Note: The following is a review for the fourth volume in the Glass Fleet series, based substantially on the previous volumes reviewed previously. Reviewing a handful of episodes at a time is akin to reviewing individual chapters in a book so doing so without spoilers is virtually impossible in any satisfying manner. Still, I will give a general overview of the fourth volume's merits a bit deeper into the review for those that have been keeping up with it, noting that watching this one without the prior volumes would make no sense at all.
Series: Glass Fleet is an epic story about civil war throughout a universe torn by endless conflict. Today's review of Glass Fleet V4 (La Legende Du Vent De L'Univers or Garasu No Kantai; depending on your focus) is an attempt to continue the stage for the six volume series with as few major spoilers as possible. I found a lot of flaws with the first volumes but wanted to continue to see if the series got any better with time, this one yielding mixed results too but showing glimpses of improvements too so here's some background before covering the latest four episodes of the show. 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 the first volume appeared 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 the 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 that 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.
The second set of episodes (which took forever to get to me, presumably due to a galactic conflict in Southern California) was 6) Like A Clown, 7) Like A Rebuke, 8) Like The Truth, 9) Like Constant Change, and 10) Like A Demon. The volume provided ample opportunity to display more of the battles fans are going to appreciate but also took a lot of side trips into the personalities involved in the galactic conflict. As a result, there was a different "feel" for the show this time and depending on what you're looking for, you will either be disappointed or happy. Cleo's crew makes it clear that they are involved for the financial benefits more than anything else, a sign of strength in what they bring to the conflict with their advanced ship. This offends the People's Army leaders but the masses still practically worship them for saving their leader Michel. Cleo's approach to battle is pragmatic in that nothing is sacred to him as he fights against overwhelming odds, the technology he possesses not invincible but clearly giving him the edge needed to routinely succeed. This is countered by the sheer volume of the enemy fleet and the relative incompetence of his new allies (which do more damage than they are worth) so it becomes increasingly important to push the edge Cleo provides with larger alliances.
Needless to say, the powerful groups out there have agendas of their own and want to pick the winner of the conflict; looking out for #1 rather than what is "right". Most of them are nobles that are nearly as treacherous as the people Michel is fighting and the strings they attach to their offers of support rail against the beliefs that set the war in motion. As some minor interests sign on, Michel courts B.B., a ruthless ruler of a larger territory that actually was a lover of Vetti; the woman commanding one of the larger fleets in known territories. Needless to say, Vetti is also trying to regain her favor since her merchant class is also vast (and able to support supply lines needed for victory). Also, whichever side she joins will inevitably become the one that many other smaller nobles will side with, making her a crucial element that could even prevent the war with her influence. The bargaining has both sides vying for her at the same time though, the delicate nature of the matter cut through thanks to Cleo's straight forward approach. Vetti's lust for power to unite the galaxy is also given a personal side as his motivations become clearer, his romantic side pushed aside by his greed with some surprisingly adult themes (rape in a TV PG setting?!?), and this ultimately prepares the setting for war on a grand scale in following volumes.
The third volume of the series included only four episodes this time, down from the previous five in previous volumes, including: 11) Like A Hungry Wolf, 12) Like The Setting Sun, 13) Like A Labyrinth, and 14) Like Daybreak. The war between the two groups shows that each side has some significant strengths but also significant weaknesses, so the plotting & scheming by both sides takes center stage. Those wanting to gain personal benefit betray their ideals and Cleo finds that he is prevented from finishing off Vetti just when it could have done the most good. An effort to spare countless lives is made but at the cost of giving up the lives of their leadership, the betrayal resulting in a darker chapter of the series as more details regarding Vetti's plans to summon forth another ancient ship on par with the one captained by Cleo. Their meeting results in tragedy as Cleo's original idea to end hostilities are tossed aside, Michel's secret finally learned by the evil Vetti. Loyalty comes into play after the infighting nearly incapacitates the People's Army and the scale of the entire series (after a very lame recap episode that made as little sense as the previous two volumes) zooms in drastically to the personalities in flux, particularly Cleo and Eimer as the two fight for their lives in a hostile jail cell.
The fourth volume of the series also included four episodes, including 15) Like Daybreak, 16) Like Majesty, 17) Like An Epoch, and 18) Like An Embrace. Vetti has all but crushed the rebellion, Cleo's short lived escape from his captors results in a surprise from his past, and Cleo's secret is discovered by Vetti; his distain for her amounting to less than shocking given his past. The show seemed to flounder thematically as it tried to regain the spirit of the previous volumes (especially the first two volumes where the revolution was getting underway). So in a number of ways, the entire volume amounted to about as exciting as a recap episode for old hands with just enough revelations to keep me watching but not fitting into the whole series to date as well as it could have (I left with the feeling that the pacing was worse than before, the show appearing to be made for a half season then stretched out to a full season after it was partially scripted). As part of the larger whole it may work better but now that all the elements are back in play for the rest of the series, I fully expect that the remaining two volumes will have to quickly ramp things up to close out in any meaningful manner.
I watched the first volumes of the show to remind myself exactly what had gone on previously and I had to wonder if there were gaps in the original airing in Japan given as much what was said as what was not. The adversity of events impacting the show made it watchable but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for how things were playing out but it definitely seemed to me that the creative staff were attempting to distance the show from the multitude of similar shows; dancing between genres more than I wanted but enough to merit a rating of Rent It before picking up a copy unless you find one cheap. The show has some potential but much of it is untapped and those who hate flashbacks as much as I do will be put off by the incessant use of them this time. Otherwise, give it a look and let me know what you think via email.
Picture: Glass Fleet was presented in the usual 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color as the show aired in Japan during 2006 (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 was a live drama theatre episode that added something different but it really did not impress me like it could have. I know fans of the show (having received their emails) appreciate any offbeat material like this but given the lackluster show itself, perhaps I'm jaded. There were also textless songs (clean opening and closing but not the most current ones) and some trailers, with a recent edition of the company catalog included too.
Final Thoughts: Glass Fleet V4 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 V4 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 still 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.