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"Stellvia: Foundation 1": High-Grade Sci-Fi Anime For All Ages

Many anime deal with school life and mecha/space/spacemecha pilots, though not always in the same series. When they both show up, and they are explicitly connected, the result ranges from excellent and powerful (such as the often over-looked Twin Spica) to painfully horrific (Pilot Candidate, I’m looking in your direction). Geneon’s new title in this genre, Stellvia, is thankfully closer to the good side of that scale. Wait, did I say good? I meant awesome. It’s fun and light, yet a little mysterious and dark, and is without a doubt visually excellent for a TV anime. Xebec, perhaps best known for the mecha action comedy, Martian Successor Nadesico, has a winner in Stellvia, at least so far.

ImageIn the year 2167, the star Hydrus Beta went supernova. The resulting shock wave hit Earth and did an incredible amount of damage. However, rather than killing off the human race, it pushed the survivors to reach even higher heights. Now, in year 2356, 189 years later, the Second Wave from Hydrus Beta is fast approaching, and it promises do far more damage unless something is done. To that end humankind has build the Foundations, space stations in orbit of each of the solar system’s planets that use specialized ships and highly trained pilots to form (hopefully) a defensive barrier against the Second Wave, saving humanity from an otherwise grim fate.

Enter Shima Katase, a 15-year-old girl who wants to go into space to become a pilot. Easier said than done, but with an upbeat and determined spirit and the help of her friends, especially her spunky roommate Arisa Glenmore, who sports red hair that calls to mind Washu from Tenchi Muyo, young Shima’s got a fighting chance. First, though, she has to balance her skills. She may be a natural programmer who can even crack the space station’s main server like it’s nothing but she’s not a natural pilot. Her programming skill may even be getting on the way there.

Now, broken down to the most generic level, this could have been a very bland title. Man rebounds back from an extinction-level event? Seen it. Young pilots are our last line of defense before a second wave of destruction? Assuredly and repeatedly. Students training in a school-like setting to train to be pilots, even though the curriculum at points has nothing to with piloting? Millions of times. Clumsy lead girl-character who happens to be gifted? At first that comes off like Tohru from Fruits Basket mixed with Amuro from Mobile Suit Gundam. Don’t let the conceptual cliches fool you though; this show is a lot more fulfilling than first impessions might indicate.

The execution in Stellvia is wonderful, perhaps even endearing. The characters are a bit cookie-cutter at the moment, but the interactions between them are fun and enjoyable (and by the end of the volume, there is already some budding character development). Each episode’s story is surprisingly fresh and unique, subtly revealing information about the show’s universe and world. The pacing is just about right for the content; not too fast, not too slow, with dramatic and comedic scenes never getting in the way of each other. Lastly, the setting is delightfully high-gloss, far-future sci-fi; fold out screens, translucent clothing with light-up displays in them, sleek spaceship designs, and everything else a good far-future anime should have to play up the tech aspect.

Visually and aurally, this show is a delight. Xebec designs a lovely looking world, and perhaps more importantly, it looks just as good in motion as it does at rest. The digital cel work uses pans sparingly, and thankfully none of them are of the unbearably ugly variety. In fact, all of the usual anime motion cheats are largely kicked to the side. The vehicle CG, though by no means perfect, is fairly nice and perhaps most importantly, moves smoothly with no artifacting on the edges. Xebec doesn’t cheat with low resolution or low frame rate, and the result is even better than some current OVA work. The moving backgrounds are usually quite good. I guess one shot isn’t perfect, but it’s fine for TV standards. The sound design is quite nice, and both the dub and sub retain their sonic richness whether on nice speakers or low end headphones. Voice-work wise, I’d have to say the original Japanese does edge out the US team by a little bit. The English is a little weak for an L.A. dub, though it’s still easily good enough to televise. The score is a bit plain, but the opening song is Eurobeat J-Pop with breakbeat tinges and building arpeggio strings that get your heart beating and your toes tapping. The end theme isn’t quite so hot-blooded, but it’s all right. The DVD itself, though not loaded with features, has a nicely designed menu. The textless opening is especially welcome given the general awesomeness of the opening song. As you can see, the show and the disc have technical aspects nailed, though more background info would be a welcome addition on future volumes.

There’s effectively no objectionable content, so it’s ok whether you’re 6 or 60. If you’re into sci-fi anime, I’d recommend spending the extra cash to get the version of Volume 1 that comes with a metal box that holds the rest of the show. It’s a very nice piece of packaging. Stellvia‘s a delightful anime, and whether you’re a kid, an adult, or somewhere in-between, it’ll leave you wanting more. You might even find yourself looking to the stars, too.

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