While it certainly has its eye rolling moments when it comes to believability, Rocket Girls harkens back to that era where anything is possible while pushing enough science to nudge you over the edge into it.
What They Say:
School is finally out for the summer and Yukari Morita has big plans this season. It’s off to the Solomon Islands for her, in search of her long lost father. Unfortunately the archipelago stretches over 28,000 square kilometers and boasts a population of about 500,000 people. With odds like that, what’s a girl to do? Luckily for Yukari the local Solomon Space Agency is in desperate need of a new astronaut. With their promise to help find her father Yukari begins her part time job as an astronaut! Prepare to blast off into a world of fun, facts and fan-service at 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface!
What We Say:
Rocket Girls comes to us with only a single language track which is unfortunate. The original Japanese language track is done up in a standard 224kbps stereo mix which serves the material pretty well. There are some nice impact scenes, often revolving around the rockets themselves, which could have used a 5.1 mix to really add some extra bass to the scene but it’s not really necessary for a show like this. The bulk of it is dialogue driven and that’s done well with the forward soundstage that conveys things clearly and without problems. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the series.
Originally airing in the first half of 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Rocket Girls is a series that does vary at times with its production values and has some problematic areas. A great deal of it is simply source related by all appearances as Bandai has smartly released this twelve episode series across three discs. The main issue is that there’s a fair bit of banding visible in a number of scenes, CG ones included, but mostly when you have a scene going from either light to dark or vice versa. It’s a fairly standard problem that really doesn’t amount to much overall in comparison to the rest of the show. Beyond a few noisy areas here and there, the design of the show is very vibrant and alive, very appealing, which comes across wonderfully here. The bulk of the series has a strong look that fits with the near real world style they’re using while still making it feel even more alive.
The three disc set for Rocket Girls is in a standard size single disc keepcase which doesn’t have any interior hinges to it which I rather like. The front cover artwork has a cute shot of the three leads in school uniforms, which looks weird on Matsuri, which is set against an Earthscape that has the sun setting behind them as well as the orbiter floating by. It fits well enough with the theme and plays on some traditional marketing devices. The back cover is simple and nicely laid out as it uses several shots from the show including one of Yukari in her skintight spacesuit. The summary covers the basic premise of the series with ease and a breakdown of what episodes are one what disc with titles and numbers gives it a bigger feeling. Add in the basic features listing, the extras and the usual production alongside the technical grid and it’s a well rounded cover for the most part. No inserts are included nor is there a reverse side cover.
The menu design for the series is simple as each of the menus features the core trio of characters in different configurations while being set against an Earthscape background. It’s appealing in its simplicity, especially as the first two volumes only have the show itself on it, but sometimes it can feel too simple. While I don’t look for razzle dazzle all the time, and this is a budget release, I can always hope for a bit more in the thematic department. Rocket Girls is a serviceable set of menus that functions well, loads quickly and doesn’t have any issues with player presets. Amusingly enough though, the single Japanese language track is actually coded as an English language track, just to add a little more insult to the injury that some fans likely feel.
The extras for Rocket Girls are pretty meager but I admit to loving one of them. The clean versions of the opening and ending sequences are definitely appreciated, especially to admire the end sequence artwork, but it’s the Pilot Episode that wowed me. This was produced back in 2001 based on the light novels and it shows a very similar yet very different show. It looks very theatrical in design and presentation and not quite as fanservice oriented in the character design of Yukari. In fact, she looks far more real here which gives it a very different feel. I loved the look of it – and that so much remained the same – that I’d love to see a theatrical presentation done in this style and level of detail even if it’s a streamlined retelling of what the TV series is.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on a series of light novels by HÅsuke Nojiri, Rocket Girls anime series is twelve episodes long and covers the first two novels which were released in the mid 1990’s. Thankfully, even though the anime was created in 2007, it doesn’t seem to have run into any serious issues with timeliness or feeling outdated because of what it is. At its core, Rocket Girls is a feel good show about striving towards the future. So it’s only fitting that the trailers on the third volume are of a similar nature in that we see Freedom, Planetes and Stratos 4. Rocket Girls owes more to Stratos 4 than anything else, but there is the same love of technology and space in the series as there is in all three of those series. Though they’re all quite different, they’re also all part of the same family.
Rocket Girls takes place in a non-descript present day time period where a group of the faithful from Japan have decided to really make it work in getting out into space. The plan is to be lighter, cheaper and faster than everyone else and offer a service that nobody else is providing. In order to do this, a group of several hundred people have formed a launch site facility on the Solomon Islands and have taken on the name of the Solomon Space Agency. With numerous islands there and plenty of space, it’s ideal to work in and it’s given them a chance to really start testing their rockets and plans. Unfortunately, it’s not gone all that well and their attempts at creating a light weight rocket delivery vehicle has met with catastrophe after catastrophe. A lot of this comes from the main chemical engineer in charge of designing a new solid fuel who keeps causing massive explosions.
Into this rather complicated little world arrives Yukari Morita, a high school student who is using her summer vacation to find her father. He left during the honeymoon many years ago by going out onto the island to see the moon and never came back. Her mother raised her well and only talked positive about her father, but she needs some sort of closure, to know whether he’s even alive or not. Yukari’s arrival comes at an opportune time for the Solomon Space Agency as they have just decided to go back to an earlier stage rocket and that means their main pilot, Yasukawa, has to lose quite a bit of weight. He’s freaked out and headed out of the project entirely as fast as he can and Yukari walks into right off the bat. It’s like fate as the Director of the SSA sees him and realizes that this may be the new way of thinking about things; slim, younger and lightweight, Yukari provides an ideal for the future astronaut of the agency.
Yukari isn’t exactly enamored by the idea, but being told that they’ll help her find her father on the island gets her to sign up for the deal of becoming an astronaut. It’s sort of corny and shady in its own way, playing to the world of “anime rules” of course, but it progresses smoothly and they twist it rather nicely in the second episode when Yukari actually finds her father. It sort of negates her reason for keeping up with the deal, but it’s tackled handily in a way that points towards her responsible side. What complicates it all is that she finds out that her father has had several wives over the years and she’s introduced to a younger daughter by a year or so named Matsuri who is a completely native girl in every regard. Surprisingly, the two get along pretty well even though they’re opposites and it doesn’t take long for the SSA to recruit her as a back-up as well.
Rocket Girls goes through a fairly standard progression point from therein out where Yukari and Matsuri go through various kinds of training, bond together a bit and start to really grasp the scope of what they’re involved with. The secondary cast of characters is cute and harmless while also making sure that the main plot points are well served. There’s a certain amount of disbelief that you really have to suspend here in regards to these high school age girls being sent out into space, but at the same time I have to admit that there is also a certain realism to it. Combining “conservative technology” from the Apollo era with girls who are very much up on modern technology is certainly plausible. While they may feel uncomfortable with large clunky piece of equipment, so much of it is done comfortably via remote and with assistance that they are becoming more passengers than real pilots. But what’s fascinating is that while Yukari isn’t presented as a ditz by any stretch, we see just how smart she is as she gets into the program and truly applies herself. Much of this is made all the more apparent when her mother finally comes to visit as Yukari is exposed to the world as a future astronaut.
Visually, I really like what Rocket Girls looks like. The CG and technology side is certainly clean but it has a classic look to it which fits with its conservative bent as discussed during the show. The locale is also a plus since it takes place in the middle of a jungle on the Solomon Islands. It’s not a familiar locale, it’s not one that has the girls running off into the city at every chance they get, and it really doesn’t invite a lot of outside attention until they make the announcement about the pilots and their ages. The jungle backdrop is very appealing when it’s put into play and the time spent inside the ordinary buildings of the SSA is predictable and fits well.
But what draws the most, deservedly so, is when the series spends its time in space. Whether it’s the actual launches themselves or the time spent drifting around performing checks and solving emergencies, there is time where it’s all about the awe of the moment. The girls are humbled by all of it when they’re able to take that time. And the visuals match it quite well, whether it’s the simple shot of them being up against the large blue Earth behind them or seeing a sunset across the planet from 3000km. There are numerous “money shots” here for the space enthusiast to enjoy and that is what helps keep it in the same realm as the series we mentioned earlier that Rocket Girls has being played into.
Rocket Girls isn’t a show that’s going to hit big by any stretch, but it’s a solidly enjoyable show that’s very appealing to a certain segment of fans. It’s very easy to recommend this both to fans of Stratos 4 as well as Planetes. It’s sort of a bridge between the two and because of its light novel origins, it doesn’t have the usual plot setup and progression that we see from a manga adaptation. The characters are all enjoyable, they have simple but well done personalities and the show is filled with a lot of very good animation. The release is solid overall with no real technical issues and it simply lacks a dub. But getting all these episodes in one set is a real plus. My only hope is that Bandai tries the approach later of splitting the disc out into singles and trying to plug them for ten bucks a pop to catch people who want to sample first. If all the sunk costs are handled through a set like this, it certainly couldn’t hurt. Either way, this is a show that appeals to some of my core loves of storytelling and anime and it gets an enthusiastic recommendation.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Textless Opening, Textless Ending, Rocket Girls Pilot Episode
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.