Starblazers Vol. #3 (of 6) (Mania.com)

Review Date: Tuesday, February 27, 2001
Release Date: Tuesday, February 27, 2001



What They Say
No sooner has the Star Force said its sad farewells to Earth than they are plunged into the unknown perils of deep space! The Argo continues its desperate mission to Iscandar as Emperor Desslok and his Gamilon commanders place sinister traps in her path.

No ship from Earth has ever faced such odds, and no fledgling crew has ever had to work harder to beat them. But the greatest unknown danger is the fury in a young man's heart, as Derek Wildstar learns when he comes face-to-face with the first Gamilon soldier ever seen by human eyes!

Contains Episodes 10-13.

The Review!
Well, VEI seems bound and determined to make me take back all the nasty things I've said about them over the last seven years. If Volume 2 was a step up from Volume 1, Volume 3 is so far removed from the first disk that it's not even recognizable as being by the same company.

Which is isn't, really.

Video
Video is another step up after the positive direction of Disk 2, it is slightly soft in a few places, but the colors are much sharper and deeper this time out, and the "washed out" feeling of the first DVD is gone completely. The picture itself is generally sharp, and there were very few instances of pixelization. For a series that's over twenty-five years old in its Japanese original, I think we'd be hard pressed to get anything better without a major restoration. Of course, it seems like whenever I say that VEI goes and surprises me (so, of course, I'll keep on saying that so long as the picture keeps improving). As always, keep the age of the source material in mind when viewing this one.

In my review of disk 2, I mentioned the "fabled broadcast masters" that always seem to be mentioned, yet never seem to materialize. I think we may have them here, or more likely some hybrid of the VHS masters and whatever broadcast-quality film VEI has available. There are a few film flaws that I'd never noticed in my ump-teen viewings of the VHS tapes, and a few interesting things on the audio side. More on that later.

Still, the removal of openings, endings, eyecatches, and previews is annoying, and VEI used their "work around" again. I don't know if it does it 100% right this time, since I didn't check it.

Audio
The audio continues to be a major selling point of this disk, between the sharpness of the soundtrack, beauty of the musical score, and all-out excellence of the dub cast. I did notice several instances of background sound effects, voices, etc, that I either weren't in my VHS tapes, or were so low that I never noticed them, that are here on this volume. For instance, when Dr. Sane is examining the captured Gamilon fighter pilot while the crew looks on. He ungloves the hand, revealing five human-like fingers. I don't remember any background reactions on my VHS tape, but this time I definitely heard Amy Howard (Nova) whisper "Oh my God!" There were a couple of other instances where I remembered some detail in the dark recesses of my childhood memory that wasn't there in the VHS version (or were mixed low) as well. So either we have the broadcast masters, or the VHS masters were remixed. Whichever the case, kudos to VEI for finally putting the extra effort in (but where the heck are the openings, endings, and eyecatches?).

One more thing about the video and audio grades before we go further. My grade for this series is highly subjective due to the fact that I am more of a fan of old school anime than newer stuff (don't get me wrong, I love newer anime, but nothing has ever grabbed me as hard as the old stuff), and I'm basing it as compared to the VHS releases. You can't compare the video quality on this disk to something like Bebop, and I'll forgive a lot if it's the source material.

Packaging
Another step up, the packaging this time is similar in style to disk 2, with the addition of Captain Avatar standing in front of the Yamato. And in the "definite improvement over the previous two volumes and the VHS release" department, they actually include a description on the back of the case that doesn't summarize the entire 26-episode series in three paragraphs. It actually has something to do with the episodes contained, and doesn't spoil them! Of course, this is VEI so there is a draw-back to all the positives. The background graphics are the same as the previous volumes, clearly showing the Andromeda and several other second series ships. But now that we've reached the half-way point of Star Blazers I, I'd hate to see them change the packaging style this late in. Also, the spine is black with red lettering, where the previous disk was a rust color with yellow lettering. Points off for this inconsistency.

Menus
Menus are exactly the same as disk 2, which to me is a good thing. The only difference is that the background music on the main menu is the instrumental of "Scarlet Scarf."

Extras
This time we get a tour of the Yamato, complete with Leiji Matsumoto's early concept sketches. Star Blazers/Yamato fans will be pleased to know that the groovy jazzy piece that was played in Episode 3 when Captain Avatar took Wildstar and Venture on a tour of the ship is played in the background. It could be a slight bit easier to navigate, but that's more of a nit-pick on my part than anything else.

Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This time out, it's all about the characters.

I was sitting in my apartment tonight watching these episodes, and decided that the next time someone tries to tell me that character development in anime only occurs in shoujo, I'm gonna give them this disk and tell them to watch it. Then we'll talk

Since we have just gone through the big introductory story arc, we've hit the expected filler stretch that occurs right before the half-way point. None of these episodes have any real bearing on the big plot, but they move each character's personal arc forward, especially Derek Wildstar's.

Once again it's amazing how well Star Blazers was adapted. Episodes 10 and 13 would have probably been dropped by FOXkids or the WB, since there's absolutely no action whatsoever in either. They're also some of the best written in the series. Episode 10 opens with the Star Force now out of the Solar System. Communication with Earth has become nearly impossible, allowing for only five minutes at a time before losing the signal. Captain Avatar allows each crew member five minutes to talk with their family and say goodbye. This brings some touching moments as Mark Venture spies his little brother building a model of the Yamato (which looks like it's exactly the same size and dimensions as the one sitting on my desk at work!), Nova's mother tries matchmaking long-distance, and Dr. Sane calls his drunken cat (sadly cut from the American version). But it's Wildstar and Captain Avatar who are at the center of the episode. Neither has anyone to call back home, and spend the day wandering the ship, constantly bumping into each other. Eventually, Wildstar goes to the Captain's quarters, where the two share a bottle of "spring water," and drink a toast to Earth, vowing to return.

Episode 11 opens with an interesting sequence for long-time Star Blazers/Yamato fans. For the first batch of episodes, the Gamilons were all Caucasian-looking. Matsumoto had apparently wanted them to be blue from the start. However, the studio that had been outsourced to animate the first few episodes hadn't read all the character sheets, and the first ten episodes came back with Caucasian Gamilons. In episode eleven (after changing animation studios, which explains the difference in animation style from here on out), Leader Desslok walks down the aisle towards his throne. As he does so, the lighting gradually changes, brightening and revealing… the blue skinned Desslok we all know! So that's it, the Gamilons were all standing in bad light for the first ten episodes!

The Gamilons trap the Star Force in a minefield (I believe the "Desslok space mines" were the first weapon that was named after the ultra-cool Leader D). Several nuances in the crew chemistry are revealed, and the first cracks in Wildstar and Venture's friendship become visable. This will play itself out over the next few episodes. Probably the most interesting development is IQ-9's experimentation with "human characteristics" in the robot's quest to be more like his crewmates, a full fifteen years before "Star Trek the Next Generation." Although, one wonders how he really got those hiccups (hey, he hangs out with Dr. Sane).

Episode 12 introduces Captain Avatar's main character arc, which will play itself out over the course of the remainder of the series. After collapsing on the bridge, it is revealed that he had been secretly hiding the fact that he had contracted radiation sickness while on Earth. While Dr. Sane tries to convince him to be hospitalized, Avatar refuses on the grounds that the Star Force will fall apart without a leader.

There are two other things worth mentioning in this episode, the first is the use of the Wave Motion gun to part a red giant star's solar flares. The Gamilons had forced the Star Force into a too-close-for-comfort flyby of a violent red giant star (a sequence that Matsumoto would later perfect in the Harlock movie "My Youth in Arcadia"), but they managed to escape the "sea of fire" by shooting at the solar flare.


The second, the budding romance between Nova and Wildstar begins to take hold. I guess Matsumoto and Nishizaki weren't too keen on dragging the love triangle between Nova, Wildstar and Venture on to the end of the series. Better to leave that for the Macross crew, many of who had worked on Yamato.

Finally, Wildstar's childhood and motivations are revealed in the superbly written (and acted) episode 13. After a Gamilon fighter pilot is captured, it is revealed that both internally and externally ("except for the blue skin") the alien marauders are just like humans, which raises some interesting questions for the crew. How could the Gamilons be just like humans and commit such atrocities towards the human race (foreshadowing a later speech by Wildstar in the Japanese version, that they had become exactly like the Gamilons)? Wildstar looses control and barges into sickbay (with a knife that was cut from the American version). As he is about to pounce on the Gamilon, we are treated to a lengthy flashback detailing Wildstar's childhood at the onset of the war, and the death of his parents. After the flashback, Wildstar tearfully and half-heartedly tries to attack the Gamilon, who sheds tears of his own, each soldier wordlessly understanding the other's pain. Pretty powerful stuff, excellently acted by Ken Meseroll.

Disk 3 continues the improvements first found on disk 2. If the lack of the Japanese audio doesn't bother you, and if you can ignore the more blatant cuts and edits required by late 70's TV, this disk is a winner. VEI continues to move in the right direction, and I'm fairly happy about that. Here's looking forward to another winner with disk 4.

Features
English Language

Review Equipment
Sony 23" Trinitron TV, Sony DVP S360 player, "Jury-rigger special" audio set-up, KLH speakers.



Mania Grade: A+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Voyager
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 90
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Starblazers / Yamato