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Banner of the Stars Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

18 min read
A more fully formed look at the galaxy at large while still providing for some wonderful character material.

A more fully formed look at the galaxy at large while still providing for some wonderful character material.

What They Say:
It’s been three years since the Abh Empire went to war with the Triple Alliance. And at long last, Lafiel commands her own assault ship with Jinto by her side. But as the likelihood of frontline combat increases, uncertainty weighs heavily on the young captain and her crew. Can they fulfill their duties to the Abh fleet, or will they buckle under the pressure?

The Review:
The audio presentation for this series is straightforward as we get the original Japanese language in stereo as well as the English language adaptation, both of which are encoded at 192kbps. The show is largely dialogue driven throughout so it’s not a series that really spends its time on big moments or expansive elements to it, though some of the music has a good warm feel to it. The dialogue is where it does most of its work and even there it’s not something that really does anything impressive since it’s single character dialogue moments that dominate. The show has a bit more action towards the end on a personal level and it works nicely, but it’s generally not all that memorable yet serviceable. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2000 and 2001, the transfer for this twenty-three episode TV series and two-episode OVA series are presented in their original full frame aspect ratio. The run is spread across four DVDs total in order to give it a decent amount of space to work with. Animated by Sunrise, the series has a decent look to it overall but there are some problems to be had throughout, from some scattered cross coloration that comes up in some of the on-screen text in the series and some of the character animation as well. The show is filled with lots of blues and blacks so there’s some noise to be had in a number of scenes but it doesn’t get to be hugely distracting unless you’re quite sensitive to it. The show isn’t one that stands out in a big and bold way with its animation and designs and it’s definitely showing its age, but the time period it was made in certainly has its problems and some of that show through here.

The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized clear DVD keepcase with an o-card slipcover that replicates the same artwork. The slipcover has a little extra with the black banner along the top denoting the formats available for it and it looks a bit better because the cardstock allows for better color quality. It’s a decent image with an injured Jin front and center while Lafiel is looming behind it, letting the darkness of space and a bit of one the fleet along the top to provide a little extra color to it. The back cover has some nice images along the right from the show while the right has a good sized image of the two leads together showing off more of their design, all of which is set to a star-filled background. The premise is kept simple but effective and we get a good breakdown of the episode count and the basic technical grid. No show related inserts are included but the reverse side artwork is a really nice illustration image of the two leads.

The menu design for this release keeps things simple as we get the illustration image from the reverse cover for both discs as its static piece. The right side features a large visual for Lafiel that looks great with its detail while a full-length smaller shot of Jinto is to the left, which puts the navigation in the middle. It’s fairly basic and straightforward stuff here with setup being quick and easy and navigation the episodes much the same. It’s a pared down release overall with only one thing in the extras section so there’s not much navigating going on, leaving us with a basic but problem-free menu.

The extras for this aren’t exactly extras in my mind as they’re made up of the two OVAs that came out in 2005 that are basically the third installment of the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I was pretty much in love with Crest of the Stars when I had first seen it as it felt like a smaller version of Legend of Galactic Heroes in some ways that was more accessible and fresh and new. When the second season hit, we got treated to it in two batches. The first half of Banner of the Stars ran for thirteen episodes and we then got the ten-episode followed. A few years later we’d get the two OVAs that are included here as well, bringing most of the main book work to a close in anime form. Reconnecting with his set again after just watching the first season definitely helps and I love how it delivers on some very different ideas for the cast with what’s presented here.

There’s a fair amount of recap splashed through the opening two episodes as we get caught up on current events since it’s been three years since the first season in-show The war between the Abh and the three-prong human alliances has lasted nearly the entire three years that Jinto was in training. We catch some glimpses of it, but mostly see the beginnings of it as we saw in Crest. There’s an uneasy peace that exists now, mostly because both sides exhausted each other. The human alliance had created a wedge, or a wall through the Abh empire, the first time in history apparently that they’ve gotten so close to what they consider their homeworld/capital world.

Lafiel, now a deca-commander, is part of a team of ships, a new style of craft that’s been built that operate in teams of six, that can handle the larger battleships of the human alliance fleet. With Jinto now aboard and their shakedown training runs completed well enough according to their instructor, they find themselves being sent to one of the front lines. This in itself is an interesting topic that does get covered, that since there are Sords all over, the “front line” is a very malleable thing. The Abh empire has spent their downtime building a massive fleet of ships to retake the wall that has been created, so they’re lining up their defenses along the way as they retake world upon world.

Their actions upon conquering each system in itself proves interesting, as there’s some very subtle play going on in the part of the higher commanders about the surrendering of the planets and the potential of them falling back into the human alliance hands. The best aspects of it all come from Spoor and her Chief of staff as they deal with one particular president who’s trying to gain a political advantage from blustering publicly but sucking up on the side.

A great deal of time is spent on tactics, maneuvers and the large scale fleet movements. It’s hard to not enjoy these aspects, as it’s done in a very classic way and reminds me so heavily of Galactic Heroes. Watching these massive ships move across solar systems is just pure candy to me. But it’s also very well balanced out with the internals, as we spend a good amount of time with the varying commanders of the fleet. Spoor continues to be my absolute favorite, especially as she banters with her Chief. The area we get the most intimate with is, of course, Lafiel and her bridge crew. They’re a mix of experience and newbies that provide a very good flow when it comes to actual combat.

Of particular note is the other female Abh who is part of the bridge crew and who is oh so subtly part of a new love triangle that’s forming around Jinto. While it may feel forced elsewhere, the way that it’s brought up and then played with through actual dialogue (as opposed to inner monologues or just no dialogue at all) is beautiful. The verbal sparring is down a bit here compared to what we saw in Crest of the Stars, but that’s more because the opportunities don’t present themselves as easily. When they do come up, they are truly the highlights here. These are among the most real-feeling characters I’ve seen in a long time.

Of course, it’s not all dialogue and large ship movements. There are some really thrilling action sequences, though at the first it’s more like a submarine adventure. In an eerie way, the opening battle that Lafiel and her crew get involved in almost feels like a reverse play of what we saw back in Crest when they were aboard the Gosroth. This isn’t lost on Lafiel and Jinto, and it adds an interesting layer to their thought process as they press the attack. I absolutely adore the way they’ve presented the space battles, with the space-time bubbles and the way their all shift and mesh together into planar space. The visual presentation of it also works well, with the grainy look that shifts to clarity once they’re all inside the same bubble reflecting the uncertainty before contact and then the vivid liveliness of being in the pitched battle.

While we get some decent standalone pieces and anime-original work in the middle of the first season, it does know where it wants to go as it knows how to build-up tension with the fleet staging itself in anticipation of the battles to come. We visit various commanders as they prepare their own fleets as well as the master level orders going out to all the other fleets. It’s a slow and methodical piece as it counts down from fifty hours before first contact, but it shows so much of the Abh’s style and methods that it’s a fascinating watch. It also mixes in various characters one on one talks, such as some of the crew aboard the Basroil who could potentially become lovers as well as some back and forth about staffings among the command level folk. Spoor gets only a few moments of screen time, unfortunately.

The build-up and the subsequent start of things plays out beautifully and the entire disc had me sitting on edge in anticipation of what was going to come next. Hardly any show gets me as wound up and tense and excited as this one and each moment of screen time is savored. It’s so easy to rewatch this series and take in more and more subtle aspects. While this installment feels a bit slow in some respects, it’s set up just as smartly as Crest of the Stars was, so expect a lot of enjoyment here. It’s a fantastic release and a fantastic batch of episodes.

The final four episodes to this season are very hard to talk about as the bulk of it really is the space battles, which is chock full of beautifully choreographed movements and sequences. This is about as “action” oriented as this show tends to get, but it doesn’t provide one with much to really comment on outside of how it came across. With the basis of the movements in the Aptic system being one of facing overwhelming odds, there is a good sense of urgency to things here. This is particularly strong early on as they realize that a good portion of the overall battle, a battle that will last hours and hours, is being fought against simple mines.

The episodes follow quite a number of characters throughout, though our primary focus is always on the Basroil and her crew. Moving between them and their commanding officer, Atosuryua, we also shift to the twins leading the defense of the Aptic Gate as well as the heir to the throne who is in charge of the entire overall operation to reclaim lost Abh planets and systems. Each of them has their own particular quirks, such as Nereis opting to take a bath in the midst of battle to Dusanyu continually questioning his chief of staff as to which of the twin brothers she has had a previous relationship with.

Watching the mass movements of the fleets here, listening to the plans being made, particularly the ever enjoyable dialogue between Spoor and her second, makes me long for another series that this is very reminiscent of at this point, Legend of Galactic Heroes. The similarities are strong at many points between the two, and what made me love that series is showing up here, something that’s very rare. The epic scale to the battles, the simple telling of casualties in text and the somber nature of what a war is really like are powerful here, just as in that series. With each episode and battle, I continually find myself getting closer and closer to the edge of my seat, eager to see how things will be played out.

Banner of the Stars II:

This season starts off in a most evil way.

But we’ll leave that alone. In the time since the end of the second season, the battle against the United Mankind has gone much better than expectations. Fleets continue to expand their areas of conquest nicely and the Abh Empire continues to grow, retaking lost planets and adding new ones. The most striking naturally comes from the fleet of Nereis and Nefee. As their fleet moves outward and into areas that aren’t considered strategically valuable, they gain more and more worlds, stretching some resources thin. Most notably in administrators and ambassadors, which is an amusing situation.

There’s definitely concern among those higher up in the fleet as well as Nefee who is concerned about his brothers’ aggressive advances into enemy space. Since Nereis hasn’t really explained his motivations for it, Nefee continues to harbor the fear that his brother has succumbed to the Spectacular Insanity that is the trademark of their family. Between the expansions and aggressiveness, Nereis continues to take his baths and record his personal logs in the midst of battle, which must cause some kind of varying emotions among the crew who know about it.

One other interesting element we learn early on here is the introduction of Lafiel’s younger brother and her father. The two have an interesting talk about Lafiel and the way their father raised both of them, as her brother is having concerns about her being so far ahead of him as he’s just now entering the academy and his father is returning to the fleet to perform his own duties. This all takes place in a most interesting location where a number of cats from the Royal family and some others (such as Jinto’s) are kept while their masters are out and about. The conversation provides some intriguing insights into the family and into Lafiel herself.

Eventually, we do get back to the story of Jinto and Lafiel, but the fact that we can spend so much time away from them to help build up the legs of this massive storyline is a strong aspect of this series. In their new Basroil, the crew is back together and heading to the planet Lobnas II where they’ve been assigned to deal with the transition to the Abh Empire. Lafiel pretty much dreads this duty once more since there’s little fun in being a territorial ambassador, but Jinto still finds some excitement to the entire process. He offers up to handle the duties for this one and she lets him.

Lobnas II turns out to be a very interesting little planet with a number of challenges. As it turns out, the planet is actually one of United Mankind’s prison worlds where there’s just one island continent that’s habitable. With nearly a million prisoners on the planet, they see the arrival of the Abh as a chance for freedom to do what they want on Lobnas II or a chance for emigration. There’s four factions vying for power here, from the actual administration to representatives from the three sectors. The makeup of the actual prison section is interesting, as the men and women are kept in separate thirds of the continent while a mix of the two are allowed in the center portion but only if they agree to be sterilized. The administration has decided that they and their families should not stay here in case of repercussions, so they ask for emigration. The women in their separate section ask for the same as they feel that if they’re left there, the men will simply plunder and rape them, turning them into cattle for breeding.

Suffice to say, Jinto has quite the exercise ahead of it. This spans over the four episodes as we get to know the situation and each side jockeys for position and power with the Deputy Ambassador. Much like in the first season when Lafiel and Jinto spent several episodes with the Febdash’s, these episodes provide some really keen insights into Abh administration of their Empire worlds and a look at what United Mankind has done for their prison system. A lot of neat little items are revealed through the discussions that range from quiet and serious to loud and nearly violent.

A number of sequences here take place on the planet itself and this provides quite the contrast to the last season after all the time spent in space. It’s fun to get some of the crew on the ground again and on an island no less. Lafiel takes something of a backseat for most of these episodes, letting the pressure of everything on her shoulders weigh heavy as she tries to deal with that, but otherwise letting Jinto take the lead here. It’s a nice change of pace to have her more in a support role as opposed to him. While the evacuation was starting to go according to plan and those who wanted to emigrate, the plan begins to go to hell as the men in the containment areas begin to fight an organized campaign to capture the administrative section. Their goal is quite simple in that they refuse to let the women go, thereby consigning the planet to eventual doom with no heirs to be produced. The fighting is extremely fierce and it really shows through here when the prisoners get their weapons and start moving through the various locations.

To make things worse, a number of the guards have switched sides and are arming the prisoners and helping them move more swiftly through the complexes. From the command view, Jinto’s work with the territorial administrator looks grim as they try to find solutions to the problems. Problems made worse when the women try to make sure that they’re not left to hang during this and given over to the men. Jinto’s sense of honor and integrity are strong here though and he’s committed to doing what he can.

In fact, though he should return to the Basroil and direct the final movements from there, he ensures that he’s still on the ground so that he can get a clearer and more up to date view of what’s going as well as making sure he can get as many people boarded as possible. The downside to this is that with the number of guards that have switched sides, he ends up being captured and taken hostage by the men who are now proclaiming leadership on the planet, demanding that they be negotiated with. Naturally, this doesn’t fly with Lafiel as the territorial administrator has already given the chain of succession to them and that’s what the Abh will use. Abh don’t negotiate, they threaten vengeance and work their way from there.

One turn of events is rather surprising though and shows that much is still being hidden from the Abh on this planet as Jinto learns that one of the main reasons for a good number of the men and guards wanting to stay has to do with a strain of addictive drugs that is used here. With the addiction as strong as it is, a good percentage of the people are unable to leave the planet since they wouldn’t be able to get it otherwise. The added complication brings Jinto’s job even more problems as he tries to mollify the three sides that are ready to snap.

There are a lot of nuances sprinkled throughout these episodes; I particularly liked the introduction of “Abh Hell” and the references made in the second episode from historical and literary regions that describe aspects of it. Watching Lafiel speak briefly of it before one of her command staff fills Dokufu in on it completely is beautiful, especially the continually growing fear on Dokufu’s face. More pleasing is the verbal sparring that Spoor carries on with Lafiel as the situation heightens to greater tensions with the impending arrival of a United Mankind fleet into the system. While the bulk of this particular series has been taking place planetside, it’s been especially intriguing and illuminating with both Jinto and the way of Abh life and beliefs. There’s so much talked about and brought up with the way Abh are and their methods that it’s continually fascinating to me. Combined with an engaging storyline and a cast of characters that I’ve come to love, this series has me completely captivated. I can’t wait to get the final episodes in the next volume of this arc and see how it concludes.

The final arc has things about to get dicey in space as the collapse of any sort of command and control on the ground has resulted in a near comical moment of everyone pointing guns at each other, leaving Jinto out of the loop and barely alive after that incident. But even though he’s still alive, he’s essentially trapped on a large island continent filled with prisoners who now have little reason to live since the majority of the women have fled to refugee status. With that in the background, these final episodes have a lot of areas to play with. It manages to kick off with one of my favorite aspects, and that’s dealing with Spoor in any way at all. With her style and wit, she continues to harass her Chief of Staff as they set up to defend against the incoming enemy.

Instead of going the normal route though, she opts to try and convince the incoming fleet commander that the entire upcoming battle is pointless and to just let each side finish what they need to do before moving in, and she’ll have her small fleet retreat within six hours time. Spoor’s attempts at negotiations are fun to watch, particularly as the Chief of Staff continues to rewrite them into something a bit more diplomatic each time. The resulting engagement between the two fleets continues to heighten my fascination with this show. The movements of the ships, the organization of the attack patterns, the use of the time-space bubbles to create areas in which to fight, all of it is intriguing and very well played out here. This is one of the more engaging battles that Admiral Spoor finds herself in, and though I think the Chief of Staff reads too much into her comments and body language, it’s definitely a skirmish that has given her a new appreciation of command and battle.

The other story that plays out nicely here gives us more time with Jinto as we follow him trying to survive down on the prison planet after the last of the rescue ships takes off from the bay. Through the use of flashbacks to his last “on the run” adventure during Crest of the Stars, it’s really interesting to see how the character has really changed and fleshed out, physically and mentally, since that time as well as seeing what’s remained the same. With only himself as company while trying to avoid the angry prisoners, he sneaks about the towns trying to forage for something resembling food or decent water while dreaming of his home planet Martine as well as how he’ll have to face Lafiel one day.

In Summary:
Banner of the Stars has managed to really expand a lot from what Crest of the Stars hinted at, moving somewhat from a more personal character driven show to one that can manage the epic galactic movements of fleets while taking that core character aspect and nudging it slightly into something even more engaging and enjoyable. The fleet sized battles are things that really appeal to me as very few shows do them while establishing a solid strategic side to work with alongside it. But throughout it all we get a good bit of solid character material that explores the Abh, their beliefs and what makes them who they are as a species, and into Lafiel herself and what she has to deal with because of her position. I continue to hope that this series gets an expansive update with a new project, one that brings in a lot of the short story material to expand on it all, but until such a thing happens I’m glad that this show is back in print and with so much material available.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, OVA 1 – Reencounter of the Stars, OVA 2 – Family Table

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: December 4th, 2018
MSRP: $54.98
Running Time: 575 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
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.

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