Background: Boxed sets are the best way to enjoy any television series in my estimation, allowing the viewer to appreciate a lot or a little at a time depending on their mood and the type of show it is. Years after the advent of DVD, the television genre is one of the most reliable sellers from what I've seen with fans of shows expecting exact replicas of what they originally watched in almost all cases (copyrights and song issues be damned). The only companies that haven't figured this out yet are the anime companies; and from what I've seen, they are catching on mighty quickly in an effort to beat the bootleggers out on formerly lost sales. Let's face it, watching a handful of episodes each volume and then having to wait for months for your next fix is a lousy way to watch a show; akin to reading a few chapters of a book at a time. That said, the latest complete series boxed set I was sent to review was Stellvia: The Complete Series; complete with the original metal tin the special edition came with when it came out years ago.
Series: Stellvia: The Complete Series is brought to us by Director Tatsuo Sato, the guy that headed up the wonderfully appealing Shingu. Like that show, Stellvia centered on a high school of sorts where the powers that be have determined the students should be in charge humanity's fate as they are the ones that will be living a lot longer. If you've read the previous Stellvia Reviews we've had by talented review John Sinnott, you'll know exactly what to expect and have seen numerous screen captures giving you a head's up on the limitations of the animation style but I'll try and add something without spoiling the fun of the show myself (other anime websites are notorious for their spoiler laden reviews).
Stellvia is actually the name of a space station turned high school orbiting somewhere not too far from Earth. Like the famous Star Fleet Academy, every year has an admissions process where candidates from all over the world compete in order to make the cut and become students. Due to the limited number of positions, it is considered a great honor to join on, each year having increasing status and responsibilities much like any military academy. The year is 2356 and the world is a markedly different place thanks to a nearby star that went supernova nearly 200 years prior (sticklers will note that it was in 2167, 189 years prior, that Earth was nearly wiped out). Like so many anime releases that concentrate on a future impaired by a cataclysmic environmental event, mankind has largely gotten its collective act together and focuses efforts on making the world a better place. Things are not perfect and there is still a fair amount of distrust for the government with the haves and have-nots still finding time to fuss about inequities in resource allocation.
The series starts with protagonist Shima Katase elated that she was selected to go to the Stellvia academy. Her family has decidedly mixed feelings about this career choice of hers, her mother practically disowning her but still managing to see her off at the space port along with the rest of her kinfolk. The biggest project of the entire human race is on tap to protect the world from what could be an even bigger disaster in the form of a second wave heading towards our solar system from the now defunct star that exploded. Apparently, this second wave is a lot slower and deadlier, but the leaders have a plan to protect the human race and all appears to be going well, or does it? Employing the technology of the day, mankind is funneling huge amounts of resources into making a shield of sorts that will withstand the impact of the second wave. The use of large mechanized robots and space craft that rely on specially gifted students are crucial to this effort, though not as common as in similar series I've watched of late.
At least initially, the series spent most of the time with the high school dynamics routinely found in anime; showing how some people fit in better than others, their social interactions with each other, and the dilemmas of growing up. There was more than a nod to the techno-babble geek stuff where nonsensical words were spewed forth as is common in science fiction television and the amount of animation involving fingers on keyboards furiously typing away was present in heaping quantities but there was a fair bit of action too. Some of the action involved interpersonal rivalries where students would try to top one another to be the future equivalent of the fastest gun, smartest player, or best all round leader; leading to a few side plots that were a little uneven in how they were portrayed. Still, the group effort and usual environmental concerns all led the majority of the cast to do the "right thing" over doing things for personal gain and glory; chastising those who did not with varying sanctions.
As all of this continues, Shima and her peers find themselves placed in harm's way a lot more than most students would be, largely due to her gifted abilities but also due to the way in which she finds it tough to handle the pressures of her position. Excelling at school is one thing but having the fate of mankind placed squarely on your shoulders is another so she must learn to deal with that or the resulting chaos will prove fatal for all those she loves and cares about. That was largely where this series mimicked so many other titles to date the most. Having a girl placed in this position of power is still a bit less frequent than a guy but the dynamic of the show was that everyone had to contribute to make the group effort pay off (and with stakes like these, you know that the pressure was even higher on those with unique gifts). The subplots about mysterious spacecraft and possible alien life forms aside, it had a lot of filler material for me that irritated as much as the repetitive themes; making Stellvia: The Complete Series one of the few that could have been trimmed in half with little quality lost in the process but as a full season, seeing a lot of filler material half way through is almost a given (even more than the generic recap episodes I rail about). Here's what the company said about the show's individual 8 volumes, all of which appeared to be straightforward ports over to this set with no new extras to speak of:
In the year 2167, Mankind suffered from a cataclysimic disaster as a massive wave of electromagnetic radiation from a nearby supernova washed over the Earth. Yet, Mankind was able to survive by pulling together to support each other in this time of crisis. The year is now 2326 and the new generation of people are preparing for the second wave to hit. One young girl, Shima Katase, is going off to Stellvia, a space pilot academy, where she will learn how to protect the Earth and the family she loves.
Foundation Field day, a festival that comes around once a year has returned and Shima is a candidate to participate in the great Astro-ball Event! But has her piloting skills really improved enough to be able to play side by side with the Big Four? If so, then expect to see her go head to head against Ayaka in the Lightening Joust event.
The Second Wave approaches! Now is the time for the Great Mission to set in motion! As communication is lost with Ultima, everyone evacuates to the shelters with their prayers on the Foundations and pilots risking their lives to save the Human Race. A new student arrives and proclaims herself to the Shima's rival. Shima, who had been excelling in her studies is no match for her. Tensions rise even more as the Second Wave approaches increasing the responsibility placed on Shima's shoulders. Will she be able to withstand the pressure or will she...
The Second Wave has passed replacing our green universe with a red one. The threat of extinction has been narrowly averted. Consequently, a mysterious flying object has started to appear near the Ultima Foundation. The new DLS control systems are a bit difficult to master. Some students never do get the hang of it. However, Shima seems to have no trouble at all and scores the highest record. It's no wonder that Ayaka seems a bit irritated. An irritation that can bring about unthinkable actions. Then it's off to Earth for Christmas vacation. Shima and Kouta visit their families for the first time since school started. But it's a short trip when...
The UFO activity has increased and sightings have been reported around the El_Santo near Jupiter and the Akapusu near Venus. To be safe, the Ultima prepares for evacuation.
The plan to rescue the officers trapped inside Ultima has failed and the unidentified flying objects have continued their siege of the foundation. With few choices left, Jinrai declares war. Meanwhile, the commanding officers of Ultima are starting to realize their opponent's true intentions. Everyone's nerves are on edge as the notion of war with the UFOs sweep over the students. Kouta and Shima are chosen to pilot the Infi in preparation for this war. So as time ticks away friendships collapse and internal strife begins even as a new threat appears on the horizon.
The true identity of the Cosmic Fracture has become clear! It's a sixth dimension opening also known as the crack in the space-time continuum. Whatever touches it will be primitively decomposed. All the foundations are called up in order to take emergency measures? Shima and Kouta's relationship worsens as their friends find ways to help. Meanwhile, the Foundation commanders continue their research of how to avert the impending doom presented by the Cosmic Fracture. They develop the Genesis Mission strategy using Infi as the key. However, Shima is struggling with Infi's new DLS system.
The Genesis Mission is put into action! It is the first and last battle for the people who live in the present to protect themselves and their children's future. The Cosmic Fracture is upon us! Shima has been chosen to pilot the Halcyon, a similar machine to the Infinity while Kouta controls Infinity. However, Shima has still been having problems with the new DLS and time has run out. Now survival of the entire human race depends on the abilities of these two remarkable students, their friends and the faculty of the foundation known as Stellvia.
Okay, given the amount of episodes and the kind of show it was, I was repeatedly reminded of another futuristic offering by Director Tatsuo Sato, Shingu. The animation style was largely the same with some added color tossed in but the fusion of traditional looking animation and CGI was just as dated (almost in a retro manner) with the characters showing the same insecurities for the most part. If the point was the our youth never change and all the rites of passage need to be kept in order for our species to survive, I got it well into the series but it was another aspect that seemed harped on too often. I liked the better parts of the show a lot though and even the many little flaws couldn't lower my rating from Rent It or better. Depending on what you enjoy yourselves. Give a few episodes a look on TV or via the net before shelling out the hard cash for this one but it was a nice follow up to Shingu just the same.
Picture: Stellvia: The Complete Series was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in by Director Tatsuo Sato for airing on broadcast television in Japan years ago. The amount of frame rates did not vary much (and were on the lower side) but the other technical matters were pretty even handed overall so you really won't find too much to complain about if you're not expecting a high end show. The CGI looked okay in most shots but sometimes stood apart from the traditional elements given the nature of the way it was handled; looking almost like some of the shots were airbrushed to fuse them in better (hint: it didn't work well in those cases). Still, for the age and this type of show, the company did a decent job overall.
Sound: The audio was presented in the usual choices of a 2.0 Dolby Digital track in the original Japanese as well as an English language dub; the optional English language subtitles seeming to be a lot like the dub but not completely the same. For me, the voice acting on the original track was better in terms of the usual cues they stuck with (the moments of silence, pauses, and lip synchronization) but the dub was pretty solid too with all the major characters doing a fine job (and some of the secondary players acting a bit rushed at times). The score was pretty solid as were the special aural effects but the lack of any spark really held it back for me at times. Granted, the effects worked best when the action sequences in space took place (which is counter intuitive since space is a void with no sound at all) but the separation was minimal except in brief intervals or special occasions and the bass could have been punched up more on both tracks.
Extras: There was a metal tin to hold the eight discs, a clean opening on a disc or two, and some trailers but otherwise this was one of those rare times when a newly released boxed set seemed like a barebones offering but emulated the original releases closely.
Final Thoughts: Stellvia: The Complete Series had a lot going on over the course of the hours I watched but it could have been a lot tighter if the dynamic elements had been distilled to their essential components and the filler removed. If you are looking for a series that embraces the emotional instabilities of a young girl on the verge of becoming a woman, especially one being pressured to succeed beyond her self imposed limitations; this might be a great choice for you to look at buying. If you were hoping for a space drama that gave a passing nod to such things while spending most of the show on action packed sequences, Stellvia: The Complete Series might be a bit underwhelming for you but give it a look anyway and you may find it has a lot of fun stuff to check out. Low on extras and big on heart, the adventures of Shima Katase and her friends as they tried to save the Earth from almost certain doom was one to at least consider checking out, especially now that it is in a boxed set format.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.