Star Ocean EX Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, December 06, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, January 04, 2005
What They Say
Claude and his father are on their mission to investigate the unexplored planet, Mirokinia. When they arrive at the planet, Claude mysteriously gets transported to another planet called Expel. Wandering around in the woods trying to find a way back home, he saves a girl named Rena from a monster with his phase gun. Rescued by him, she tells him that he is the Legendary Warrior of Light whom she?s been looking for. In search of Sorcery Globe, which is believed to be the source of evils, Claude and Rena set off on their journey that will determine the world?s fate...
Based on the video game, this twenty-six episode is the latest mixture of science fiction and fantasy worlds.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. We also listened to it in English in full the next day. Both tracks for this show are pretty solid but not terribly engaging stereo mixes that make decent use of the forward soundstage but without a whole lot of noticeable directionality but rather in a more full manner. We had no issues with dropouts or distortions on either language track during regular playback on two separate players.
Originally airing in 2001, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The show is filled with a lot of rich colors and vibrant pieces but it's not entirely free of problems. Mostly visible when it comes to the large areas of a single color in the character animation itself, some scenes exhibit some amount of color banding going on and some minor blocking associated with it. On our 50" setup, it was pretty noticeable when it came to some of the greens or hairs with characters, but down on the 20" set it was far less pronounced and much harder to see. Otherwise, the transfer is pretty much problem free as there isn't any noticeable cross coloration or much in the way of aliasing during movement.
Geneon continues to do a great job with a lot of their series by getting the Japanese artwork. This release continues that tradition and uses the same artwork from the first volume though with a different background, one I think works better and is definitely more eye-catching than the Japanese release was. With the single character image, we get a good looking guy with a serious look to him that hints of a good time to be had inside when taken in total with the rest of the covers style and the logo. The back cover provides a small number of shots from the show and the background reuses parts of the front cover to provide a fairly dark looking piece. The episode numbers and titles are listed here as is a good summary of the premise and the shows video game origins. Mix in a clean and easy to read set of extras and basic disc features as well as some production info and you've got a good looking back cover. The insert provides another shot of the front cover on one side while the reverse lists the episode numbers and titles for this volume as well as the release dates for the remaining volumes in the series.
The menu layout for the series is decent if somewhat uninspired with a series of blocks in a science fiction style where inside each of them there are different pieces of static artwork or animation from the show running around. It's not set to music per se but the thumming sound you'd hear if you were watching Star Trek: Next Generation and listened to the background noise of the ship there. Access times are nice and fast and the menus load quickly as well as correctly use the players' language presets that I have, earning it a few extra bonus points.
A couple of extras make it into this first volume of the series. We get a textless version of the opening as well as the original Japanese opening, something I really like having. Geneon is typically what I consider to be the best company when it comes to replicating the style of the Japanese openings with their own English translated version so it's usually neat to see how close they get. Star Ocean is pretty tame and easy though compared to some other series. Also included is a set of four character profiles that have to be, well, the most useless things I've seen included as an extra in quite some time. It's like a serious stretch was made to find something else to include and a committee had to come up with three lines about each character before lunch. Of course, character profiles are pretty useless in general in my opinion but these just seem to be even worse than usual.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In the last year or so, there have been more of the video game to anime shows coming out that have managed to make a significant dent in that old adage that such things generally, well, suck. As video games continue to mature and more complicated stories and plots are brought into the RPG side of the games and even with simple action shooter games, the ability to tell good stories with the properties has gotten better and we've been treated to some shows that have really wowed us. Star Ocean EX unfortunately is not one of those shows.
I've not played any version of the game in the franchise before so there may be things that I'm missing because of it, but just like the other conversion properties, I look at the anime by itself and try to avoid making comparisons to the game itself or how well they flow with each other. After all, more often than not, the games aren't actually available here in the US, especially the dating sim games or the numerous adult games. With Star Ocean EX, I don't think you really need to go play the game before or afterwards because the anime series really feels like one. When you watch an episode and the only thing you're thinking is, "This is a side quest," you're in trouble. It's not just filler anymore.
The series opens decently enough as we're introduced to young Claude Kenni, the son of a very popular and heroic commander who is in charge of the expedition they're currently on. Their ship is heading towards a planetary system where some strange energy readings have come from recently and they're there to investigate and report back to the higher-ups what's going on there. We learn quickly just what kind of person Claude is because his internal monologue talks about how important his father is and how respected he is and he then says to himself that he is indeed his own man and won't live in his fathers shadow. I'll give them points for the character being honest about what the entire subarc of the series is going to be about within the first two minutes of the show.
As can be expected, once they avoid a spot of trouble and land on the planet, Claude gets a talking to from his father (probably breaching a number of regulations in doing so) about how he's probably not ready to be in space yet and then they go about investigating a massive metallic ball that's in ruins. While the command crew checks things out, Claude lags behind and checks out a strange looking device that almost looks like a cryogenic chamber or something. But as they argue back and forth about when it should be checked out, the device actually activates as Claude gets close to it and he finds out quickly enough that it's actually a transport chamber and he's thrust through it before anyone can do anything.
Waking up some time later, Claude wakes up to find himself in the forest of a very attractive world. Investigating his surroundings, he happens upon a young woman in need of saving, which as a young man he does, and the two begin the exchange of information. Claude has inadvertently walked into something rather big here when he came through that chamber. According to this young almost elfin like woman named Rena, she's proclaimed that Claude is the Legendary Warrior that's been prophesized to come from another world some day with his sword of light that will free the world from the evil that it finds itself grappling with. And yes, she believes this because Claude uses his laser gun to defeat the critter that was bothering her and she believes it to be a sword of light.
Claude is adamantly against this idea and as he goes to her town and is introduced to the elder, he continues to fight against the idea of him being a Legendary Warrior. Naturally, circumstances arise over the first couple of episodes that challenge this belief for him as he deals with a young suitor of Rena's who has been possessed and other small events that seem to push him into the heroic mode. What really ends up driving Claude though, beyond the thoughts of failing before his father and not proving himself, is that he learns from Rena about the Sorcery Globe that appeared on the El Continent a few months prior. This massive globe crashed into the land from the stars above and transformed many of the creatures around that area into evil beasts. Ever since it landed, the world has been in turmoil with earthquakes, tidal waves and more. Claude thinks that this may be related to the giant metallic ball they found on the other side of the gate and decides that it's his best course of action.
And along the way, he meets other people that help to fill out his party, engages in side quests to build up relationships with them and gain historical background and otherwise just does things that are very much in the fashion of a role playing game. Everyone in this world talks to him, everyone has something useful to offer and I swore I almost saw him thinking about walking into a strangers house just to start asking the people who lived there some questions. Some of the characters he meet are there to help him out in the long run, such as the attractive Celine who is a master of heraldic magic, or others like Dias who doesn't believe that Claude can protect Rena or do anything that he intends to do since he's so weak. Honestly, if you can't plot out much of the basics of the series from the first couple of episodes then the show really is aimed at you because this material is fresh to you, which is good. Not everyone comes out of the crib playing RPGs or is used to these stories. But for those who are, this is almost going to be painful.
While there are a few things that kind of irk me about the show that fall into the RPG caveat, the one that really grinds at me is one of the simplest of things. When we see Claude early on in the show on board the spaceship, am I the only one that finds it strange that everyone has a very similar uniform but Claude? And not only is his completely different and has few of the markings on it that the others do, but he's allowed to wear a red headband and giant green boots? And an open jacket like that? I mean, come on guys, work with us a little bit here. Personally, I'd much rather see Claude start off in a regular uniform and then see that become "worn down" to something more fantasy-oriented as he lives in the new world. The otherworldly nature of his uniform would work well in the fantasy setting in helping set him apart. While what he has on is good enough for that world, it's so different from what everyone else we're aware of on that ship is wearing that it just annoys me to know end.
When it comes to RPG's, it seems like they still haven't figured out how to really translate them well into anime. Either that or this series is most definitely aimed at a pre-teen age group that hasn't had too much experience with RPG's yet and this gives them something formulaic to work with that's new and fresh to them. If this show is representative of the game as well, then it looks to be one of those that is just pretty basic and without much depth. The anime plays out so much like a game at times that it's almost comical, you can almost imagine the text-block windows popping up when the secondary characters start talking or some of the panning sequences go by. From the opening sequence that we had seen, I was looking forward to a fun fantasy/sci-fi mesh series but instead I think we're getting a series of side quests tied to one simple arc.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Character Profiles,Textless Opening,Japanese Opening
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: C
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
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: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Star Ocean EX