Stratos 4 Vol. #2 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B-

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B-
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Bandai Entertainment
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Stratos 4

Stratos 4 Vol. #2

By Chris Beveridge     September 24, 2004
Release Date: September 28, 2004


Stratos 4 Vol. #2
© Bandai Entertainment


What They Say
Karin has not yet regained consciousness. Ayamo is furious. Shizuha doesn't know what to do. And Mikaze is heading off for the inquiry hearing she's been summoned to. Life sure has become difficult for the Meteor Sweepers! What else could go wrong? How about having fat felines running around the base with highly classified data disappearing! And with Sako's "Stratos Zero" nearing completion, Mikaze and friends are edging closer and closer to reaching the stars and saving the planet!

The Review!
Moving up to the first half of the series, the show takes some more serious turns but also lets everyone have a bit of fun.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The Japanese mix is a good sounding stereo mix that has a number of good moments of directionality due to ship sequences and some of the more action oriented scenes. The English 5.1 track sounds good but it's noticeably lower at times, particularly during the opening sequence, in comparison to the Japanese stereo mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, Stratos 4 has a very vibrant looking full frame transfer. Mixing scenes between a near-tropical island, a command base and some satellites, the colors are fairly varied and well chosen. Backgrounds make out good with a very solid feel and no problems of macroblocking or color banding. Character animation itself looks great with some really vibrant pieces, often mixed into hair colors or eyes, while avoiding the usual issues of cross coloration and aliasing . The digital animation in the show manages to blend really well also with only a few areas that come across in a bad way very briefly.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release and even mimicking the sideways logo but with less background material under it, the front cover goes with the shot of all the girls in their flight suits, which you just know would never look as sexy in real life, set against a warmed up jet in the background. The clean nature of the shows artwork shines through nicely here as do the simple colors which look stronger due to the amount of white. The back cover is a basic layout with some light images done as a collage for the background mixed in with a lot of black while each episode gets one image from it along the side. The premise is given a few paragraphs of discussion while the discs features and extras are all nice and clearly listed. The insert for the release mirrors the front cover without the logos or volume listing and opens to a two page image spread of the Admiral, Alice the cat. The back of the insert provides the full list production and voice actor credits. Included in the keepcase is a pencil board that's full color on each side. Like the first one, it's a good looking board; one side features the girls as seen on the cover while the other has them in bathing suits.

Menu:
Unlike the first volumes menu, the background here isn't animated but rather a still, which removes some of the fun I had with the first one but does eliminate the strange feel that it had. Showcasing one of the fighter crafts, it sits in a cloudy blue sky by itself just above the menu selections. Access times to submenus are nice and fast and the layout is easy to navigate. Unlike other Bandai releases recently, this one did not start up with my player defaults but instead went for the English 5.1 mix with sign/song subtitles on.

Extras:
The extras for this release continue to be pretty heavy in a way but also really light and fluffy but still quite enjoyable. The Shimoji Island vacation videos continue here with two new pieces as the last actress shows up and they hit all over the two islands. This is beautiful material here and though it looks pretty far and remote, a part of me says "go!" to it. They show a lot of what's real that made it into the show and it's really interesting to me to see how the reality compares to what they included. Another of the aircraft videos is done here and it runs just about three minutes in length while there are also three commercials included from the shows release. Add in the English cast listing credits that's continuing from the first volume and you've got a good mix of material here.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The opening volume to Stratos 4 ended up impressing me more than I thought it would have based on the premise and the trailers for it since it looked like it could be pretty fluffy in general. While it did contain some of the typical age related drama that one can expect, there was also a level of seriousness to the show that wasn't expected. There's plenty that's still quite unexplained such as where are they getting their real schooling during all of this and why would only women be seemingly suited for this job, but that's just not the kind of show that they want to tell here. Unfortunately these days, unless the show features cute girls heavily throughout, it just doesn't get made.

The actions that Mikaze took during their last flight up into the air is the focus of things early on here. For her part, she's in a sulking mood where she's more upset at herself than most other people would be and is keeping to herself and out of the way. This doesn't get to last too long though as the CEMA board eventually calls her to their office for what they call a meeting over what happened. Some of the make-up of the organization starts to come out through this since CEMA is a civilian operation and not a military one so there are pieces that become clearer as she gets questioned by the three mysterious men. The way they lead her in the questioning, which she at least realizes and proves she's not a complete airhead, gives some hint at the larger picture of things going on within the command structure of the company and just what they're after. The mystery of what happened during the flight continues to be unsolved but the hints of it are quite strong here. There's some really awkward material in here though, particularly when Mikaze escapes from her hotel room to see the visiting Comet Blasters. Their entire segment was just plain bad, at least up until "Ko-chan" arrived and began begging for Miharu to come back to him. That was priceless.

The follow-up episodes were surprisingly light in general considering the downsides to everything that had happened. While being grounded, Mikaze finds herself going through a number of odd jobs as part of the local punishment for her disobeying orders. One of the segments has the entire base dealing with a missing data chip that gets attached to the Admiral, the cat that lives in the restaurant. The cat manages to get onto the base in a very amusing way and ends up getting into trouble without realizing it. It's a cute episode in how it changes some of the perspectives on the characters and how they deal with stress but it's an otherwise entirely forgettable episode. The other episode deals with everyone working together towards a common goal to re-establish the teamwork feeling that was lost after Mikaze's incident which is simple fun but it also sets things up for future episodes presumably since it brings some new technology into play for the aircraft.

On a plus note, apparently working in space promotes lesbianism.

The show continues to be fun but the way that there was really only one episode that fully worked through the plot and the other two were fairly disposable in their own way let me down with this volume. The first volume by its nature of course has more material to go through and cover since it has to introduce so much, but with a half-season length show I expect less filler and more meat to the story. Either you don't have enough for a full season and just do a good compact half-season or you're a small OVA series that's being stretched out too far. I'm really not sure which this is yet but I'm starting to lean into the OVA side of things. The show continues to be a visual treat and the character designs are enjoyable for the most part but there was just something that felt a bit lacking this time around.

In Summary:
Stratos 4's first volume surprised us but the second volume fell short of some of the promise of the first due to a good chunk of it really being filler, even if disguised as pseudo-character growth material. There really appears to be some interesting back story going on in this series but I find myself spending time trying to not make the series what I want it to be but rather to just take it for what they're trying to say. I still think this is the kind of show that would have done immensely better without the need to make all the pilots girls. The continuing trend among the Japanese fans to not be interested in anything unless it has cute girls is really starting to show some strain.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Vacation Diary Part 2,Vacation Diary Part 2.5,Okabe Video,English Cast Filmography,Japanese Commercials

Review Equipment
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.

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