Stellvia Vol. #4 (of 8) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, March 21, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, April 12, 2005



What They Say
"The Second Wave has passed replacing our green universe with a red one. The threat of extinction has been narrowly averted. Consequently, a mysterious flying object has started to appear near the Ultima Foundation…

The new DLS control systems are a bit difficult to master. Some students never do get the hang of it. However, Shima seems to have no trouble at all and scores the highest record. It’s no wonder that Ayaka seems a bit irritated. An irritation that can bring about unthinkable actions… Then it’s off to Earth for Christmas vacation. Shima and Kouta visit their families for the first time since school started. But it's a short trip when..."

The Review!
With the Great Mission over it's time for everything to start changing.

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. 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 shiny nature of the covers with a dark purple that mixes well with the characters. This one goes to bring in several of the secondary characters in their uniforms floating against the background. The foil cover continues to work 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 of some area of space with part of the wave residue.

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:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Stellvia's one of those series that at the end of the third volume you really have to wonder where things are going to go now that the Great Mission is over. The opening of this volume actually teases about this a bit as it starts to talk about how humanity has come together for the past several generations to fight off this dark day but now that it's come and gone there are different ideas about how to go about bringing humanity into space. Most of the focus for now is on Ultima though and that's keeping things fairly status quo.

It's interesting to see what kind of stories are being told in the aftermath of things, particularly as someone like Katase being as famous as she is now after the Mission. One of the things they introduce is a new guidance system called DLS that provides much more information to the pilot and almost makes things that are invisible visible, showing more of how space works and all kinds of tricks that you can do with it. Katase takes right to it after a quick learning moment unlike practically everyone else that just screws up heavily and flounders about. What this leads into is Katase coming across Ayaka who wants to try to talk to her and figure things out after all that's gone on. Instead, Ayaka gets so flustered and upset about the way Katase carries herself, her coming into the pilots program because it sounded fun, her general positive outlook on life, that she insists the two take some special training.

When Yayoi hears of this, she realizes Ayaka is going down the same path as two years ago that led to her own going back to Earth and tries to stop it. Katase's so completely unaware of the situation that she's taking the training as just a normal thing and something lucky to get since she's getting to go up against one of the Big Four and doesn't realize that on some level Ayaka is trying to injure or kill her. The way all of it plays out is interesting since it avoids the usual kind of things such as having Katase or even Yayoi actually forgive Ayaka for what she's doing but rather just wanting to know the real reasons behind it and trying to understand what's going on. Finally getting into Ayaka's head is interesting enough but I really just liked how the others dealt with the situation knowing that there's a good chance she'll be expelled for what she did.

While the missions and space material has been a fascinating enough aspect of the series and its main thrust, the character interactions are what really keep you coming back episode after episode. This volume gets to do a Christmas episode which is rather amusing since the entire place gets done up and all sorts of parties and events happen during it. The group we've gotten to know has managed to stay fairly close together and tight-knit so getting them to do a holiday event together is only natural and it's actually rather free of problems, though it does bring in some of the romance elements of the show that have been kept to the side for quite a lot of the time so far. The Big Four, or Three really, get some nice play in this storyline since they're concerned about Ayaka but also wanting to make sure things are properly taken care of. The context within the relationship of the four is exposed a bit more and it's interesting to see the reality behind it as opposed to how it looked from the other students point of view.

The mixture of the Christmas episode and the storyline that deals with Rinna going back home to the Ultima makes up a lot of the character driven stuff here that's fun to deal with. A bit of an Earthside adventure kicks in as well with both Katase and Kouta going back and learning much more about each other after their holiday break, but this gets punctuated by the start of the next storyline which revolves around a problem at the Ultima with strange objects showing up and disrupting things. The way the kids have aged in only the three or four months they've been involved with things is showcased nicely throughout their Earth side adventures though since they carry themselves just a bit different, a touch more confident but also with something of a sense of purpose.

In Summary:
Stellvia has earned many kudos for avoiding dragging the first storyline out for the entire series and instead doing something of a fake out by ending it in the first ten episodes and then making us wonder what the real nature of events is going to be. The Great Mission is over but the real mission still feels like its coming and those on board are still being trained and prodded to excel so they know something is still going on. The balance between the work life and fun life is well kept here and we're able to see them perform well on both counts and enjoy the idea of young romance in a situation like they're in. With the only downside here really being the low episode count that's keeping me from seeing what's really in store, this is a very fun show and I'm looking forward to seeing more.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

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: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Stellvia