Stratos 4 Vol. #4 - 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: 75
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Stratos 4

Stratos 4 Vol. #4

By Chris Beveridge     December 14, 2004
Release Date: December 14, 2004


Stratos 4 Vol. #4
© Bandai Entertainment


What They Say
The last mission!

Mysterious men have taken Karin away after she collapses, but on her cellular phone she has written, "Help me!" Mikaze and Shizuha head for Tokyo to rescue Karin. Karin was never admitted to the hospital she was supposedly taken to? When it turns out Karin has been taken to Orbital Station 7, Mikaze, Shizuha, and Ayamo board a supply shuttle to the space station. Upon arrival, they find that a few members of the station crew have managed to avoid being infected by the alien virus. They work with the crew to help overpower the infected members and save Karin. But a huge meteor, Nigel, is coming closer and closer to Earth. Most of the Comet Blasters are out of commission because of the virus, leaving no pilots except for Mikaze, Shizuha, Ayamo and Karin!

The Review!
Stratos 4 comes to an end and manages to really utilize the last three episodes to create a very satisfying ending that still leaves plenty open for the future.

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 the four girls doing a free-floating bit in space in their pilot uniforms. With the comet blasters patch floating around, the cover is just spoilers galore in a sense. 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 summary is given a decent sized paragraph 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 various female pilots in their flight gear with a blue sky backdrop. 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 the uniforms worn on the Orbital Satellites, which means massive panty-shots.

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 comet blasters ships, it's skimming across the planets atmosphere and showing a lot of red against the black backdrop, 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:
This series has been pretty heavy on Japanese extras and this volume is really no exception, though it's not quite the same as the past ones. The staff and cast comments section has the actors and the folks behind the show talking much as they have in the past but without the extensive trip and showcase of the islands that we got there. Okabe's videos continue here one more time with a look at the SAC-0 design and there's a brief peek at the OVA release with the series director talking about it (as well as very minor spoilers for the original series). One really nice inclusion is a series of music videos that are a mix of live action and animation, each roughly based around a single character.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the last three episodes of the TV series, Stratos 4 comes to a conclusion and manages to wrap up fairly well the storylines that had been going but still leaving plenty of material for a follow-up series, which hasn't happened beyond a two episode OVA series. With just three episodes, there's actually a lot of ground to cover and these episodes are pretty dense for the most part but not with heavy exposition and explanations about what's going on. Instead, you're led along the path and shown some of the sights and you get the gist of things, but it's not all laid out for you on a silver platter.

After Karin's collapse in the last volume, she's been whisked away from the base and taken to a nearby hospital. With the situation in the world as tense as it is with the orbital stations being out of contact and the impending number of meteors coming in, there's no way that the remaining three training pilots would be able to get off the base to go visit their friend. But a knowing nod from the base commander and he lets Mikaze and Ayame head off to find out how she's doing, leaving Chizuru to team up with Shizuha to keep an extra plane afloat to help deal with the problem. For Mikaze and Ayame though, it isn't a walk in the park to find Karin. When they arrive at the overflowing hospital, they're surprised to find that she's not listed at all.

From here, they end up being fed some clues on where to go next by someone from behind the scenes who wants to know what's really going on himself and he pushes them slowly towards the final destination that Karin has been taken to. The duo end up going through a variety of channels and methods, some above the board and some under, until they finally arrive at the rogue research facility under the CEMA banner that has decided to take custody of her. But even then they arrive too late as Karin has been sent up to Orbital Station 7 already and the changes she's been feeling become even more complicated as she realizes she's among her own kind now.

So what's a group of friends to do when their friend is basically kidnapped and stuck on a satellite while the largest swarm of comets yet is going to be coming by soon that will destroy the entire planet since there aren't any Comet Blasters operating?

This final volume is just a lot of fun and the revelations that come into play help enhance the mystery from before. Mikaze and Ayame end up hooking up with the "X-Files" kind of geeks in the van that used to watch the planes and talk conspiracy theories only to find that some of the things that they had was actually the truth. Though it wasn't really a surprise that CEMA is hiding something big all these decades, especially once we saw the meteors start to shift during atmospheric entry, there's a bit of a thrill when the government types just start confirming it internally and trying to regain control of the problem. As the scope of it comes into play it changes the focus of the series slightly, or at least where it can potentially go, and it makes me want to go back to the earlier episodes to see what I may have missed that provided some extra clues.

One of my favorite sections of this volume was the time spent on the orbital station. With the small number of people who escaped being converted, they're trying to find a way to contact the ground bases so that they can inform them what's going on. The actions scenes as they make their way through the ship is a lot of fun and it shows that zero gravity is a godsend for those who like panty shots. The outfits they wear here are good looking but you know they'd never fly for just that reason and instead be something like pants instead. There's a lot of fun to how the slow moving battle to gain ground as they move towards the communication center plays out and while it's doubtful entirely accurate to how zero gravity works, it tries to be accurate and plays it straight without being comical.

In Summary:
Stratos 4 started off in an odd way and I figured it to be some sketchy premise about girls flying jets that would end up in some sort of harem show or something else equally uninteresting. Instead, romantic liaisons are kept pretty much out of the picture, a strong science fiction element is kept in the background and slowly worked into the main theme of the show and we get characters who slowly find themselves being forced to change to adapt to situations they never expected to be in. Originally weak in the beginning, Mikaze becomes very strong willed by the end here and intent on doing not only what's right but doing what's right by her friends. The story took its time to unfold and though it could have used a bit more of a push early on, taken in whole this is a very fun series that really surprised me with what it wanted to do and what it did.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Staff/Cast comments ,SAC-0 Plane Design,Rainbow Kind of Feeling Music Video,Stratos 4 OVA Preview,4 character music videos

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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