What They Say:
Millie Nocturne has one great goal in her life: to be the best in the universe… at absolutely everything. But when she tries her hand at being the best detective, she ends up an unwilling partner to two people who will change her life forever: Kain Blueriver, the psi-blade-wielding master of the starship Swordbreaker, and Canal, the smart-mouthed holographic image of the ship’s computer!
These are the adventures of this unlikely trio as they hurtle through space, facing off against intergalactic crime lords, rogue starships, hijackers dressed as chickens… and that’s just the tip of the asteroid!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the previously created English language adaptation, both of which are in stereo and encoded at 192kbps. The series is one that is certainly a product of its time as it’s a generally center channel mix with what it does so there’s not a lot in the way of significant directionality or placement. It’s all pretty much just a full feeling and it works well for conveying the material at hand. It could be a bit more at times, but the style of the show and the fights, battles and even dialogue sections just wouldn’t make out with much more in a different way. That said, the presentation for both tracks is good and captures it well without any problems such as dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 1998, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The twenty-six episodes here are spread across five discs with six on the first and five across each of the other discs. Animated by EG Films and Softx, Lost Universe was created during that awkward phase where more companies tried to look sleek and cutting edge by inserting CG animation into the mix. That may have worked at the time, but it doesn’t age well here and for me, it was a real schism between it and the regular animation. Enough so that the show would have looked better in doing just regular animation for all of it. The transfer works fairly well here, but there’s only so much it can do with a mediocre budgeted show. There’s a decent bit of grain throughout it and it doesn’t overwhelm, coming across natural here, but there’s a bit of line noise during a number of panning sequences. Cross coloration is very minimal at most and that’s a big plus, but sometimes the CG animation just has a mild stutter about it in a few scenes. The show is definitely better than what we had with singles back in the day, but it’s not a show that’s ever going to look clean and fantastic, especially with the way the animation has some significant B-team moments.
The packaging for this release comes in a single sized keepcase done in litebox style which means all five discs are packed tightly inside on a couple of hinges. The front cover goes with a familiar image of the main cast of characters spread across it with a black star filled background. The logo is kept along the upper left with a simple look that has the proper science fiction aspect to it without being too stylized. It’s not the kind of cover where everything will feel modern and updated, but it captures the look of the show in general pretty well. The back cover uses a science fiction styled grid design for it with a few shots from the show spread about it with a number of the cast as well as a decent breakdown of the overall premise. The discs features are clearly listed as well as the episode count. The technical grid covers everything cleanly and clearly with it all being accurate – as well as listing how many discs are in it, which is a plus. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release uses the same layout across all the discs but changes the artwork up nicely. The overall look uses the same kind of cover concepts with the star filled background and a logo that looks a lot more vibrant and colorful here. The left side has the navigation strip which takes you to all the submenus, and that loads quickly and easily for episode selection, extras and language setup. The character artwork also has a bit more pop and color to it, such as the first volume where we get the primary crew together that uses different pieces than the front cover artwork. That’s always a plus.
The extras for this release are minimal but decent and about what you’d expect from a show of this age. We get a series of character bios spread across the release that highlights the cast in a simple but nice way. We also get a varied amount of liner notes that provides a little more context for various areas. Sadly, we don’t get the clean opening and closing sequences, which fits in with past releases as well since it’s likely there never was one.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the four volume light novel series by Hajime Kanzaka which ran between 1992 and 1999, Lost Universe is a twenty-six episode series animated by E.G. Films and Softx. Kanzaka is a bit well known for some of his properties during this period as Slayers was huge. When Lost Universe landed, originally released in North America by ADV Films, it was largely called Slayers in space. A lot of this was because for the first half of the series, it’s mostly a bunch of standalone stories without any truly grand concept to it. It seeds things though and when it hits the second half, especially in marathoning it, you realize it a bit more. In a lot of ways, it’s done the way a good many shows were done then and a number of them today still are. I had liked Lost Universe when I first saw it, but I haven’t watched the various re-releases over the years so it’s been more than a decade since I last saw it.
The series is one that does naturally have a hard time aging. A lot of that comes from the style of animation used since it was done during the late 90’s when more studios were shoving CG into their shows, regardless of whether it really worked or not. With a science fiction show, it makes sense to bring in a lot of CG ships, but for me it really does clash a bit with the animation, especially since we do get scenes with traditionally animated ships as well. I grew up during the period of big science fiction action/adventure shows in anime and saw some fantastic things being done, so seeing the early stages of the CG anime world is definitely rough. But without it, and attempts after it, we wouldn’t have some of the slick looking shows today. Lost Universe is a bit of a pioneer in that regard, but it’s also what hinders it a bit as well.
With a connection to the world of Slayers, something that’s really only meaningful to a small amount of people as this takes place in the Black World compared to Slayers Red World, we get a science fiction setting where we followed the adventures of Kain Blueriver, a Trouble Contractor who essentially does what you think that means. He’s a hack of all trades that does all sorts of jobs across the galaxy, working for most people that will hire him as well as getting involved with the Universal Guardians police force where he has a friend there named Rail. Kain has as his method of transport a Lost Ship, a rare artifact of which there are only so many. Kain’s ship is known originally as Volfield, but when he inherited it the OS on board changed her name to Canal as Kain was young and she took on a cute and near-idol kind of appearance. The two have a good relationship, one born from tragedy that we see later in the season that explains his strong intent overall.
What Kain is after is the Lost Ship that his grandmother fought against and lost against, Nightmare, which is causing small amounts of trouble across the galaxy. Kain and Canal’s travels and jobs provide information and they’re using all of it to find out more and figure out what he’s up to. But this is all small and mostly behind the scenes in the first half of the series since part of what the pair have to deal with is a new arrival to the crew, not entirely by choice, in Millie Feria, a young woman who is basically going about the galaxy herself to figure out what she’s the best at so she can write a best selling memoir and become rich and famous. While she has skills she does bring to the table, you can imagine that she is kind of annoying at times and grates against Canal even more since the two end up in a small space in the ship together and Canal does not like sharing her time with Kain. This kind of friction is a background thing that the show works through across nearly the whole show as Kain and Canal even ditch Millie a few times in order for her to be safe when they start finding more of the ships that Nightmare has and going up against them to stop him from spreading evil and destruction throughout the universe.
With the halfway split in the show where the first half goes with basic foundations, character silliness and a general exploration of how the universe works, the second half gets a lot more serious and works towards the big goal while drawing in a lot of characters, some back story and some decent battle sequences. When I had seen this originally, it was easy to write the show off with the first couple of volumes because little of note really happens other than establishing the cast. For some, it may simply take too long to get to the main story. In watching it in this form, you obviously get to it quicker and seeing the first half in closer viewing sequences also makes it clear there’s a lot more connective tissue here. Not deep or hugely resonating, but the seeds are there and it left me appreciating it more. It’s a show that in some ways I wish was more blatant about its connection to the Slayers Universe and how it all figures together rather than it being more in the books. But complementing the anime with some of that knowledge helps to make it a bit more interesting.
What really makes the show a bit difficult at times is that across the whole run, there are just some really bad sequences. While we have moments in most shows where you can tell that the main team of animators have taken an hour or two off and a few frames don’t look so good, here we get whole sequences or cut scenes in the middle of a sequence that feel like they come from a completely different show. And not just off model or with less detail but rather a whole different style of color applied to it where it feels like it’s hugely overblown. This isn’t an encoding issue in the slightest but rather just how the show was done at times. When you have these really standout bad moments, the regular animation that’s decent but still mid range at best and then the CG material that was early on and doesn’t hold up the best, it makes for an awkward viewing experience.
Lost Universe is one of those titles that in some quarters is certainly derided, but I think it does a disservice to the work and its larger connections and its place in the overall history of anime. There’s some good if simple fun to be had here with the main cast and the first half is a light and silly space opera romp that struggles with its visual presentation. The second half gets more serious, introduces more tragedy and hits some dark notes as it progresses. Each has their place and the blending point is pretty well done so that it’s not a jarring or shocking moment as it happens. I had mostly fond memories of the show and revisiting it has reminded me why I felt that way. It’s the kind of show that I’ll even admit that I’d love to see them go back to the core four novels and bring to life against in a closer and more accurate way with updated animation. It won’t happen, but we’ve got a pretty decent work here to enjoy until that day may come. For the price and what it has, it’s definitely a fantastic deal and worth spending a bit of coin on to experience for yourself.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Character Bios, Liner Notes
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Lucky Penny Entertainment
Release Date: July 1st, 2014
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.