"Stellvia Foundation III" – The Better The Show Gets, The Sparser The Extras Are
Stellvia Volume 2 ended with Shima Katase (a.k.a. Shipon) a bit upbeat but a bit defeated as well. On one hand, she’s led her school to victory on the Astroball court and she’s the only first year student at Stellvia who will participate in The Great Mission to protect the Earth from a wave of debris from an exploding supernova. On the other hand, she got served in the Space Jousting Competition by one of the Elite Four, the four best pilots at Stellvia. To make matters worse, in the middle of the stressful preparation for the possibly fatal Great Mission another student from Ultima named Rina declares that Shima is her rival. All this leaves young Shima fairly distraught. Sure, she is the top of her class, but having two people clearly defeat her doesn’t leave her much room to rest, and her friends, though very helpful in getting Stellvia prepped for the massive debris wave, don’t seem to have much luck cheering her up or helping her with the Great Mission. Meanwhile, the mystery of Stellvia’s giant robot is resolved, and the answer is more shocking than anyone would expect. Will Shima and humanity survive The Great Mission, or are they already doomed? Why would a base meant to be humanity’s last defense store an offensive weapon with no tactical purpose for the Great Mission? In Earth’s darkest hour, will Shima’s friends find a way to support her?
Yet again, Stellvia comes through with wonderful stories that are well told and well animated, backed with lovely music and voice acting. Every element complements every other, making for another great disc, though the disc does have the same technical issues as the last volume.
The story and character development are really quite nice. Shima, as a character, manages to capture a fine balance of intelligence, confidence and age-appropriate pathos. In other words, she’s a somewhat naive thirteen year-old girl who actually has problems and issues suitable to her age, personality and situation. She doesn’t fully recognize how impressive her skills are, nor that Kouta (one of her fellow students and her shoulder to cry on), probably likes her. She’s not dense or stupid, though, just young and stressed-out. Introducing Rina, who is both rival and friend to Shima, gives Shima the opportunity for a little meditation and allows for some fun interplay between the characters. The heart-pounding spaceship vs. spaceship action is, naturally, a bonus. The rest of the cast may be a little flat at the moment, especially every male character who’s not Kouta, but clearly there are of lot of things going on at once, and given Xebec’s prior aptitude with massive ensembles, namely in the sci-fi comedy Martian Successor Nadesico, I trust that they’ll give everyone in Stellvia some back story and depth eventually. Even if they don’t, the show works very well focusing on Shima. She’s a great foil for everything going on around her. The pacing within each episode is also very nice, satisfying my hunger for plot development but still leaving me wanting more.
The animation continues to do just about exactly as much as it can given the budget and staff. The cel-shaded CG and standard CG blend quite nicely with the digitally-painted cel work in the Great Mission sequence, and the mech looks awesome in action, weird design aside. The raw number of objects in motion during The Great Mission and the realism of their movement in space, flying around in all sorts of crazy directions, is a reminder of how good Xebec can be with flight choreography and cel-shaded 3D animation. I wish they’d step up like that in some of their other projects. Speaking of weird design, that’s probably the only flaw in Stellvia from the technical side. The character design looks kind of funky from the side-on and three-quarters views, and unless the same awkward animators work on those perspectives every time something has got to be up with the actual design sheets.
From the sound design perspective, Stellvia continues to shine. The music still rocks when it needs to and adds emotion and depth when necessary. Both vocal casts punch in with excellent performances that are only occasionally overly-cute, and the actual foley and sound effects are well-mixed and produced. The sound is balanced, clean and full. Whether on cheap headphones or a high-end sound system, Stellvia is a delight to hear.
However, it seems the more compelling Stellvia gets, the less Geneon offers up on the DVD. The encoding is top notch and wonderfully clean, and the packaging is pretty, but the disc has no extras outside of trailers and DVD authoring credits. You can’t get much more bare-bones than that. The more of the show I see, the more I want to see things like character design sheets, background information on the animation production, and the audio production. I want to get a better look at the storyboarding and compositing process for a mixed 2D/3D Cel-Shaded/3D Standard-Shaded show. I want to see Angela, the band that does the opening and closing themes, in the studio, and I want to hear from the English and Japanese VAs. There is just no excuse for being so sparse with the extras unless Geneon was skimping on the license. An eight-disc release is bad enough, but an eight-disc release with no extras is hard to excuse.
All in all, Stellvia just keeps getting better as a show, and every volume leaves me wanting more. Now more than ever, I recommend this title to sci-fi anime fans of all ages. If you haven’t tried it yet, get volume one and give it a shot. Just don’t expect anything more than a great show. Extras will have to be obtained elsewhere.