Crest of the Stars
The human race has colonized the stars, and for many years, Jinto Lin led a relatively peaceful life as the son of the prime minister on the remote planet of Martine. And then came the Abh, a long-lived, blue-haired race with fey features and high technology, who conquered their planet almost without a single shot fired ... because Jinto's own father had become a feudal lord for the Abh in the name of peace.
Jinto is sent to go to school and learn the customs of the Abh, and he meets the beautiful princess Lafiel and soon learns that the Abh are far more complex than most land-bound humans could even imagine. However, the alliance of the United Mankind has declared war on the Abh, and they must find a way to survive in the battlefield of space.
Here's a science fiction entry that makes practically everything before it look positively obsolete.
Crest of the Stars is one of the most impressive sci-fi TV series I've ever seen, certainly on par with Star Trek and Farscape, and a tad more credible than either. From the incredibly intricate battle sequences (no ridiculous Spanish galleon standoffs here, they use all angles of attack, just as they should!), to the equally intricate rendering of the Abh language and culture (telling signs that this was based off a series of novels), Crest of the Stars is set in a universe that is believable and intriguing.
For once, you don't see sci-fi from the point of view of earthbound humans, but from the spacefaring traditions of the Abh. It's rather like watching Star Trek from the point of view of the Romulans, but infinitely better. And the Abh are depicted as very distinct personality-wise, and despite the differences between humans and Abh, it's quite easy to understand where they're coming from. In many sequences, you will find yourselves rooting against the humans.
In the initial episode I screened (episode five), Jinto and Lafiel are shuttled off a patrol ship that is about to enter a battle with human battleships, outnumbered ten to one. As Jinto and Lafiel learn more about each other and the differences and similarities between their respective races, the battle commences and rages on, as the crew of the ship heroically defend themselves against impossible odds. What struck me is that I felt like part of that crew, even though not one of them was human (in the traditional sense), and though harried from all sides, the courageous captain Lexshue never gives up. Exciting, emotionally stirring, and well plotted, it was anime at the edge of your seat, and I enjoyed every minute.
Much later on, I was able to screen the rest of this series, and the buildup to that first confrontation was very well done, if a bit slow for some. Jinto's experiences as a Lander learning to be an Abh noble were an interesting look at a culture so very foreign, and yet all too real and, well, human. The characters of Jinto and Lafiel are almost immediately appealing; with Jinto's earnest nature dovetailing well with Lafiel's eagerness to prove she's more than just a girl with the right bloodline.
Episodes often deal with the intricate politics of the Abh Empire and its dealings (and later, open war) with the United Mankind, like chess on an interplanetary scale, and it may be a bit much for viewers who are more in the mood for space battles than exploring characterization and universe-building. It's obvious that a lot of thought and planning has been put into the creation of this work, and this sort of attention to detail lends itself well to full-length television series. Granted, at its heart, Crest of the Stars is certainly a space opera, but it feels more like Heinlein than Roddenberry, if you catch my drift. If anything, you won't find a womanizing Captain Kirk sleeping with half the galaxy in THIS series, that's for sure ... though you'll find a few eccentrics in captain's chairs, like the incisively witty, elegant, and utterly scene-stealing Rear Admiral Spoor (a favorite of many viewers).
While I have mentioned that the beginning of the series is rather slow, the intrigue within Baron Febdash's domain, and Jinto and Lafiel's cat-and-mouse exploits on Sufugnoff offer many opportunities for action and occasional humor. The space battle later in the series are as exciting and well-choreographed as the first, and while there is a great amount of humor in the unorthodox finale, it really cements the idea that this is very much a space drama of the highest caliber.
The animation itself is very good, even for such simple scenes as a character turning his or her head to speak at someone else. Through most of the first four episodes, it's pretty unobtrusive, but attractive and well executed. However, the battle scene in episode five, which is held mostly in the Abh version of hyperspace, is just phenomenal. Even land scenes, like the cornfields on Sufugnoff where the main characters end up later in the series are well-depicted. The art style is gorgeous, especially the designs for the Abh themselves, and the music is stirring and appropriate for the scenes, mostly in classical style.
If there is one drawback (and it's a huge one), it's the dub. Simply put, this is one of the worst English dubs I've heard, and while I appreciate Tech TV attempting to air this series for a greater audience, I get the feeling that this is actually doing more harm than good. Another problem is the localizers' obvious unfamiliarity with the material: many of the nuances of Abh characters and the unique Abh language are simply shredded in the translation, and this carries over to both subtitled and dubbed versions of the film. Several websites are available on the Internet devoted to the errors in the translation, and I heavily advise diehard fans of this series to give Google a spin to see what was missed.
From opening to ending, Crest of the Stars is just incredibly good, and I'm not surprised it was such a hit in Japan. This is one of those rare deep space science-fiction series that does what Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket does for giant-robot shows. It transcends the genre and becomes a damn good story on its own.
The exposition may be too slow for more action-oriented viewers, but those who are patient enough (or interested enough) to go through all the character and universe development will be heavily rewarded. The dub, however, does no favors to this show or any of its viewers - stick to the Japanese track on this one. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: Space battles are not as sterile as you'd like to think. People get sucked into space or vaporized with each cannon hit, and the action gets incredibly fierce. And it's very personal. The preview of the episode six showed just a -bit- of nudity (those Abh are -very- human if you ask me). Overall, parents should really view this first (and enjoy it), and then decide whether it's all right for their children. Teens shouldn't have any problem with it, unless they aren't into sci-fi.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD; digital source
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Crest of the Stars © 1999 Sunrise / Bandai Visual / Hiroyuki Morioka / Hayakawa Shoten
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