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"Galaxy Railways Volume 5 Manabu's Decision": The Majority Rules

Recently my day was made and then some by the news that a live action Star Blazers film was in development. Sure, it’s probably about as likely to come to fruition this century as Kevin Federline is to get his GED, but what do you know anyway? In the meantime I’ll happily make do with Galaxy Railways, which blessedly steams back into Star Blazers territory with Volume 5: Manabu’s Decision.

Manabu and Bruce get ready to rumbleVolume 5 completes the franchise rehabilitation that begun in 4 following the lukewarm 2 and 3. Finally the soap opera melodrama is sidelined in favor of an exciting overarching plot, which blatantly embraces the tried and true Star Blazers formula. Empires clash, epic battles erupt, and noble sacrifices are made. As often as creator Leiji Matsumoto returns to this well, I still thirst for more. All that’s missing is a wave motion gun really.

Things begin rather dubiously with episode 19 “Tranquility,” in which Sirius, Vega, and Spica platoons take a well-deserved vacation at a quiet, stereotypical Japanese-style inn belonging to Captain Murase’s parents. Louis is annoyed by the women of Spica’s interest in Manabu, and tries to muster the courage to tell him how she feels. This episode is extremely lightweight and frankly a bit dull, the only action being a momentary search for a missing cat.

The modestly better “Choice” sees Manabu sent to undergo rigorous training with the elite Space Panzer Grenadiers (SPG) troops. Learning the SPG wants to recruit him, Manabu must decide whether to follow in his late brother Mamoru’s footsteps (see volume 1) or remain with his friends in Sirius.

The disc really kicks into high gear in “The Revolt.” Under the command of Special Intelligence’s arrogant Director Ivanov, Sirius investigates a distress call from an unknown source in treacherous Coulomb City (looking much like Hong Kong’s Kowloon district). They encounter Leafle, a scientist from another dimension that has fallen under the brutal rule of the Alfort Cluster Empire. She claims Alfort forces (the alien warriors previously seen in volumes 3 and 4) are preparing to invade this universe (as hinted in volume 1), and requests the SDF’s assistance in stopping them.

Louis knock knock knockin'“The Merciless Wind” concludes this volume with a hell of a bang. Damaged in a hopeless battle with an Alfort warship, Big One crash-lands on a nearby planet. Bulge reclaims command from the tyrannical Ivanov, and Bruce and Manabu race to a hospital to get medical supplies for the badly wounded Louis. Meanwhile Vega and other platoons arrive to confront the warship, unaware of its great power. I won’t even hint at the shocker in the finale, but this was the first time in I don’t know how long that an anime completely stopped me cold in wide-eyed disbelief.

For the first time we get to know the Vega and Spica members beyond the occasional sound bite. The Vega guys unsurprisingly turn out to be a bunch of testosterone-addled frat boys, one of whom quietly drinks himself into a stupor while the others go completely gaga over Louis to no avail. The Spica girls are more of the cute and demure persuasion, giggling innocently or gossiping about Manabu. So no stereotypes at play there. Additionally the relationship (see volume 4) between Vega’s Murase and Spica’s Julia seems to be getting serious.

Captain Harlock makes a brief cameo in that same episode as the joker in a deck of cards. In a more obvious flash of fan service Yuki loses her towel in the bath, to the cast’s great excitement, but the audience has to settle for her back. More thrilling still are the big space battles with the Alfort ship. The second one, with swarms of fighters zinging across the screen, is pure Star Blazers.

Speaking of which, it’s clear Matsumoto fired up the IQ-9 plot generator for this volume. The galaxy conquering Alfort Cluster Empire sounds not unlike the Black Nebula Empire, Leafle’s peaceful homeworld Istarion sounds a little like Iscandar, and the Alfort ships resemble Gamilon destroyers. Furthermore Leafle supplies Sirius with the Cosmo Matrix to augment their weaponry in much the same way Starsha provided the Argo with plans for the wave motion engine.

The SDF takes a stand on illegal immigration“Tranquility” offers an excellent snapshot of what it’s like to stay in a Japanese inn (ryokan) for the prospective visitor. Relaxing in hot springs (onsen), lounging about in robes (yukatas), playing ping pong, drinking, singing, etc. – it’s all here. They did manage to leave out the breakfast of cold egg that I sometimes encountered, so it is a somewhat romanticized portrayal.

Ivanov’s obnoxious reign over Sirius reminds me of some of the horror stories I’ve heard from employees on the bottom rungs of Japanese companies, especially women. Many times they really are treated like slaves, and have no avenue for recourse. Which is not to suggest most Japanese bosses are like that, but certainly more than there need to be.

Surprisingly the animation looks a little smoother than the last couple volumes. Nothing too impressive beyond some nice explosions in the space battle, but no gratingly cheap shots either.

The only extra is the Mr. Stain On Junk Alley short “Cassette Tape,” as I previously described in my review of Burst Angel Vol. 6.

You could almost skip a couple of the slower volumes in the middle of this series, but Manabu’s Decision is definitely one to check out. It’s definitely a love note to us long deprived Star Blazes fans. If Matsumoto can help get that film off the ground then I’d be up for picking out curtains.

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