Stellvia Vol. #2 (of 8) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, November 29, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, December 07, 2004
What They Say
Foundation Field day, a festival that comes around once a year has returned and Shima is a candidate to participate in the great Astro-ball Event! But has her piloting skills really improved enough to be able to play side by side with the Big Four? If so, then expect to see her go head to head against Ayaka in the Lightening Joust event.
Stellvia moves right into high gear pretty early on here as Katase gets herself worked over by the course and the athletic festival.
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.
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. This is a great looking release in general.
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 shiny nature of the covers with blue that gives it a very bright feel that looks neat. Kouta takes the center stage for this volume with his good natured smile and personality showing through. The foil cover continues towell 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 Kouta in the same position again but over a letterboxed image of the blue Earth.
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.
The extras for this release very slim with just a textless opening 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)
With the first volume of Stellvia, we definitely became intrigued by some of the ideas floating around in here but some of the material was just a bit off-putting. The entire Earth sequence with Katase's parents was just strange even for Japanese familial relations and some of the way things were being done on the Stellvia itself with the training just seemed a bit silly. But at the same time, the characters were interesting without being too stereotypical. But there's a definite vibe that reminded us of Battle Athletes Victory and that only grew a bit more with this volume.
The drop down from four to three episodes has definitely not helped the series though since by the time the disc is over, you're probably pretty primed into it and wanting more. It's a bit evil in that sense and makes this a series that's probably better to marathon than to do on a regular bi-monthly basis. The three episodes here do a surprisingly good job of bringing in some of the usual elements found in a series like this but not overdoing them. Something like the athletic festival that's done here could span half the series as its done in some shows, or at least a few more episodes than here.
While the training for the preparatory students continues on at a decent pace, Katase continues to have nothing but problems with her ship. While the training goes on, the announcement comes down that the Athletic Festival is going to start soon and there's a wide variety of things to participate in. The change this year is that the headmaster wants the Stellvia to reclaim the honor of winning the Astroball game, something that it used to do continually in the golden days but hasn't won in awhile. To the surprise of much of the student body, the Big Four have indicated that they're going to do some contests that will result in one of the preparatory students being selected to join them in the big Astroball matches.
The competition for that will be fierce among the students, but what we get to focus on for awhile is the way that a number of the students are working together to overcome the problems being thrown at them. They're given the chance to do something really neat and customize their ships to their own skills and preferences. This leads to some interesting design choices but also some problems since none of them spent the time to actually reprogram and configure their ships. With Katase being so good at that, she offers up her help in that department and they all decide to figure out behind her back just why she sucks at flying so they can help her. The results that they get from their observations of her are amusing and enlightening to be sure.
The Athletic Festival is a lot of fun, particularly since it doesn't last really more than episode, and they don't even really focus on the overall event but rather just a couple of key pieces. Though it plays out in a fairly obvious manner, it's one of those moments that you've seen happen to people before where all of a sudden things just click so beautifully in the mind that they go from being a nothing at something to almost a genius level. I've seen that with some friends during my school years and it's an amazing thing, even if you do want to strangle them for it. Katase's changes throughout these episodes may seem a bit forced but there's such a gap in time across the episodes that isn't really mentioned much that helps it make more sense. The training and time spent doing all the work and study isn't something that goes by quickly or done in just a couple of weeks.
Though an element of mysticism starts to show up in these episodes to the point where you almost want to say "Use the Force, Shipon!", the characters charm and the intriguing storyline of the Great Mission continue to be strong draws here. These episodes bring in a lot of typical story devices for a show like this but they're cutting them far shorter than normal which makes me wonder where the series is really going to go once they get past a lot of this. Most series in this vein spend the bulk of their series in the training phase and only a bit on the big picture but Stellvia has the feeling that it wants to get past a lot of this training material fast and get to the good stuff. I'm enjoying the show but I'm still cautiously optimistic about it and where it's going – and these three episode volumes don't help that at all.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Ending
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.
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2