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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Oban Star-Racers Vol 1: The Alwas Cycle
Oban Star-Racers Vol 1: The Alwas Cycle
Shout Factory // Unrated // April 22, 2008
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted June 10, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Series:

When the first volume of Oban Star Racers showed up, I wasn't that enthused. From reading the back cover blurbs it seemed like a kids show, an animated version of Donkey Kong Racing without the recognizable characters. After reading Todd Douglass' review however my interest was piqued and I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did, because this French/Japanese collaboration is much better than I was expecting. An exciting program with a solid plot, good animation, and fleshed out characters, this is a damn good show that deserves more attention.

It's the year 2082, a quarter century since the Earth was attacked, and nearly conquered by Crogs. The Earth would have been a Crog outpost by now, but at the last moment when defeat seemed imminent and certain, the Crog withdrew. The government said that it was due to a last ditch offensive that worked, but it was really due to The Avatar, a being of nearly unlimited power. He told the Crog to cease so that the earth would have time to get ready for Great Race of ?ban. That time has come and if the Earth doesn't win and obtain the Ultimate Prize, the Crog will surely finish them off.

Very few people know about this however; certainly not Eva, a young girl who has spent the last few years at a boarding school. She's tired of the strict discipline of her school, so she escapes and sets off to find her father, Don Wei, the head of the greatest racing team in the world. He hasn't visited his daughter in years, and doesn't even recognize her when she arrives at his garage.

Much to Eva's dismay, she discovers that her father is a ride, overbearing, control freak who is extremely unpleasant. When she's able to fix a race engine, Don offers her a job, still not realizing who she is. She gives her name as Molly and keeps mum about her past.

No sooner has she joined the team, than the Earth government contacts Don Wei, reveals the events of the past, and has him abruptly assemble a team to race in the Oban. Molly/Eva tags along and when their star pilot gets injured in the first race, she steps in and drives her team's star racer. It's not easy however, not only is the competition tough, but dealing with her father is nearly impossible.

Is Molly secretly a memeber of the X-Men??

This show is much closer to a sports anime than to a typical kids show. There's a lot of natural drama associated with a sport, and that goes for racing too. This program plays up that drama, and the outcomes of the races are not a foregone conclusion, meaning that there's a fair amount of suspense. The Earth team does lose some races, sometimes quite unexpectedly, and knowing that they're not going to walk away with a 'win' every time is a nice touch that adds to the shows excitement.

Not only are the races engaging, but the plot is interesting too. It may take place in the far future, but the show deals with some universal problems: When should you trust someone else? How do you get people to accept you for who you are? What if you are given orders that you feel are immoral? The fact that the main character, Molly/Eva, doesn't always make the correct decision also makes the show feel more realistic and therefore interesting.

This show has an interesting background, another aspect that originally turned me off from it. The program was originally conceived to be an all French production, and started off as a short film (Molly, Star Racer 2001) that was produced by the French firm Sav! The World Productions went on to win a couple of prestigious awards.

Sav! The World then went looking for backers and ended up partnering with the Japanese animation house Hal Film Maker. Sav! even moved to Japan for the three years that it took to create the series, working closely with their Japanese associates. In the end, Hal Film Maker created the 2D animation for the characters and backgrounds, while Sav! worked on the 3D CGI for the race sequences.

Both types of animation look very good and, what's almost more important, they mesh together very well. The designs for the star racer ships are creative and interesting, and they each move in a different manner bases on their design. The looks for the humans are nice (though no one has a nose. This is a French influence and it doesn't look as odd as it sounds) and the aliens are all fun to look at. The backgrounds are where the show really shines. They are detailed and interesting and they really remind viewers that the race is taking place on an alien world without being too bizarre and different.

While not strictly an anime show, it plays out just like a Japanese cartoon in a lot of ways. It has an anime feel to it, with continuity and a plot that has a beginning, middle, and end, something Western animated shows have a hard time doing. It also eschews a lot of the plot devices and story telling methods that have become a bit clich├ęd in anime however. There are no chibi characters, and the teen-aged pilot is actually an anomaly rather than the regular state of things. That gives the show a new, fresh feeling while still maintaining a high level of quality.

The best thing about this program however, is that it's just a lot of fun to watch.

The DVD:


This show comes with a DD 5.1 track as well as a stereo option, both in English. I greatly preferred the surround sound track. It really made good use of the surrounds, especially during the race scenes. Hearing the racers whiz from back to front or side to side was thrilling. This track also made nice use of the subwoofer. The low frequencies used for the engine noises really make the races exciting. The audio has a nice dynamic range that is evident during some of the musical interludes that are performed with full orchestration. There are no subtitles.


The full frame image looked very good. While there were several times that I was wishing they had made the show with a wider aspect ratio, especially during the races, the colors were nicely rendered and the image was sharp. There wasn't any digital defects worth noting, making this a fine looking disc.


The main bonus is the first part of a making-of featurette that lasts a tad over 28 minutes. This has interviews with both the French and Japanese production people and they talk about their collaboration and what each culture brought to the show. In addition to that there are Star-Racer Profiles, a Concept Art Gallery, and a trailer for Volume 2.

Final Thoughts:

I went into this show thinking it would be mediocre at best, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it had an intriguing story, good animation, and some exciting races. This is a show that hasn't gotten a lot of coverage in the anime circles since it's not 100% Japanese made, yet it doesn't really fall into the kids animation category either (though kids will assuredly enjoy it.) That's a shame because it is a fun program that a lot of anime fans would really enjoy. Check it out. A solid recommendation.

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