Miscellanea and Ephemeron
03/28/2006 Archived Entry: "Anime review: Starship Operators, Vol. 2 - "Memories" (DVD)"
Review by Tom Good
"Viewers are going to get bored if all they see is empty space," says the embedded reporter on the starship Amaterasu, trying to convince her producer of the need for a planetside visit. "... audience ratings on Shu are the highest of any of the planetary nations, right? Besides, reporting on the welcoming ceremony is so news." Soon the starship crew, who sold the rights to their story to a reality show (for more background, see my review of Vol. 1), heads for the planet's surface. But the change of scenery does not change the fact that the Amaterasu is at war, and their enemy "The Kingdom" promptly declares war on Shu. Now more than ratings will be at stake as the crew struggles with another a tricky situation.
In this volume, Starship Operators keeps up its wry humor about the media. One of the girls discovers that her image has been used without her knowledge in a tacky ad for an "exercise in 5 minutes a day" fitness product. They all grumble about this, but realize they have no choice about it because of the wording in their contracts. And a comment like "viewers will get bored if all they see is empty space" works on multiple levels. It points out how a news show's quest for ratings can influence the objectivity of its reporting, and even alter the very story being covered. But at the same time, it could just as well refer to the Starship Operators show itself, and how it needs to hold viewers' interest just as much as the "reality show" does. So why not invent a reason to show some pretty visuals from a new location? The clever, layered humor makes the show worthy of repeat viewings.
In the space combat scenes, the show breaks with a typical convention of the genre by showing engagements across extremely long distances. Many science fiction shows compose dramatic visuals by putting two opposing ships at very close range, so they can both appear in the frame at the same time. This looks nice, but it makes a space battle feel kind of like a dogfight between World War I biplanes, which is hard to accept as realistic. Even today we have air-to-air missiles that can be fired from miles away, so it seems strange to think that long-range combat would be less important in the future. But Starship Operators shows impressive-looking beam weapons firing across vast expanses of space, from far beyond visual range, and this makes the weapons seem more frightening. I really like this approach, just as I like the zero-gravity ship interiors.
The show makes interesting use of retro elements, not only in the look of the uniforms, but in the dialogue as well. The officers use traditional naval terminology, and even talk about "sinking" enemy ships, though in space there would be nowhere for them to "sink." This has a certain charm to it -- after all, we still use expressions like "dialing a number" even though telephones no longer have rotary dials. And one of the battles involves the fact that one ship cannot turn around fast enough to intercept another. This may or may not be justifiable in terms of spacecraft physics, but it felt more like a throwback reference to the type of naval maneuvers that occur on the oceans of Earth.
I do not want to give away any more of the plot, and in fact I recommend not even reading the back of the box until you have watched the DVD, because the summary does contain spoilers. But I will say that in addition to humor, the show contains political intrigues, difficult decisions, and quite a bit of suspense. Starship Operators is shaping up to be one of my favorite new shows.
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