Stratos 4 Vol. #3 (of 4) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, October 25, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, October 26, 2004
What They Say
When the annual base festival arrives, so do the parents and that spells trouble for the girls! The girls take a vacation to a hot springs, where their relaxation is interrupted by some crazy conspiracy nuts. Upon their return, they?ll have to study hard for the Comet Blaster qualification exam. While studying, a state of emergency is issued when all the orbital stations go silent. They are forced to destroy incoming comets using only ground-based interceptors. What in the world is going on in the space stations?
The background plot of food and lesbianism picks up with this set of episodes as we start to see something of the larger picture really coming to light.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The Japanese mix is a good sounding stereo mix that has a number of good moments of directionality due to ship sequences and some of the more action oriented scenes. The English 5.1 track sounds good but it's noticeably lower at times, particularly during the opening sequence, in comparison to the Japanese stereo mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2003, Stratos 4 has a very vibrant looking full frame transfer. Mixing scenes between a near-tropical island, a command base and some satellites, the colors are fairly varied and well chosen. Backgrounds make out good with a very solid feel and no problems of macroblocking or color banding. Character animation itself looks great with some really vibrant pieces, often mixed into hair colors or eyes, while avoiding the usual issues of cross coloration and aliasing. The digital animation in the show manages to blend really well also with only a few areas that come across in a bad way very briefly.
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release and even mimicking the sideways logo but with less background material under it, the front cover goes with the shot of all the girls in their school uniforms set against a deep blue sky and a jet flying by. The clean nature of the shows artwork shines through nicely here as do the simple colors which look stronger due to the amount of white. The back cover is a basic layout with some light images done as a collage for the background mixed in with a lot of black while each episode gets one image from it along the side. The premise is given a few paragraphs of discussion while the discs features and extras are all nice and clearly listed. The insert for the release mirrors the front cover without the logos or volume listing and opens to a two page image spread of the various female pilots in different kinds of uniforms. The back of the insert provides the full list production and voice actor credits. Included in the keepcase is a pencil board that's full color on each side. Like the first one, it's a good looking board; one side features the girls as seen on the cover while the other has them in athletic outfits.
Unlike the first volumes menu, the background here isn't animated but rather a still, which removes some of the fun I had with the first one but does eliminate the strange feel that it had. Showcasing one of the orbital satellites, it's above the darkened shot of the Earth, something that's not shown often, by itself just above the menu selections. Access times to submenus are nice and fast and the layout is easy to navigate. Unlike other Bandai releases recently, this one did not start up with my player defaults but instead went for the English 5.1 mix with sign/song subtitles on.
The extras for this release continue to be pretty heavy in a way but also really light and fluffy but still quite enjoyable. The Shimoji Island vacation videos the third piece in the series. Though it's very easy to admit that these are fluff pieces, I'm just happy to see such areas of the world in an interesting context and to see how faithful the animators were to what's really there. Another of the aircraft videos is done here and it runs just about three minutes in length. Add in the English cast listing credits that's continuing from the first two volumes and you've got a good mix of material here.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In a way, each volume of this show keeps trying to tell me that I shouldn't be enjoying something like this. There's something about it where there's plenty of key things left unexplained, the larger plot is really given a background feel to it and not the primary scope of things and the concept of the young women being in charge of something so key just screams that it's not something that I should find fun or amusing to watch. But it manages with each volume to give me just enough of something really neat that I end up liking it against my better judgment.
The character building episodes in this volume are actually a lot of fun and don't feel quite as forced as some of the previous ones. That may also be that we're just feeling more comfortable with the cast now that we're in the third volume of the series. The opening episode is a good bit of fun that has something of a small festival of sorts happening at the base due to the imminent arrival of most of the characters parents. It's a chance for them to see how their kids are doing, check out the progress and generally schmooze a bit. This is fun since we finally get to see some of the real driving forces behind the girls, particularly with Mikaze's parents since they're both supposedly ace pilots and everyone in the family is. Though it's a bit obvious in some of the areas, you can see easily how most of the parents are thinking of their own goals for their kids as opposed to what their kids interests are and the obvious bit of storytelling in how those at the base are better suited for helping them to achieve their goals.
And even though it's an obligatory hot-springs episode, I really did like the trip that the first half of the base took to the hot springs in order to have their celebration. Since just about all the women went and some of the men, there's a fun mix of characters at the hot springs while at the base you get an almost all-male presence and their lament over not being able to chase any girls in their down time. At the celebration, we get some really interesting developments towards the larger plot though as the group of laptop geeks start showing off their analysis of the video that Mikaze's ship took during her controversial meteor attack. The hint that there's something there in how it moves about spurs them into a wide range of conspiracies that are very amusing, especially in how the girls try to rein them in.
Across the last two episodes, the parts I found the most enjoyable to watch are the subtle and not so subtle moments that deal with whatever it is that's going on in the space station with the massive amount of food being eaten and the rampant lesbianism that now apparently turns you into the other sides willing recruit. The space station side of the story starts taking on more overt tones as those not converted are trying to survive while those that are converted are making their plans. Seeing a similar thing happen on Earth with the way Karin is so hungry is interesting, as well as the brief moments where she seems to have a real eye for her female companions but manages to resist them. There is still so much unexplained but it's playing out in a neat way that I can't help but wonder how it's going to get resolved in the next few episodes and what the real explanation behind it is.
While it's hard to suspend my sense of disbelief for a lot of areas in this show, there's a factor of fun combined with a sense of realism along with a really well paced plot that's keeping me interested here. It's a military show that's not a military show that's filled with fanservice but keeps it on a short leash all while teasing me with an aliens invasion storyline that's tied to lesbianism and consuming mass quantities of food. It's a huge "what the hell?!" storyline with some surprisingly detailed aspects to it that just leave me confounded but wanting me. So much of it screams that I shouldn't like it but at the same time it feels like it's over too fast and the next volume can't get here fast enough.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Voice Actress Vacation: Island Day 3,Okabe Video,English Cast Filmography
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: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Stratos 4