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!
With the new subtitling job being a selling point with this release I decided to go with the Japanese track for my main viewing session. There’s some limited directionality now and then, mainly in the bigger spaceship sound effects, some ambient sounds and voices, and music; but the lion’s share of the audio is front and center. But everything is clear, well-balanced and problem free. It’s about on a level with Slayers Next, I’d say. I also spot-checked the English version and found it much the same. Nothing fancy, but good enough to get the job done.
There are very few problems that seem related to the transfer, only very minor things like occasional slight noise in darker areas and a few jagged edges, those mainly in CG scenes. There are also some small source problems that you’d expect in a series of this age: brief frame jitter, a bit of grain here and there, and some shots not quite in focus. The series doesn’t have a lot of bright colours in general, due to taking place mostly in space, but there are a few bright moments planetside and those look good without bleeding or oversaturation. What may put some viewers off may be the shift between traditional cel-animated scenes and digital ones. As long as CG is kept to the spaceships everything is fine – it’s when the show cuts between shots of characters that have been animated in different styles that it can be a bit jarring. It reminds me of Dual. It never got too distracting for me, but I can imagine it putting some viewers off. But mostly the show looks very good.
As usual with RightStuf releases, the packaging is no slouch. We get a nice sturdy box that’s exactly the right size for the five cases to fit snugly inside, but still be easily removable. The front cover features a spread of the good guys, the back ditto for the bad guys, and the spine has the title in large yellow letters between the RightStuf and Nozomi logos, with starfield backgrounds for all. There’s a green semi-transparent box on the back that covers up a bit more of the artwork than I’d like, but does its job of making you want to watch the show by means of quotes, awards, and copy. It lists the special features as well. The technical specifications grid is on the bottom of the box, which is the ideal place for it: if you want to ignore it, you can; if you want to see it, just tip the box. The discs come in black thinpak cases that have a good assortment of character images on the covers, including Canal in the chicken suit. The backs sport some screenshots, episode lists, and special features, in addition to the same writeup we got on the back of the box. These look particularly good because RightStuf went to the extra lengths to arrange it all like data on a computer display. This was a great way to present all of the information and make it visually interesting at the same time. The discs themselves have art duplicating the covers of their respective cases. A fine job.
The menus are in the same style as the backs of the thinpak cases, and the computer display theme fits even better here. The main menu for each disc has its respective cover art image on the right while the menu selections are on the left. Access times are fast and it’s obvious where everything is; choosing a particular episode from the scene selection menu is a snap. Interestingly, the default language option for this release is Japanese with subtitles, so this is a rare instance where you have to remember to go to the setup menu if you want the dub.
Slim but decent. Character bios are not something that interest me, particularly, but the ones here are well-written and engaging. I was a little disappointed to find that only two of the discs had translation notes (the first of which only explained a couple of jokes). But the notes on the last disc make up for it. These are mainly composed of background information from the source material and explain the cosmology of Lost Universe and its connection to the world of Slayers. This was much better reading, and more the kind of thing I’d come to expect from RightStuf notes. Marking that section with a great big spoiler warning was a good move, too. Another thing that isn’t really an extra but still fun to do is pause the eyecatch screens to read the character dossiers. This isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do(a large screen helps a lot), but it’s all worth it to learn the Spreader of Darkness’ favourite food.
Fresh from an all too brief but very enjoyable trek through the Slayers TV series, I went into Lost Universe with a certain amount of curiosity. Lost Universe and Slayers share the same director, composer and animation studio, and even the source material was written by the same author. Could lightning strike twice? Was this show going to be just as good? And if so, was it going to be good in the same way or do something different?
Well, it’s pretty clear early on that Lost Universe isn’t just going to be Slayers in space. In fact, if I hadn’t known about the Slayers connection to begin with, I wouldn’t have seen anything to make me think they were in any way related, apart from the similar art styles and a Slayers cameo in some background props. In fact, this series has been able to cross the great gulf fixed between it and fans who don’t like Slayers at all. I can think of a few reasons for this. For starters, the show tends to stay on a more even keel. It has a lot of comedy, and it has its dramatic side, but those opposite ends of the spectrum keep to themselves a little more – it doesn’t have the crazy mood swings of Slayers. (This can be either a plus or minus, depending on how well you thought Slayers pulled that off.) The Lost Universe characters also have things that the characters in Slayers often lack, such as a sense of responsibility, a regard for the rights and safety of others, and the common-sense God gave a grapefruit. (Okay, that last one wasn’t exactly true, but I put it in anyway because it was funny. Anybody can be accurate.) They might bicker from time to time, but they never get mean or abrasive the way the cast of Slayers, by which I mean Lina, sometimes does. Another reason is that the show has a more relaxed pace. More than half of the series is episodic, and when the over-arching story does kick in, it doesn’t try to put you through the wringer emotionally. It doesn’t require you to be as invested.
Since Lost Universe does tend more towards the episodic, the basic setup of the show has a very different feel from Slayers. Kane Blueriver is the hero of the series and always wears a cape to let you know it. He works as a Trouble Contractor, which is basically a mercenary who only works for good guys, getting odd jobs across the galaxy such as transporting cargo, protecting freight, and recovering lost goods. Kane pilots a ship called the Swordbreaker, the computer of which is able to project itself holographically as Canal, a green-haired girl with big, innocent eyes and a sophisticated taste in weapon systems. During the course of a mission Kane and Canal run into Millie, a girl with the quixotic ambition to become the best in the universe at everything. Millie, unfortunately, only excels at marksmanship, though she’s also a good (if destructive) cook. She joins forces with Kane and Canal – not entirely with their consent at first – and together they travel the galaxy, fulfilling their contracts and dealing with terrorists, hijackers, assassins, criminal syndicates and troublemakers of all and sundry kinds along the way.
All of this is good fun in the soft sci-fi style, and as the show progresses we get hints of something bigger in the works. Between Kane’s psi-blade (Light, come forth!), Millie’s gun and the Swordbreaker herself, action is never far away and the execution is excellent. The styles of action scenes are also varied enough to stay fresh. Even when Kane is fighting the same enemy you never get the impression it’s the same battle. There are plenty of good character moments, too. Kane and Canal try to keep their finances in the black; Millie tries to be the best in the universe at inconvenient times; we delve into Kane’s past; Canal negotiates for the best deal on weapons. Even some old Slayers standbys like cross-dressing and animal costumes make appearances. Just wait till you see Canal in the chicken suit.
If Lost Universe has a fault, it’s that the show takes too long to get the story in gear. The mission-based early episodes didn’t prepare me for the surprisingly complex plot that eventually surfaces. The word eventually is important. Nearly the entire plot of the show is in the second half – actually an episode or two less than that. It’s not a jarring transition by any means; the only problem is that things sometimes seem a little rushed. I think more time to let the story unfold would have made for a slightly better show. But if there’s one thing this creative team knows how to do it’s how to end strong by saving the best for last. The final episodes satisfied me on all fronts. The ending has the same gift as the Slayers endings for being serious without being heavy, for coming up with some of the best action scenes in the show, giving us the big encounter we’ve been waiting for and making if worth the wait, and, after all else, leaving us looking ahead to a world of further adventures. I’ll always be in the mood for that.
If you like Slayers at all, Lost Universe is an easy recommendation. If you don’t like Slayers, then recommending it is still just as easy. Lost Universe is a very well-done and easy-to-like show with a high entertainment quotient. RightStuf has done us all a favour by not only snatching it from the out of print abyss but giving us a much improved edition at a great price. So go buy it already. Thrills and laughs in the endless stars await.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Character Bios, Liner Notes
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: December 4th, 2007
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony 35″ KV-35XBR88 SDTV, Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player (via generic component), Yamaha RX-V550 DD/DTS Receiver, Infinity Primus C25 and 150 speakers.