a lot of reviews criticize CoS for being slow-moving, and that's certainly true to a point--the whole first episode passes before Jinto even meets Lafiel. I like YKK and much more slow-paced series than CoS though, so this wasn't really something that bothered me. The space battles were well-animated if you're into that, but personally I could have done without the space action sequences, and been happy if the camera had just stayed focused on Lafiel and Jinto. Again, I'm not a big sci-fi fan though, so I'm doubtlessly biased there. And overall, I'd say 80% of the story in Crest of the Stars is focused on Lafiel and Jinto, which is good in my book. The only real complaint I have is the OP--the dramatic music isn't bad, but the fact it just pans over various space scenes makes this one of the few opening credits I skip over when I watch it.

On the positive side, the main reason I ordered the region 1 box set from Amazon as soon as I finished watching this comes down to Lafiel and Jinto. They've easily become one of my favorite anime couples, with Lafiel coming across as a little cold at first but deep down she's a much warmer person than she appears, and Jinto seeming laid-back but also being determined when he needs to be. The dialogue between them is really well done and comes across as really honest and real. Lafiel's trying to live up to the high expectations for her, knowing she has a long way to go and that almost everyone treats her differently because of her status. Jinto lost his adopted family of sorts when his father betrayed them and surrendered to the Abh, and now like Lafiel he's set aside as special due to his title. While at first it's Jinto who's the fish out of water, trying to come up to speed on life with the Abh and in a nice reversal of the usual pattern needing to be saved by Lafiel, later on in the series he shows he can be resourceful as well, helping Lafiel when it's her first time setting foot on solid ground. The way they learn to trust and rely on each other was really well done--it's the kind of character development that makes me thank God / Haruhi / Buddha that I'm an anime fan. They're a perfect example of the whole being stronger than the sum of its parts, and together are a great team and have good chemistry together.

While the show aired seven years ago, the animation is pretty good throughout, and the character designs, while not my favorite, aren't bad either once you get used to them. The spaceships and space battles seem very well animated to me, although since I don't watch much sci-fi anime admittedly I don't have a great frame of reference to compare them to. Crest of the Stars ran for 13 episodes, and was followed by three sequels: Banner of the Stars (13 episodes), Banner of the Stars II (12 episodes), and Banner of the Stars III (a 2 episode OVA). In region 1, Crest of the Stars and Banner of the Stars I & II are licensed and available in cheap box sets, while Banner of the Stars III is available fansubbed. I finished watching Banner of the Stars, but since it's focused on the war in space more (there are six full episodes just devoted to the climactic battle) I don't think I'll buy Banner--there are a few good Lafiel-Jinto moments in Banner, but unfortunately not quite as many as in Crest of the Stars.

If you're feeling the winter season blues, and are looking for something to re-ignite your enthusiasm for and appreciation of anime, I can't recommend Crest of the Stars highly enough. I'm still kicking myself for taking this long to get around to watching it.


selkirk said...

If you haven't watched Planetes yet, you might want to. It's also a character-centric sci-fi series, and overall one of the best shows from any genre I've watched.

hashihime said...

Crest of Stars is the show that got me into watching anime when I saw it three years ago. Or should I say: Lafiel and Jinto got me into anime. They are indeed one of the great anime couples. And this is the show that first made me give Kawasumi Ayako the status of voice goddess (Nodame Cantabile is the most recent show to confirm it). Planetes may be a better show overall, but it didn't have the emotional power for me that Crest did.

suguru said...

selkirk: I've read good things about that too, but haven't seen it yet so that may need to go on my list...

hashihime: Kawasumi Ayako was awesome in Crest of the Stars...can't wait for the box set to get here so I can re-watch it :)