What They Say:
All 26 episodes of the anime adventure series following Gene Starwind (voice of Bob Buchholz) and the rest of the crew onboard the stolen Outlaw Star spaceship. Gene and his partner in crime, Jim Hawking (Brianne Siddall), come up against pirates and aliens as the owners of the ship try to track them down. Episodes comprise: ‘Outlaw World, ‘The Star of Desire’, ‘Into Burning Space’, ‘When the Hot Ice Melts’, ‘The Beast Girl Ready to Pounce!’, ‘The Beautiful Assassin’, ‘Creeping Evil’, ‘Forced Departure’, ‘A Journey of Ad-venture! Huh?’, ‘Gathering for the Space Race’, ‘Adrift in Subspace’, ‘Mortal Combat With the El Dorado’, ‘Advance Guard from an Alien World’, ‘Final Countdown’, ‘The Seven Emerge’, ‘The Demon of the Water Planet’, ‘Between Life and Machine’, ‘The Strongest Woman in the Universe’, ‘Law and Lawlessness’, ‘Cats and Girls and Spaceships’, ‘Grave of the Dragon’, ‘Gravity Jailbreak’, ‘Hot Springs Planet Tenrei’, ‘Cutting the Galactic Leyline’, ‘Maze of Despair’ and ‘Return to Space’.
For the Blu-Ray release, we have a trademark 5.1 English release and a 2.0 Japanese release – a standard set up with no real issues throughout the track in terms of synching with the video, and the general settings didn’t need to be changed. There were no issues with the synching, or with the audio quality as no adjustments has to be made on my stand settings even with the Japanese 2.0 set up – very general and acceptable.
Being an older series, it was made it was before 16×9 became standard for anime. As such is animated for viewing on older 4:3 ratio televisions. To retain its originally intended video size, black bars will appear on the side instead of a standard widescreen ratio – because of this, the show does look a bit more compressed and grainy compared to many modern releases, and doesn’t translate as well to Blu-Ray because of this. That said, it is still got clear picture with no other transaction issues, and considering it combines grainy and dark space with colourful races and characters, and then all of a sudden snow, it still compresses well as a release and considering the high demand for this series even after the 2014 DVD release, it is still a great job.
There was no packing for this test release, however with the special edition you do get collectors packaging and digipack.
There are four discs with very similar set up – we get one of the main characters on each disc (Gene, Melfina, Aisha and Suzuka) with that awesome opening Through The Night playing, set on a space like background with the selections all on the bottom on a bar, on the first disc we have Play All, Episodes, Set Up and on the 4th disc we also have extras – all easily selectable via the main choices or popup menu (though you can’t switch to extras).
If you get the special edition (which is very limited) you get a 100 piece art book, on the discs themselves…
There is a pilot film, done in 1996 (series came out in 1998) – in Japanese only narrated by Melfina – it is basically a very glorified trailer for the series and doesn’t last more than 3 minutes. We get the trademark clean openings and endings as per standard, and some TV commercials.
The big extra is the galleries – almost every character and design is included in some form, either sketched and/or coloured. Gallery 1 is the main cast of Gene, Jim, Melfina, Aisha (in her animal form as well) and Suzuka – pretty much all their costumes and variations. Gallery 2 is pretty much everyone else, ranging from Hilda to the McDougals to weird animal looking girl person in the Hot Springs episode. There is a mechanical design gallery – which is all the ships, Gilliam, weapons, insides, outsides, etc and finally the Character Colour Setting gallery which is the main characters and a number of the other ones in full colour – it almost feels like an Outlaw Star artbook on a Blu-Ray as it pretty much brings you every design in it so that was surprisingly worthwhile.
When anime first aired outside of shows like Pokemon, Digimon, DBZ et al, one of the blocks that was in the UK was either aired on the Sci-Fi Channel (usually part of a show called Saiykou-Exciting, remember that?) or Toonami, an off shoot of Cartoon Network. The shows that were on these channels were if I recall, Evangelion, Nadesico, Cowboy Bebop…and Outlaw Star. These were the integral main anime series aired in the UK and Outlaw Star was repeated several times over and with me just getting into anime it was a blessing.
Now over 10 years later do those episodes still hold up? I reviewed the first Blu-Ray release Anime Limited did with Cowboy Bebop which definitely held up, so let’s see if Outlaw Star can do the same…
Our introduction is on the planet Sentinel III, where our main leads Gene Starwind and James ‘Jim’ Hawkins reside as a jack of all trades business – Gene seems to be a typical hothead protagonist, a little bit perverted but skilled in tinkering and bounty hunting means he seems to get by with a dash of charm. Jim, an 11 year old kid is the brains of the bunch, a young genius who is very computer savvy so thinks with jobs and plans compared to the rush in style of Gene. So when a woman named Rachel asks them to protect her on business, they oblige thinking the job is well paid and simple.
Then they get attacked by pirates. Kei Pirates to be exact – a ruthless brand of mercenaries from outer space. Rebecca clearly isn’t who she appears and is in fact a notorious outlaw named “Hot Ice” Hilda who is searching for a specific treasure. Part of that treasure comes in the form of a beautiful young girl who is also an android named Melifina – who the group begin to socialise with as she wonders who she is and where she is from. Through a lot of trouble though, they claim a ship known as the XGP15A-II, a state of the art spaceship that can pretty much handle any atmosphere, and an AI of the highest quality known as Gilliam. However, as fate takes its toll – Hilda is killed via the Pirates (though not without taking some with her), Gene recognizes the ship that caused her death as the same one that caused his father’s death, and now he is the owner of this incredibly powerful and desirable space ship as we come to learn.
And he dubs it the Outlaw Star.
The series then takes a combination of episode of the day (usually revolving around needing to get money to survive, usually via the form of a fun character named Fred Luo, a businessman who clearly has the hots for Gene much to his chagrin) and introducing more characters who eventually join the Outlaw Star for one reason or another. We have Twillight Suzuka, a traditional Japanese lady of the sword (which is very unique considering the sci-fi setting) who battles Gene as she was hired to kill Fred, but later joins him on the grounds of wanting to fight him again but doesn’t seem to do so throughout the series, and also later Aisha – a member of the proud Ctarl Ctarl race, being cat style warriors with more muscles than brains, she is a lot of comic relief but does get her moments in the sun as well. However, she does mention early on about trying to find the Galactic Layline, which becomes much more important and prominent as the show goes on…
With Gene trying to avoid Kei Pirates, a key episode is the race one, where they see the ship that killed Hilda that Gene thinks also killed his father. This is where our pseudo antagonists appears, the McDougal brothers, Ron and Harry, who become more focused as people for hire who are also after the ship, and Harry also develops a rather scary obsession with Melfina as the story progresses, but their role is still only here and then at least until the end of the series, as it is interlined with episodes of them getting money (and little bits of Melfina’s history and abilities coming through), some serious, some silly (the one with Fred’s fiancé is quite chuckling)…
The main story though hits in between this as the real big bad of the series, a man named Lord Hazanko, a high ranking member of the universe group the 108 stars, he has been looking for the aforementioned Layline, which is revealed also connects to Melfina’s past. He sends in the Anton Seven, 7 assassins to take out Gene Starwind and reclaim the ship – sadly most of them are either not in very long in the last few episodes and not very memorable, or are a focus in one episode and are quite likeable (the two stand outs being Shimi, who actually defeats all the OS members but actually survives and lets them be, and Hanymo, an adorable taichi master who has an adorable potential romance with Jim, which makes the end of that episode surprisingly tearful), it does lead to the final showdown with the Outlaw Star being a ship that is capable of finding (and surviving) the Layline. Hazanko, the McDougals, and the Outlaw Star all verge into the Layline in one final battle – we see why Melfina is linked with the Layline, what the Layline is capable of, and also how it concludes with just how subtle the relationship between Gene and Melfina is told…
Nostalgia goggles aside, Outlaw Star is definitely in the same vein as a Cowboy Bebop style series – it focuses on a rag tag group of outlaws, they have episodes needing money but it syncs in with the plot throughout. It doesn’t reach the echelons Bebop had though, simply because the characters involved weren’t as intrigrated with each other. Whilst you can argue that Gene, Melfina and Jim could be a trifecta – they didn’t seem to interact as much as Spike, Faye and Jet – and the comic relief in Ed played off them more than Aisha does – Suzuka indeed feels like a non-factor for a lot of the series after her introductory episodes. It also suffers from the villains as the main villains whilst similarly mysterious like Vicious, have no clear cut circle in terms of their goals – the McDougals, for example, are supposedly the guys who killed Gene’s father (and definitely killed Hilda) but Ron even admits he can’t remember if he did or not because of so many jobs he has had, and it is never really concluded either if he did or not – Harry upgrades (literally) from manic sidekick to manic sidekick with a psycho crush on Melfina (though he does get a tiny few good moments right at the end of the series) which does give Melfina more than a damsel in distress moments, but combined with the weakness of Hazanko, the Anton Seven, and also the Professor Khan character (whilst two of the 7 are at least memorable, the rest are either quickly killed off or in the infamous hot springs episode, used for comic relief) it doesn’t seem to gel as well in terms of the characters.
That is, the characters that aren’t our lead. Gene himself, is actually very well developed subtly. A bit of a pervert but with a heart of gold, his graduation from handsome lech to caring deeply for Melfina though having his few moments (again, the infamous hot springs episode – this was actually banned in the US for its nudity when aired but amazingly not banned in the UK as I remember seeing this episode – this was also strange as the episode actually had a plot point with the casters that Gene got from the episode so in the US when the last episodes aired, it was probably a few heads scratched with ‘how did he get those new bullets?’) – his ying/yang with Jim as well works really well as the younger one is in fact the cooler head, looking for proper jobs and berating Gene with his rush in attitude – Jim does get sidetracked a lot as he isn’t a fighter but his moments are usually all smarts and smiles (and his one focus episode with a potential girlfriend is just both aww and tragic at the same time when you learn who she is and what happens which Jim isn’t aware of). The glue to this though is Melfina – her story is literally trying to find herself and how the Layline becomes more of a focus, this also brings her wondering what will happen to her when/if she discovers who she is, all the while Gene very slowly grows feelings for her – both of protection, fear, anger and love.
The show still holds up in other areas too – for example, the comedy is actually really good – the exchanges that Fred always gets into are always a highlight, Aisha’s moments are really good that you wish she was more relevant to the story – the animation and space discoveries still hold up well similarly to Bebop, the designs of the ships, the idea of magic hybriding with technology, and how the episodes slowly do get to the point of the plot, and quite a few of the episodes that just deal with them getting money whether plot worthy or not are definitely not insulting and always fun (whether it is hypnotizing cactuses or wrestling fiancés literally…).
Whilst the animation is a little grainy when on Blu-Ray and haven’t remastered to the modern day standard, the show itself holds up incredibly well. Even without the fond memories I had for this show I’d still consider it a good one (considering I held similar memories of Digimon 02 this at least held up a heck of a lot better), and whilst it isn’t quite Cowboy Bebop level in terms of the characters, the premise holds water and what there is usually either funny, intelligent, action packed or all the above.
Outlaw Star is nearly 20 years old (if you include the pilot it is) but it is definitely still a show worth watching. The main cast hold the show well and whilst the villains and side cast don’t engage as well as I hoped, it makes up for it with sheer charm, humour and surprising development when it comes to the main two heroes. The way to get to the Layline is told gradually but smartly, and the characters all get their moments (some more than others) to the point that whilst some is rushed, it isn’t done terribly. And any show that makes a fanservice episode plot-worthy gets an OK in my book…
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening and Closing title sequences, Character Design Galleries, Mechanical Design Galleries, Character Color Setting Gallery, TV Commercials and the Pilot Film.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: November 14th, 2016
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.