Stellvia Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 8) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, September 13, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2004



What They Say
In the year 2167, Mankind suffered from a cataclysmic disaster as a massive wave of electromagnetic radiation from a nearby supernova washed over the Earth. Yet, Mankind was able to survive by pulling together to support each other in this time of crisis.

The year is now 2326 and the new generation of people are preparing for the second wave to hit. One young girl, Shima Katase, is going off to Stellvia, a space pilot academy, where she will learn how to protect the Earth and the family she loves.

The Review!
Almost two hundred years after the Earth was nearly destroyed, humanity works hard to protect the solar system from the next wave that's due to arrive.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The show has a good active stereo mix that features some solid directionality to it in both dialogue and sound effects. While it's not terribly deep there's a lot of well placed moments for dialogue and the Bianca ships come across well when they do their fly by's and all. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame format. Being such a recent release and very much a product of digital animation techniques, this is a very slick looking production. The show is one of the better examples of the meshing of real CG pieces and the animation itself that I've seen as well. With such heavy digital use, I was very happy to see that there were no serious gradient issues with the colors, cross coloration is non-existent and only a few bits of aliasing were noticeable during regular playback. The colors maintain a really good solid feel throughout and provide a great range from vibrant to the dull earth tones used for the few scenes on Earth itself. This is a great looking release in general.

Packaging:
Stellvia uses the same covers as the Japanese release which use pretty bold colors for the background and feature a character or two laid over that. This volume uses the green gas nature of the solar system for its backdrop with Shima floating over it in her new school uniform. It's definitely an eye-catching cover since it's the latest series from Geneon to use the foil cover, something they must be getting a deal on or something that someone there really likes. It works well for this series since the bright bits are going to be the stars in the background. The back cover goes for a traditional SF look with the mix of graphics with the animation shots and summary. The discs episode numbers and titles are clearly listed as well as the volume number on the front cover and spine. The shows features are easy to check out though the production credits are a bit overwhelming with as much as there are and the small font. The insert replicates the front cover without the foil nature while the reverse side cover is a two-panel shot using Shima in the same position again but over a letterboxed image of a ship flying towards the Earth that looks really nice.

Menu:
The menu layout for the release is pretty simple and relatively in-theme for the series with a look at the solar system with part of the Earth included while having various grids overlaid on top of it where the selections and some small windows of animation clips play along to a brief loop of the opening song. It's a decent looking menu though the loop is just too short – even though it's probably a music rights issue, I wish they'd just use the entire song since so many people often just have the menus running for a bit. Hearing the same 15 seconds over and over is just no fun. I'm also continuing to not like how the language menus seem to be working. On a number of recent releases like this, it's not clear that there's a sign/song subtitle track. If you select English language, the default subtitle track 1 plays, which is signs and songs. But there's no distinction within the menu for it since it just lists subtitles on/off. This is similar to the strangeness of some of FUNimations menus which have caused confusion. The other problem this causes is that since there are two English labeled tracks, a players presets grabs just the first instance it finds for English and plays that. So our default of Japanese with English subtitles grabs Japanese language fine but grabs the English sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
The extras for this release very slim with just a textless ending sequence provided. The extras section looks busier than it is though by the inclusion of the language setup being in here as well, something I'm still not terribly keen on for some reason I can't quite explain.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Stellvia's the latest series that takes the kids in space to save the Earth storyline to the small screen and it's one that left me pretty leery about it when I first read about it. A lot of that was due to the series director being Tatsuo Sato, who I found to be very uneven with his work in Nadesico. Unlike Nadesico though, he's also responsible for the script in addition to being the director for Stellvia so that can change things completely.

The premise for the show is actually a rather interesting one. Taking place in 2356, we're introduced to the latest "class" of students that are heading for the Stellvia, a massive space station/training facility of sorts. For nearly two hundred years, the people of Earth have been working towards a single goal of ensuring that they're not wiped out from existence. Back then, a sun nearly twenty light years away went supernova and the waves emitted from it caused unprecedented damage to Earth when it hit. The second wave is now closing in and they've spent all this time coming up with ways to defend against it, never mind simply rebuilding the world in general.

From the launch point in South America, we're introduced to the lead character named Shima Katase. She's a serious and ambitious young woman who wants to do her part and is eager to head up to the Stellvia so that she can study and learn and apply that knowledge to protecting friends and family. Though as we're introduced to her family, particularly her mother, you almost wonder why. The entire launch and arrival sequence is very well done, to the point where it makes you wish it was just that easy to get up into orbit now and to see the stars. While it's not given a huge amount of awe and inspiration, the characters we do see take in the view of their world and the green nature of local space due to the original wave with just the right amount of awe and respect. There's an element of appreciation and longing mixed in with what Sato's trying to get across here and I think he managed it rather well without getting too sappy about it.

Shima, who made a friend and roommate in fellow classmate Arisa during the trip up, starts off her new life on board the Stellvia. Their early days are spent getting acclimated to the place, finding out their proficiencies and taking their first actual trips into space in the small maneuverable crafts named Bianca's. This is the big job that everyone really wants to get since the ships will be among the front lines of the defense against the wave. The plan of creating energy barriers is a solid one but the smaller ships are needed to help reinforce it along the way. For Shima, the Bianca is proving to be her most difficult part since she can't control the thing at all. In fact, she goes so far in the opposite direction that when it kicks in she tries to reprogram the entire thing so she can manage it, which ends up disabling the remote control by the teacher and causing all sorts of problems.

What Stellvia ends up feeling like is something very similar to parts of Battle Athletes. The students are all competing in general, though not as blatantly as that show, but there's a sense of moving forward and struggling together and in competition with each other that's very prevalent here. Shima has part of the old Akari role but she brings a bit more to it here by being not quite as dense but just a bit socially awkward. There's a budding romance between her and one of the other students, Kouta, that's cute to watch, especially when they all study together. These sessions work out well for helping to flesh out the why of the world and the workings of the barrier they're all working towards. There's something about this show that makes it feel like it's moving very smoothly and it's just the right amount of engaging without throwing everything at you at once or with a heavy hand. The pacing is just right in getting you familiar with everything. But even with that, in these first four episodes, there isn't what you can call a really big hook moment but rather just a series of events that will either capture you or not.

In Summary:
Stellvia has a really interesting feel to it and has it set at that stage where humanity is for the most part working together towards a common goal and everyone is involved in some form or another. The series has a nice epic plot to it that's at the same time focused down on the characters just right. The cast is very likeable, the science fiction is mostly well done and other than the usual idea of a number of teenagers being very key to saving the Earth from the incoming wave it's a very engaging piece of work. Add in a good smooth transfer and some of the better looking CG combination I've seen in a show and this one looks like it could be really solid as it goes along.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 24.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Stellvia