Crest of the Stars Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: D+
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Bandai Entertainment
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Crest of the Stars

Crest of the Stars Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     June 05, 2001
Release Date: June 05, 2001


Crest of the Stars Vol. #1
© Bandai Entertainment


What They Say
Jinto Lin's life changes forever when the Humankind Empire Abh takes over his home planet of Martine without firing a single shot. He is soon sent off to study the Abh language and culture and to prepare himself for his future as a nobleman--a future he never dreamed of. Or wanted. Now, Jinto is entering the next phase of his training, and he is about to meet his first Abh, the lovely Lafiel. But Jinto is about to learn that she is more than she appears to be. And together they will have to fight for their very lives. Episodes 1-4.

The Review!
My first encounter with Crest of the Stars was a small advertisement for the first Japanese DVD of it in an issue of Animage. Seeing the artwork of this show I knew absolutely nothing about, I instantly fell in love with it. I wanted to know more. And without reading anything about it, I ordered that volume that had the first two episodes on it. And even for a TV series that was recently produced, it had stunning animation quality. We were in love. Especially when we learned that Bandai was bringing over the first of the three seasons that are currently done.

Audio:
For our primary review, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. Throughout the disc there's about 95% dialogue, 4% music and about 1% worth if ambient effects. Well, maybe not that bad, but this is very much a character driven story where the tale is being told. And thankfully, there aren't any problems with the audio that we could detect. What may confuse some people however is that there's a third language spoken in the tracks, the alien Abh language. Many times, such as during the opening prologue, when Abh is spoken it's not translated. It was the same for the Japanese viewers as well. Times when it is translated, there are burned in Japanese subtitles. If you don't see those but hear someone talking in a different language, it's Abh. I'm glad Bandai didn't translate the non-subtitled scenes as it does add to the alien feeling of the Abh initially.

Video:
I'm becoming convinced that ComChoice was made so I'd have some video to seriously complain about. Bandai has strayed from the POP/Cinram authoring house for this release and gone with a company I've previously lambasted in Blue Submarine No. 6 - Toonami, Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz: Toonami and Tokyopop's first offering of Spring and Chaos. For those who've read my reviews over the years, you know that I generally don't mention other titles in reviews for comparison and that even more rarely, do I present screen captures to show what's wrong with it. But having seen what's been done, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Images supplied by David Karlin

cotscap1.jpg (43294 bytes)cotscap2.jpg (53638 bytes)
Images supplied by David Karlin


These are two of the more obvious shots of what's wrong. They're very fast motions and you do have to be quick to see them. I found myself in the first two episodes doing several rewinds and rechecking areas where I thought I saw something. And often I saw what's above. The opening credits also suffer a lot, noticeably in the reds and other expanding gas clouds where things turn excessively blocky when they should be solid. The main planet of Martine, which is awash in vibrant blues, shows many excessively blocky scenes. In the third episode, we see part of a starship where light begins to hit it and the previously dark image becomes more visible to where we can see it plainly. As that's done, it's massive artifacting and blockiness. I simply couldn't believe I was seeing that.

The show itself is very much awash in blues. Many of the interiors, which take place on space stations and starships, are shades of blue. Watching closely on a lot of these scenes you'll see the blockiness in the background there as well. There's a lot of pixellation and some line noise throughout the episodes as well. The third and fourth episodes make out somewhat better than the earlier episodes, but every time I thought things would finally settle down, something else came along and just literally had me shaking my head in disbelief.

I don't like comparing region 1 and region 2 discs. There are too many different factors working in the creation of each of them. While I hadn't expected the region 1 disc to look as drop dead gorgeous as the region 2 one, I hadn't expected it to be the worst looking disc that Bandai would produce outside of the Toonami versions. This is very disappointing.

Packaging:
The front cover is basically a slightly zoomed in version of the region 2 cover, which is just dandy in my book. The look of Lafiel and Jinto with the crests around them works well, and gives you the info right away as to who the primary characters are. And add in that Lafiel has that elfen look and you've hooked a number of other folks. The reverse side provides a small strip of images from the show and a nice summary of the episodes inside. Features are listed nicely (though with the coy "Extras!" instead of what's actually on there) as well as episode numbers and titles. The insert provides another shot of the cover on the outside while the interior gives us the Abh alphabet and the corresponding English alphabet, which can help in tracking down some of the computer screens on the show.

Menus:
The menu layout is pretty simple, with a crest displayed on the main screen and the episode selections on the left. The bottom has the play/setup/extras selections listed in the Abh language, but also pop up the English translation when you highlight them. The language selection menus were a bit annoying in that once you make your selection, you a) can't tell that it actually made it as the selection button remains the same black color and b) it pops you back out into the main menu, causing me to go back in to select the subtitles. Otherwise, the menus are pretty decent and seem to work relatively well.

Extras:
There's a couple of nice extras included here. The textless opening (though very tame compared to many others) makes the list here first (the ending is likely to show up in a later disc). I had watched this before the show itself, and had hoped the visible artifacting here was just due to the opening being an extra and having less quality applied to it. There's also a five page piece on the history of the Abh that goes over a few relevant details that I think should be read prior to viewing the disc. They aren't spoilers, but they do help flesh a few things out. If unsure, hold off until afterwards.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I have to admit a bias for this show. I've been anticipating it for awhile, read up on it a bit and have generally been sitting on my hands waiting for it. Casting aside the bad authoring job, the actual show itself is great.

This opening arc series known as Crest of the Stars is 13 episodes in total, and is part of a series of science fiction novels in Japan. Not manga, novels. The printed word. There are currently two other seasons of 13 episodes each that have finished their run as well in Japan, so there's definitely a lot of story to tell.

And judging by these opening four episodes, it is a story. These episodes really do flow like a novel in how they're told. Looking at how very little happens here, these four episodes would be told in one episode in any other series. But this slower pace, the more detailed look of the world the characters inhabit and the makeup of the galaxies gives hint to a lot bigger things in the background.

The show starts off with a ten year old Jinto Lin, the son of the president of the human world of Martine. The planet is being invaded by the Humankind Abh Empire, and are given very little choice in things as they're a relatively weak planet. President Rock Lin gives in and surrenders the planet, but acquires himself the title of Count, and finds himself taken offplanet and into the Abh imperial court.

Jinto is spirited away while the planet begins its conversion to the Abh ways. Jinto ends up spending the next seven years in schooling to learn the Abh history, language and culture. Jinto hides this information from his friends that he makes while the schooling goes on, but all of this is done off camera. We simply speed forward to the seven years later as he begins his next journey, which is to join the Star Forces, the military arm of the Abh.

The Abh race is very interesting. They've chosen to live among the stars and the starlanes, preferring to not rule the actual planets but to control their ability to commit warfare in space and to put an economic hold on the planets. Their empire spans something like 20,000 inhabited worlds in the galaxy. In the course of their evolution from humanity, they've done extensive genetic manipulation to themselves. Their average lifespan is between 200 to 300 years and their appearance is always designed to be attractive and to have blue hair. The resulting look is slightly elfen, graceful and an embodiment of a kind of "star gods" that would attempt to run the star lanes this way.

While we learn all of this, it's through conversations that Jinto has as he's escorted onto a sizeable Abh ship by a military trainee by the name of Lafiel. It's through the discourse between the two of them that we learn more about Jinto himself, the Abh and Lafiel. Lafiel's interactions with Jinto bring to light some of the differences between the two species as well as bringing in the alien element to balance Jinto's curiosity about everything. The two are very well mannered people, both to some level concerned about how they're interacting with others.

In all the years of Jinto's training, he had never met an Abh until Lafiel came to retrieve him, so he's very unsure of how to behave now that he's become a nobleman. Jinto's interactions not only with Lafiel but the captain of the ship that's escorting him to his military schooling provides more insights into both characters and how they operate.

In the four episodes, the general purpose is to introduce the two main characters and get them started on their journey. There's hardly any action at all until the very end of the fourth episode, and even then it's just a potential set up for conflict that may very well be off camera. This is definitely not a show that's typically released in the US. While there've been plenty of character driven shows, it's all been draped in action/dramatic adventure modes. This has very little of those trappings so far, and I find it very engaging.

The attention to detail is quite intriguing. One of the more fascinating aspects, and it's something that is likely due to the source material being a fully fleshed novel, is that aboard the Abh starships, almost all of the corridors contain various paintings or pictures of planets. One passageway contains nothing but a continual flower of sunflowers. With the Abh not caring much for being planetbound, they know what's in their past and something like this haunts them, even if they've never seen it in person. It's very refreshing to see such things presented within this show.

This show is definitely not going to be for everyone, but it's going to satisfy a growing group of people who are looking for something different, something that hasn't been done a million times... something where when the main character thinks internally, we learn along with him what's going on and appreciate the surroundings even more.

I'm adoring this show very much and cannot wait for more. I hope Bandai picks up the sequel series and in the future considers getting the novels translated. This is a series that needs to be marketed outside the anime field to those folks who read the hard science fiction novels. I'm simply enamored and for the content, I cannot recommend it enough.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,History of the Abh

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

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