ANIME & MANGA - Review
13:33 - 24th July 2014, by Andrew Osmond

Outlaw Star

First broadcast in 1998 (the year of Cowboy Bebop), Outlaw Star holds up as a very likable nuts-and-bolts space adventure whose solid characters, vivacious artwork and sound series arc make up for the silly excesses and uneven quality. Outlaw Star is the name of a spaceship, but it's the pilot who counts. Gene Starwind has a name ripped from a Star Trek parody (who said 'Roddenberry'?) but he's an unusually dimensional space hero, with abandonment issues and a fear of space flight. Let's say that again, a space hero with a fear of space flight.

The psychology rubs up nicely against Gene's manly, Kirk-young-punk persona, with a love of battle and beautiful ladies. His endless pulling and bed hopping may be a bit oafish, but after the stream of terrified schoolboy virgins in recent anime, it's a relief to have a retrograde leading man who flaunts the notches on his bedpost.
Starwind's story is a typical space-opera arc. His life on a dull planet is disrupted when he takes on an errand for a secretive woman, who turns out to be an 'outlaw,' a self-employed adventurer. She's smuggling another woman, Melfina, who's hunted by space pirates and is plainly non-human (she's first seen folded up nude in a suitcase). Shortly Starwind is out in space himself, where he finds the ship Outlaw Star, gains friends, foes and hangers-on, and gradually follows clues to the mystery of Melfina, Outlaw Star and something called the Galactic Leyline.

The first episode shows off the series at its best; jaunty, adult, slick and edgy. All those qualities recur through the show, though less often than you might hope. When one of the regular cast (not Melfina) turns out to be a cat-girl dimwit, you feel your spirits sink. But by the later episodes even the feline is funny and - that word again - likeable. Melfina, too, is an sci-fi space-angel stereotype who gradually makes an ostensibly thankless, objectified role seem dramatically alive by the story's end.

A ship computer, Gilliam II, is drolly vocal in the best TV sci-fi traditions. But the strongest of the support cast is "Jim" Hawking, who is Gene's preteen business partner and a hacker maestro. While he's not actually Gene's sibling, Jim may be the best no-nonsense "little brother" in anime after Al in Fullmetal Alchemist. A story of Jim meeting his first girlfriend is especially good in laying out his relationship with Gene. The story payoff shows how harsh Outlaw Star can get, when it's not larking about with women's wrestling matches and hot springs.

Like Stand Alone Complex, the 26 part series is a mix of arc and one-off episodes, saving the exciting conclusion of the Melfina / Leyline mystery to the end. The show's tone and (frankly) its quality bounce around, but Outlaw Star is peppered with fine moments. An emergency spaceship takeoff is tremendously visually exciting, as are some of the spaceship-to-ship battles, which have a crazy mecha anime twist of their own - we'll leave that for you to discover. You have to take rough with smooth. One episode's set in a prison on a high-gravity world (great idea!), complete with prison sauna (huh?). But you'd be hard-hearted not to enjoy this star trek.

This is no true classic, but this space opera is such unpretentious fun that it's great to have back.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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