Series: Glass Fleet is an epic story about civil war throughout a universe torn by endless conflict. Today's review of Glass Fleet V1 (La Lengende Du Vent De L'Univers or Garasu No Kantai; depending on your focus) is an attempt to set the stage for the six volume series with as few major spoilers as possible. The basic premise of the war is that various factions of royalty are trying to shape the destiny of the galaxy in their image. The old order was corrupt and feeble, with the one replacing it soon found to be equally as bad. Vetti Sforza, the self proclaimed Holy Emperor, made it clear that he wanted the absolute destruction of the old order as he sought to replace it with his own vision. To this end, his space fleet decimated the Allied Nobility forces in short order, using any means necessary and giving no quarter as his righteous will was followed. He demanded absolute loyalty and as a result, he replaced the reigning order with his own, building his empire on the bloodshed of the masses.
This proved only to replace one despotic group with a maniacal leader who knew no limits to run the galaxy, soon prompting a small rebellion by a group calling itself The People's Army. Under manned and completely outgunned, this group is led by the sister of their former leader who assumes his name to keep everyone in line. Michel Volban is the blond haired fanatic determined to beat Vetti's forces, rising up to crush his oppressive rule and restore some semblance of peace that won't simply mean more luxury for a chosen few at the expense of the rest of the citizenry. Her plight seems hopeless as she is under attack, the battle interrupted by yet another major player known as Captain Cleo Corbeille; the leader of a small group of pirates but also the possessor of truly royal blood from the original ruling caste that was vanquished generations ago by the now defeated Allied Nobility forces. Sound confusing yet?
Essentially, the main thrust of the series in this first volume appears to be that war only results in death, tragedy, and a new nameplate on the door as the major players are slowly assembled. The writing is on the wall for Cleo and Michel to hook up and defeat Vetti; likely using every cliché and stereotype known to anime in order to get from point A to point B. The exact outcome is uncertain at this writing but the opening volume shows some promise as it lays the foundation for what is to come in the future. Michel's forces are on the run (as in another rebellion you may have heard about written by George Lucas) and are saved by a disinterested pirate who ends up giving them safe passage after some discussion about rewards with some minor attempts at levity along the way. As yet another noble captain who does right by his crew and cares little about the rest of humanity and their petty wars, Cleo is the latest version of the Harlock dynamic in some ways, sporting an advanced ship (hence the titular term Glass Fleet) that is almost indestructible by regular gunfire and can effective destroy even the largest of enemy ships by ramming them (not to mention it's superior maneuverability and speed). By comparison, Vetti's ship is also unique but either can fight their way out of tight jams from conventional ships that populate most of the galaxy.
The feeling I got from these first five episodes was that there are not only the major players but also regional warlords that have taken full advantage of the ensuing chaos of the conflict, jockeying for power and position by playing the various sides against each other as needed. The church led forces might be dominant in any area they are stationed in but as vast as they may be, they can't be everywhere at once so unless one of these characters is outright for an opponent, the political maneuvering takes place on both sides of the matter since resources are not limitless any place. The episodes this time were 1) Like A Shooting Star, 2) Like the Wind, 3) Like Destiny, 4) Like Scars, and 5) Like a Mask. The series starts off with large CGI battles and moves down to the smaller scale fighting, showing exactly how ruthless Vetti is with those around him, how spirited Michel can be in the face of adversity, and how the rest of the players start to fit into their roles. The CGI did not fit in seamlessly but if you've seen other recent shows by Gonzo, one of my favorite Japanese production companies for quality efforts, you'll already have a good understanding for what the show looks like and how the personalities intertwine.
As far as rating the first volume of the series is concerned, I thought the prolific use of stereotypes was a nuisance but already showing some promise for better days. Getting a series up and running is no small task since you have to give fans something up front to care about yet not give away too much to make it predictable; the balancing act leaning in favor of broadcasting intentions up front. Still, I liked the feel of the show as much as the powerful potential it has already displayed, so I'm giving this one a qualified Recommended with the caveat that there was nothing you haven't seen before but the way the elements were combined made it kind of intriguing all the same. The design of the CGI ships alone was inspired and if the characters could have been placed in almost any other dramatic release of the last fifteen years, so be it. Gonzo and FUNimation together have proven to be a solid alliance forged in the pits of quality anime so I'm willing to see what comes in the future.
Picture: Glass Fleet was presented in the usual 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color as the show aired in Japan last year (per the IMDB) as directed by Minoru Ohara. This was not the best looking show I've seen from the companies involved, almost appearing as if painted cels were used in the space sequences thanks to the CGI effects, but the details on the ships, the use of a semi-fluid animation style on the characters, and some pretty cool battle sequences were enough to distract my attention away from all but the worst of the issues involved. I saw no aliasing, and the amount of compression artifacts were on the low end (as expected) except on the rare occasion. The use of darker settings on some of the ships contrasted nicely with the brightly lit Holy Empire ship bridges was a nice touch too; forgoing a standardized look to embrace the differences that could really project some of the other aspects of the script without a word spoken.
Sound: The audio was another case where the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese shined nicely with easy to read optional English language subtitles. There was a corresponding English language dub in that version too; both of them sounding very nice in terms of the music, sound effects, and voice acting (for most characters at least). The lack of use in the rear speakers with the DD was enhanced by the addition of a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround as a dub track; the clarity of all aspects of the production improved but the depth fixed the most as the ships passed each other or battles waged (I know from Aliens that space has no sound but for dramatic impact, sound is important; lets leave the laws of physics back in the lab, okay?). In any case, the principle voice actors in both languages did a decent job establishing their roles so I had no problems bouncing between the vocal offerings here, the slight nuances proving to make it more fun than distracting.
Extras: There were better than average extras here, especially since there were five full episodes provided on the DVD, with the best being a couple of interviews of the original vocal cast. They were upbeat and positive about their experiences on the show, giving their impressions but not offering up a lot of spoilers as sometimes happens. Rather than a couple minutes each, they went into some depth (I didn't clock them) but it was a welcome gesture from the fine folks at FUNimation; the best anime company in Texas (as well as the rest of the USA from what recent offerings have shown). There were also textless songs (clean opening and closings) and some trailers, with a recent edition of the company catalog included too. There is reportedly a boxed set of the release out too but I prefer not to speculate as to the contents without seeing one firsthand.
Final Thoughts: Glass Fleet V1 was another show that took an almost retro look at medieval warfare and upgraded it for a modernistic type of show. The feudal society that the universe here was patterned on was decidedly like our own from hundreds of years ago, the human mindset in such societies captured well enough to follow for those who have no knowledge of them as well as historical buffs, minor quirks used for plot and theme aside. I can't say that this will be an automatic winner in my book but I did find it a bit more exciting as the fleets engaged and the battles waged on, the technical qualities of the series proving to be up for the challenge. In short, Glass Fleet V1 is the kind of anime for those of you that liked the blasts from the past where heroes pitted against black hearted knaves would determine the fate of the universe. Unlike many other shows to date, this one is playing it's respective cards close to the vest in terms of what to expect so I am not sure if it will work as well as other collaborative efforts by Gonzo and FUNimation but this is definitely the kind of show that only they do well with any degree of consistency so check it out.
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.