Stellvia Vol. #6 (of 8) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, August 08, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, August 09, 2005



What They Say
I can understand that Although we are together, everybody is different It feels like I'm in a world that is on the opposite side of a mirror. (Yayoi Kuzuhara)

The plan to rescue the officers trapped inside Ultima has failed and the unidentified flying objects have continued their siege of the foundation. With few choices left, Jinrai declares war. Meanwhile, the commanding officers of Ultima are starting to realize their opponent's true intentions.

Everyone's nerves are on edge as the notion of war with the UFOs sweep over the students. Kouta and Shima are chosen to pilot the Infi in preparation for this war. So as time ticks away friendships collapse and internal strife begins even as a new threat appears on the horizon.

The Review!
While they're mostly transitional episodes that are putting the pieces in place for the ending, the cast is thrown through the stress wringer once more in having to deal with not only the aliens but each other.

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 mildly reddish-orange 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 one of the Foundation's situation rooms at night.

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)
The three episode per disc run of Stellvia has worked fairly well so far in terms of keeping arcs together and ending in just the right place but with this volume it doesn't hold up quite as well due to the episodes being transitional pieces and fairly weak. While there are interesting things going on and its mostly character driven, it's not something that's all that memorable or jumps out at you.

Interestingly, the first episode brings to a close a part of the Ultima storyline as everyone has finally gotten in place to try and rescue everyone. It's taken a lot of time from the start of the project to actually getting here but with everyone on board focused on the rescue, it plays out in a very orderly an effective manner. The increased power given to the Infi has kept Kouta and Katase very busy during the trip in rewriting a lot of the applications and getting things ready for the actual event. Watching it all unfold though it's fairly anticlimactic as the UFO creatures swarm about while the fighter pilots take them on and distract them while those trapped on board the Ultima are freed. What's really strange is what happens afterwards as the UFO's realize that they've lost but then hijack the Ultima entirely with some massive tentacle like space-octopus and warp it elsewhere.

The eventual return of the core cast of characters being together on the Stellvia again allows the show to start feeling more like itself again but not without a price. Kouta and Katase have spent something like three months away from everyone and at that age it's like a lifetime for some of them. So many of them have changed in how their relationships are and their studies, some have switched entirely what they were interested in to something else, that for Katase it's difficult for her to adapt to all of this. She's starting to again feel left out of things and going lonely, but that's the last thing she needs to do so she fights against it. And she's not sure she can go to Kouta after all this since she realized that the two of them did spend three months together and absolutely nothing changed between them. That's good in a way but bad in others and to a teenage girls mind, disastrous.

A lot of what's filling out the rest of the episodes is moving things around and pushing the plot forward a bit about the war that's now seemingly inevitable. The discussions among the higher ranks filters down and around and sets the mood for things but overall these episodes just don't excite that much, even when you have the action sequences early on with the Infi and the UFO's. The lull that Katase seemingly falls into and tries to make sure doesn't overwhelm is almost the same kind of thing that the viewer finds themselves falling into. Even as you see where the plot is going, the way it reveals itself here just doesn't excite or motivate unfortunately.

In Summary:
Stellvia's been an enjoyable series and continues to be with this volume but it just lacks something here that worked well in the previous volumes. The shift into this storyline after the Earth was protected was well done but it's not been pushed as well as it could be along the way as it seems to meander a bit or not quite hit things right. With only two volumes left it's already feeling like that the show should be coming to a close and that it might have overstayed its visit, but those two volumes could change direction completely. This wasn't an easy volume to get through in a way but the characters make me want to see more of it.

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, 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: 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