Stratos 4 Vol. #2 (of 3) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, August 12, 2005
Release Date: Monday, July 11, 2005
What They Say
Mikaze tries at last assert herself, but the ordeals she has to go through are as tough as they are unexpected: going before a committee of inquiry, chasing a cat all over the base, rebuilding a space prototype, and above all, rebelling against her parents! Life certainly is no picnic at the training center...
After an enjoyable first volume suddenly the show hits the mid-series lull and definitely disappoints.
I watched these four episodes in Japanese with English subtitles, noticed no dropouts or distortions during playback. The stereo track is nice and clear, but doesn’t have anything to make it stand out from other tracks. I continued to enjoy the performances of the Japanese actors, especially the four lead girls who gel really well together.
I sampled the English dub, and it continues to work surprisingly well. For whatever reason, Bandai decided to employ the vocal talents of 80s singers Stacey Q and Tiffany. I’ve no idea why they chose Stratos 4 to get some singers for voices, but so far it works. At least for Stacey Q, who apparently voices Karin. I’ve no idea when Tiffany shows up or who she plays (and couldn’t find any information on it), but she’s supposedly in there somewhere. Anyway, the dub itself was really enjoyable, especially again with the performances of the main girls, so I look forward to seeing more of it.
Presented in its original full frame aspect ratio, this is a really nice looking transfer. Colours are vibrant throughout, and I didn’t see any artifacting or aliasing, which is always a big plus in newer shows. It looks very good and the nice transfer is a huge bonus. The openings and endings are left in their original Japanese kanji forms, but unfortunately there’s no English translation present anywhere on this disc, which is a bit frustrating to say the least, and the only place that Beez lose a few marks (the English credits usually roll after the last episode).
The English subtitles are white, in a clearly readable font, and are relatively error free.
Packaged in a white keepcase, the presentation of this disc looks really nice all round. The front cover features the four main girls in their spacesuits in front of an aircraft, with the show’s logo down the side. The disc is also clearly numbered in the top left corner. The back cover features a screenshot from each episode along with the titles and a summary of the disc. Extras are clearly listed, and a technical information box is clear at the bottom of the disc.
The cover is also reversible, featuring the same image of the girls as the regular cover, only the girls are now dressed in bikinis. There was no insert included with this volume.
The menu begins with a nice little animation featuring all the girls and the show’s logo, before going into the main menu which is basically the same as the last disc. It
has an image of Mikaze off to the left, with the show logo at the top and selections down the side. There’s a border running round the outskirts, with clips from the show in the background as music also plays. The sub-menus also feature clips playing in the background, with different music and different images of the girls scattered around. A nice addition is that each sub-menu gives you the ability to jump to all the other sub-menus, making access times really fast. Overall this looks like a slick production.
The extras continue to be pretty good here, and are generally music-centric. First up we have a nice music video for the show, and then an interview with Hinata Megumi from Melocure, talking about how she composed the series’ opening theme, “1st Priority”. The interview is followed by the music video for the song, which you can also access directly from the menu. Finally we also have a textless version of the second ending. It’s a nice batch of extras, and my only gripe is that the labels on the menu for each extra aren’t really that descriptive.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While I wasn’t completely taken with Stratos 4 after its first volume, I did enjoy it quite a lot and thought that this could become a solid and interesting show. Those thoughts didn’t really change until one particular episode on this release that will probably be either like it or hate it, and potentially could be a make or break episode for some people. While it didn’t quite get to that point to me, it certainly put a whole downer on the show for the rest of the disc.
It all starts so well, too. Following the events of the last disc, the girls are all a bit annoyed at Mikaze’s antics, and she is called to a hearing to justify her actions. While those questioning her give her some spiel about it not being a military hearing or anything, you know it’s a big deal and she gets a bit of a grilling, with the rest of the girls even being called in to give evidence.
With this episode I really thought that the series might keep the plot coming, what with the consequences of the enquiry and also the scenes with the Comet Blasters. The conflicts between the girls were nicely highlighted, as were Mikaze’s worries about what the consequences might be. Of course, it was also nice to see all the girls come together and pull through again in the scene with the Comet Blasters, and have their friendships cemented.
So it was all good up until this point, when things went horribly wrong. For some reason, and I have no idea what possessed the creative team to actually do it, they decided to focus the entire episode on the cat (the one the girls call Admiral). At first it was quite amusing, then it got a bit silly and then it just became a chore. It just became clear that they weren’t going for any real purpose with this episode, other than to manufacture stupid and pointless situations for the cat to get into to give the episode some semblance of a story.
As such, we end up with a story (at least in the second half, after the even more fluffy, non-plot part has ended) in which the cat manages to get hold of a chip that needs to be delivered within three hours. So the search begins to find the cat, and it all goes rather predictably, with Karin, who doesn’t like cats, being the one to spot the cat fight, and so on and so forth.
The only real redeeming feature of this episode for me was the cat fight, with the subtitled cat talk. It was quite funny (although the cat sound effects, at least on the Japanese track, just weren’t convincing in the slightest), and gave me a bit of a chuckle before the episode descended further into stupidity. I expect some people would enjoy this type of episode, and that’s fine. After all, the series has never been too heavy on the plot, but this was just too much of a waste of time for my liking. When there are only 13 episodes, they could’ve done a far better character building episode.
Unfortunately, that one episode managed to taint the series in my eyes, at least for the duration of the rest of this disc. The remaining two episodes aren’t exactly bad, but they still seemed a bit below-par for my liking. Both have a central focus as the girls work to build a single-person craft that can go into space. It’s a dangerous thing and not something that’s done much, but it rekindles the passion they all have for going in to space. The final episode on the disc also sees the families of everyone at the base arrive for a festival, so we get to see how Mikaze gets on with her famous family, from her parents to her big sister, and how each of the girls’ families interact with each other.
While these last two episodes do serve up a little bit of characterisation, thanks to both the family interactions and the way their drive is renewed by working on the spacecraft, it still feels a bit lacking, and the sour taste that the cat episode left in my mouth was still apparent. Even a completely random and unexplained Lesbian kiss couldn’t increase my enjoyment. While I never expected Stratos 4 to be really deep, I did expect a pretty solid story with some fun adventures, in the same vein as Najica (from the same production studio). The first volume did a really good job of introducing the characters and the premise, started a fun little story and was pretty enjoyable. But instead of following suit, after the first episode on this volume I found myself hard-pressed to find anything good to say. While I don’t generally let a single episode of a series dampen my view of it, the cat episode just eroded all my enjoyment from the series and quite frankly should’ve been left to rot in the depths of the mind of whoever came up with the story for it.
It’s a shame that, despite another excellent presentation from Beez, Stratos 4 takes a severe dip in quality on this disc and doesn’t really recover from it. It’s still pretty unoriginal, but the enjoyment that was present in the first disc is all but sapped away here, and has made me quite ambivalent about even bothering to watch the final volume. Of course I will watch it to review it, but I doubt I’ll be anticipating it which is a shame as the series really built itself up to be a nice, if light and fluffy, series.
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Dutch Subtitles,Music Clip,Interview and Music Video,Textless Ending Version 2
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.
Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Beez
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Stratos 4