Stratos 4 Vol. #3 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • 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
  • MSRP: £19.99
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Stratos 4

Stratos 4 Vol. #3

By Dani Moure     September 13, 2005
Release Date: September 12, 2005


Stratos 4 Vol. #3
© Beez


What They Say
As a giant comet draws ever nearer to Earth, communications are suddenly cut with the orbital defense stations. Our young friends watch powerlessly as their friend Karin who had fallen sick is taken away and their base is put under military control. It is time for our young pilots to take control of the situation and find out what is really going on in space.

The Review!
Bouncing back after a disappointing middle of the series, Stratos 4 goes out on a high as the plot comes to the fore.

Audio:
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 very briefly, noticing no technical issues, and the performances were on par with the previous discs.

Video:
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, although we at least get a few translated credits on this disc on the back of the booklet.

The English subtitles are white, in a clearly readable font, and are relatively error free.

Packaging:
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 uniforms around one of the aircraft, with the show’s logo down the side. The disc is also clearly numbered in the top right 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 sportswear.

This disc also sports an 8-page booklet insert. It’s a cool little book with information about the aircraft in the show, with the back page dedicated to translated show credits (though frustratingly, no English version credits).

Menu:
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.

Extras:
We get a nice final selection of extras for the last disc. The main one is an interview with some of the cast and crew. It’s a nice, roundtable relaxed discussion on all sorts of things, featuring Fumiko Orisaka (Karin), Yumi Kakazu (Mikaze), Takeshi Mori (Director), Shiho Kikuchi (Ayamo) and Kaori Shimizu (Shizuha). This is a fun extra that I really quite enjoyed. The other extra is a textless version of the ending for episode 13 (well, there’s also the usual array of trailers for the usual array of Beez shows).

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the second volume of the series, I was immensely disappointed and was really unsure of what to expect from this final release. Well, colour me surprised but it returns to the same sort of enjoyable style we saw in the first volume, but also builds on the foundation with a story coming in to focus to drive home the final arc of the show.

It begins in the first episode on the disc, where the girls all end up visiting a hot spring. While that in itself leads to some entertaining moments, there’s some nice setup for the plot that will kick in for the remainder of the episodes. As the girls and Kisaragi take a bath, Fujitani ends up in on the act leading to some amusement. But the key points here are something of a change in Karin, who has suddenly taken to eating everything she can get her hands on (almost as if she has an eating disorder), and also the boys who play peeping Tom. The girls spot them and they all end up talking, and the guys reveal suspicions of aliens and all sorts of conspiracies to do with the comets crashing towards the Earth.

While it all sounds a bit strange, and all the girls laugh it off, it’s actually the first real sign of the final story arc coming to the fore, which does actually end up centring around an alien plot. The second episode on the disc sees the girls training for the “great fall”, a period that comes around every 80 months, and sees the number of comets heading towards Earth drastically increase. When the girls are at home, Mikaze plays a tape of one of the comets exploding and notices an object that looks like a ship coming out of it. When it comes to time to scramble, the girls are all ready but as they’re about to go weird things happen. Communication is unexpectedly shut off with space, only to be restored on a TV network, leading Karin to point out that the pictures aren’t from space at all. Then as they’re about to board their craft, she collapses and is taken away, but her mobile phone drops out and Mikaze grabs it, reading the message “Help” over and over again.

With Karin gone, the remaining three episodes are put over to the girls struggling with their duties to try and rescue Karin and also destroy the comets. At the same time, they uncover the truth about the comets and why they have been coming to Earth, and the truth about the Comet Blasters and their commander who is on the base in space, and what she is doing. They may uncover the conspiracy, but can they save the Earth?

As the story arc progresses, more and more things become noticeable, and although some things seem there just to provide some fanservice (well, the show is from Studio Fantasia), it actually turns out quite enjoyable. There’s no real reason for some of Karin’s behaviour, especially the whole lesbian angle with her trying to kiss Mikaze, but her abduction sets the big things in motion and that and the eating problem do highlight changes in her character.

The story itself isn’t all too original and doesn’t have a great deal of twists, but it plays out nicely, especially the aspects with the pseudo-lesbian commander woman on the base in space, and I really liked how the girls pushed to go and rescue Karin themselves and then finally got their opportunity to go into space and do something about the truths they’ve just uncovered.

Though it might not be the most in-depth character development ever, and too much of the series overall is wasted on pointless things, I did really enjoy the transformation of the characters, mainly the girls and especially Mikaze, as they have all grown a little and started off wanting to achieve something, and gradually gained confidence and they ended up going for their goals and achieving them. It was nice to see, and was especially good when you consider how Mikaze was in the first few episodes to how she was in the last couple, driving the team into space and wanting to do something. All the girls seemed to gain some passion as the series went on and I liked that.

The ending of the series itself isn’t exactly fantastic though, as it really just stops. The mission is complete and it’s all pretty much over, but of course there is more in the form of a couple of OVA series so perhaps that’s to be expected. As a whole the story has quite a nice progression once it gets going and is quite enjoyable, though it would’ve been nice to have a bit more meat in the middle instead of some of the pointlessness we got.

In Summary:
Stratos 4 is an enjoyable, if light series that’s pretty easy on the wallet at only three discs. It’s not something that will likely set your world alight, but if you stick with it even through the less substantial episodes (like those on the second disc), you’ll get to a good, enjoyable story that is fun to watch play out on this last disc. It might not be an amazing series but this disc really managed to turn my opinion of the series around, which is a good thing after the last disc. Now I’d quite like to see the OVAs brought over by Beez.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Dutch Subtitles,8 page booklet,Director and Voice Cast Interview,Textless Ending #13

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.

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