Stellvia Foundation II – Great Show, Weak Disc.
Last time on Stellvia, the Earth had rebounded from the greatest natural disaster in the history of man, a massive energy bombardment unleashed by a supernova (a.k.a. the First Wave), and our heroine Shima Katase was still sort of struggling with her piloting skills. She’s managed to find a good group of friends, but she just can’t quite wrap her mind around maneuvering in space. On this disc, that ability becomes more critical than ever as the annual Foundation Field Day (where students from all the Foundation space stations compete in various games to show off their various skills and get little R&R from whole “we’re being trained to save the Solar System” bit) is fast approaching. Shima and the rest of the first year students are candidates to join the four top pilots on Stellvia to be the fifth player in the field day’s Astro-Ball event, the biggest event during the field day. Adding further to the challenge, the student that gets on the team will also get to help stop the Second Wave with the other top pilots. Can Shima out-pilot everyone after getting some advice from her friend Kouta, or will she just be participating in the mathematics- and programming-related field day events? Furthermore, even if she gets to be on the team, can she hold her own against the top pilots from the other Foundations?
That bit of exposition out of the way, I have to say that, animation and audio-wise, Stellvia story is still rocking as much as it did on Volume One. Each episode is well-paced, with some pretty good character development and with a little pathos and some light humor as well. They are continuing to very adeptly weave the school anime aspects into a well-developed far-future sci-fi setting, making things like the field day not only seem natural but interesting and engaging. The animation is some of Xebec’s best TV work to date (making their mediocre work on DICE seem even worse.) The cel-shaded CG looks fluid and clean, and the digital-painted cel animation is still keeping the cheats to a minimum. Perhaps more importantly, the cheats look really good, with some of the best pans and pull-outs and pull-ins I’ve seen in any digitally animated TV anime. In fact, outside of one instance of off-model work (which could have just been the lighting and angle of the shot,) the animation is flawless for the style it’s using. The video is encoded and mastered very cleanly as well, looking vibrant on both my computer’s LCD monitor and my cathode-ray tube TV. Both the dub and sub punch in with some very nice performances. The audio itself is crystal clear and well-produced and mixed, with nothing getting lost or muddy in the mix. The music is still as fitting as ever and I could still listen to the OP theme by Angela all day long.
However, the disc itself skimps out big time. Extras wise, all we get is the creditless OP, which was on the first disc too, and trailers. This is a show where I would loved to see some behind the scenes material, like how they did the cel-shaded stuff, VA-interviews and the making of the OP and ED themes, so the lack of them is really annoying. Meanwhile, the disc only has three episodes and it retails for $29.99, which is a pretty stiff tab for a US release. In fact, if this show wasn’t so entertaining, I’d feel ripped off.
That said, it’s a still an excellent show for anyone who likes good sci-fi anime, young or old, so if you’re not worried about extras, I can definitely recommend the show. I suppose if you didn’t like it after the first volume, you still won’t, but if you’re just trying it, I can say confidence now that after two volumes that it’s not lost any momentum, and if anything, is really beginning to pick up some heat.