The science fiction and fantasy genres are a fun and creative place for creators. Strange looking races, unexplained magic, technologies and world-ending threats are their prerogative. And a quite popular one since all the Sci-Fi/Fantasy flavors are on the forefront of our media. Not just superhero films with world-ending threats; but also stories a little lighter on the fantasy elements like one of a young boy and girl who find their lives intertwined with the arrival of a comet.
Animation can facilitate all of the above in many different styles. Last month I talked about Trigun and how things just aren’t what they seem to be. Outlaw Star is pretty straighforward and definately takes itself less serious when compared to Trigun. The universe of Outlaw Star is a large and mysterious place, where a lot of fun is to be had with the many species and the Tao magic users. So why not spin these together in a high energy story about freedom, family and the power of following your dreams. So you better get ready!
The wacky world of the Outlaw Star
Humanity has moved to the stars. Along the way they encountered different species and created alliances and enemies. Eventually three human factions formed: The Outlaws, Space pirates and Space Forces.
On the planet Sentinel III we find Gene Starwind1, a roguish entrepreneur who accidentally becomes the owner of an experimental spaceship dubbed and its bio-android navigator. He sets out to find the great treasure that can be found with this ship to create fame and fortune for himself as an outlaw. He starts with just his friend and business partner Jim Hawking2. After Melfina they quickly pickup the assassin “Twilight” Suzuka and eventually the Ctarl-Ctarl Aisha Clan-Clan to join them on their journey across the stars.
A slow ride to freedom
The initial episodes start the series off really strong. There are a bunch of strange and cool characters, a fancy ship and Tao magic! So you strap yourself in, ready for a crazy ride. Only to have the pacing of the main plot drop like a brick after episode 4.
While I personally don’t really mind that the show shifts into an episodic format, this can be a big let down for a lot of people. Because most of the episodes explore different aspects of the characters in a rather mundane way, the show creates a discrepancy of expectations with the audience. While I think the episodes are fun to watch, if you were expecting a high paced race to the finish line prepare to be thoroughly disappointed.
Especially since the plots of the episodes are never referred to again. How interesting would it be if Jim later found out that the young girl he befriended was actually the Kei Pirate assassin they killed. And when he learned the girl’s background he would go from resentment to sympathy. Alas, we can’t always get what we want.
What I do want to emphasize is the aspect of freedom that the show bolsters. When the Outlaw Star is grounded, Gene is lazy and in a worse state of mind than when they are on the move. Gene is a horny teen who only wants “the big score” while the others seem to do their part to keep them (financially) afloat. But when the Outlaw Star takes flight into the beautifully illuminated darkness of space there is a role reversal. This is the place where Gene is in his element, experiencing personal freedom and the power that comes with it. This dichotomy is really interesting and only became apparent to me after I let the show simmer in the back of my head for a few days.
I think most of us will recognise that there is much more to Outlaw Star than shown in the 26 episodes. I’m not sure how faithful the anime is to the manga, but if anything Outlaw Star makes me want to explore its story universe more. It’s the tip of the iceberg and I am left wondering how much I can find beneath the water. There are a lot of plot treads open that can be used to start another story. And because the themes of family, friendship and freedom are involved most writers interested in this particular universe can find a suitable hook to start. This also leads me to the conclusion that it is no surprise that elements of Outlaw Star made it into other shows like Firefly. Shelving the discussion of accidental or intentional copy, it shows that Outlaw Star’s creator Takehiko Itō had the correct elements in his mind when penning the manga.
Should you watch it?
Overall Outlaw Star is a fun show to watch. Unlike Trigun it never had me questioning whether to stop watching. The main reason for this is the fun worldbuilding.
The outlandish characters this universe can produce made me stick around to see what the next episode would bring, even if I knew that there was a chance they could quite miss the mark. For me the episode that stands out is the absolute bonkers comedic fan service that is “Hot Springs Planet Tenrei”. It’s so silly that it leaves no doubt in my mind that the creators were having fun placing the characters in all kinds of situations.
I watched the English dub on Youtube and it’s not bad3. Though the pacing of the main story is an issue, it’s not something that hindered my overall enjoyment of the show. The animation and backgrounds are beautiful and the soundtrack is pretty good as well4.
My biggest issue with the show is the commercial bumper. I can only describe it as over the top flashy in your face. If I had the power of remaking this show this would be the first thing to go.
In conclusion: If you like a show that blends its fantastical elements like the caster weapon with some harder Sci Fi elements (like ship navigation); and you’re not scared by the prospect of the pacing issues; Outlaw Star is for you. If you’re not sure I can only encourage you to watch the opening six episodes and decide for yourself. Because if the show hasn’t bought your attention by then, it probably won’t.
See you next month when I finally take a look at Cowboy Bebop