Star Ocean EX Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, March 28, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, March 22, 2005
What They Say
Their quest to find the Sorcery Globe takes Claude, Rena and Celine to Port Harley. However, before they can arrive, they are sidetracked by an encounter with Ashton, a swordsman who single-handedly faced a hideous two-headed dragon, but wound up attached to the beast! Claude and his fellow adventurers decide to help Ashton and must face numerous bloodthirsty creatures on their odyssey including the beautiful alien named Opera, Demon Bird Jean and a cursed ghost ship!
Based on the Sony Playstation game, Star Ocean The Second Story (tri-Ace Inc., SQUARE ENIX), “Star Ocean Ex” is now reborn as an animated series featuring series concepts developed by Kenichi Kanemaki (writer for Agent Aika, Ai Yori Aoshi), directed by Hiroshi Watanabe (Slayers Movie, Bandit King Jing, Orphen) and with animation by Studio Deen (You're Under Arrest, Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X)!
On the road to find out what the Sorcery Globe is all about, the group makes new friends, new enemies and general adventuring ensues.
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 shot of Ashton with his double dragons wrapping around him while the background splits between the fire and ice theme that the dragons themselves represent. It's very nicely detailed with the blacks and the background itself. 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 ending as well as the original Japanese ending. Also included is a set of character profiles that have to be, well, the most useless things I've seen included as an extra in quite some time. Like the first volume, 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)
With the first volume of Star Ocean EX, we got to see some really poorly written scenes in space with a young man named Claude who has some serious issues with his father. That then shifted into a show where Claude is thrust into the hero role on some strange fantasy planet where a mysterious Sorcery Globe on another continent has caused monsters to appear all over the world and wreck havoc among the population. With the help initially from a young girl named Rena who saw him as the savior and then slowly acquiring more friends, Claude and company journey towards a port where they can grab a ship to the continent where they can figure out this mystery.
With its basis in a video game series but more loosely based than a direct port, as well as having some characters become completely different in their personalities, the anime version very much felt like a game. Side quests and filler actually showed up in the first five episodes so it ended up very much feeling in that direction and didn't leave much of a last impression. With the five episodes here that bring us up to episode ten, the show once more feels that way in a number of ways but some of what it pulls in actually helps to make it feel a bit smoother. Getting away from that entire sequence in space with Claude's father and the awful writing surrounding their relationship is a huge plus.
The road trip aspect of the show is one of the main features of the series so far since we have initially the small trio of characters in Claude, Rena and Celine heading towards Port Harley so they can catch a ship to take them to El Continent. One of the areas where this actually works out nicely during this set of episodes is that a new character is brought into the group called Ashton. He initially shows up when the group is hired to deal with some monsters in a cave nearby a village and he's already there attacking them. The monsters turn out to be two dragons which through a strange circumstance end up bonding to his back, which gives him just their heads and lengthy necks.
The group decides to help him and they go on something of a sidequest to find what's needed to undo the bonding, but along the way the two dragons bring something rather fun to the group. Both of them are quite intelligent and they take turns taking over Ashton's body and mind and using him as they see fit, which includes using their powers and the like. The dragons are also crafty little buggers who snatch Ashton's food and generally mess with him throughout the journey. It's a really neat little gimmick and I liked how it played out, particularly since the dragons themselves aren't just cute mascots but actual thinking and talking creatures. Their cuteness factor is a close second however.
Much like the first set of episodes, the stories are fairly slapstick in nature when they get down to things, such as when in Port Harley you have the inn they're staying in being robbed and the three robbers are people we've seen before and are easily caught after some trouble. They show up again in the next episode as well which is a ghost ship filler episode that has them as cooks as they try to escape from the normal burglar lifestyle only to keep running into our heroes again and again. The dragons themselves bring in plenty of slapstick material as well as they mess with Ashton and then the way the rest of the characters are in general has that feel to it. It seems to flow and fit better as we get further into the series however since we're more familiar with the cast and they're working better with each other rather than a lot of this happening just as they meet.
But for all intents and purposes, we're ten episodes into the series and it is very much taking on the road trip mentality and playing up a number of the clichés from that as well as having that quasi video game feel to it. It's not bad even though it plays up things you can see a mile away but it just falls into that category of being pretty average. A few bright spots here and there aren't able to help elevate it up all that much. With the differences between this and the game it's something of a crapshoot whether fans of the game will enjoy it or whether this will inspire fans to get the games, but we're looking just at the anime by itself and for the most part it continues to underwhelm us but it doesn't insult us at least.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Character Profiles,Textless Ending,Japanese 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: 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