The setting is four hundred years into the future, and mankind has finally succeeded in establishing a society in space. The success of this new society is due to a discovery that researchers have dubbed "Psychophysics". With the proper application of mental power upon the laws of physics, mankind exceeded the speed of light for the first time in the 21st century. Mankind inaugurates the Milky Way Union, and establishes the Universal Guardians to police it.
Kane Blueriver, a mantle-clad Psy-Blade-wielding Trouble Contractor, and Canal, the hard hologram AI of the spaceship SwordBreaker are found in the middle of one of their more-than-average missions when the self-proclaimed "Best Private Eye in the Universe," Millennium Feria Nocturne ("Milly" for short) stumbles (quite literally) into their super-sensitive mission in the middle of its execution. Chaos ensues in the classic Kanzaka tradition, and thus poor Milly is left high and dry, picking up the pieces all by her lonesome. Quite naturally she loses her license to pratice investigation, and finds herself struggling to find a job.
Now Milly, like most Kanzaka females, is not one to take it sitting down, and by the time the second episode rolls around, the "best (insert occupation here) in the universe" manages to track down Kane and Canal, and insists that she play part in their tra-con schemes, since they were wholly responsible for her current state of unemployment.
Little do our adventurers know that their meeting was a fated one, and they're about to open a can of worms that the galaxy might not be able to contain ...
First off, I hate it when people constantly compare Lost Universe with Slayers. But since they're the same creators, I guess it's hard not to, huh?
I think it's because Slayers NEXT ruined it for me, because for some reason, Lost Universe holds a more treasured place in my heart than does the Slayers series. This is coming from someone who *hates* most sci-fi and mecha-based anime. Generally speaking, the characters in Lost Universe are more controlled, more mature, and less abrasive and idiotic than those in Slayers.
That isn't to say Lost Universe is without flaws. But before we get to those, I want to talk about its merits.
First, let's discuss the music. For those of you that have been disappointed with the current series Hayashibara Megumi has been lending her chords to, those looking for an impressive opening sequence in the Slayers tradition, look no further. "Infinity" is still one of my favorite opening sequences in anime ... so much so that I've performed the piece in a piano recital many a year ago. The background music can at times be a bit campy, but once the series takes a serious turn (I'd say around episode 8?), the music ranges from a bittersweet music box tune that still breaks my heart, to some very powerful string ensembles towards the series climax. I've bought all four CDs that have been released for this series, if that's any indication. But still, the music overall, in comparison to Slayers, isn't really anything to write home about.
The plot might turn off viewers at first, namely because of its apparently gimmicky reliance on gags (Kane's obsession with his capes, Milly blowing up the kitchen all the time, Canal's anal-retentiveness), but these things were, honestly, the same things that turned me off about Cowboy Bebop, and I'm sure most of us would smack our friends upside the head if they didn't stick with it for a little while longer.
Early on we see Kane refer often to things that his Grandma taught him, and this is key to the serious plot underlying in the series. Canal is, in my opinion, one of the most tragic anime characters because of this underlying plot, but you'll never know why unless you stick through the first two DVDs, and that's a pure, PURE shame.
For all of you Hayashibara fans, you should be excited to hear that Lost Universe has one of her finest performances ever. Yes, I like her role of Canal better than that of Lina Inverse (who I love), and even Achika in Tenchi Muyo In Love! Episodes 22-26 of Lost Universe have won a place in my list of most gut-wrenching, stay-up-until-the-crack-of-dawn-I-can't-handle-the-suspense moments in my anime fandom. During the time that I saw Lost Universe, Outlaw Star was being aired on Cartoon Network. Outlaw Star fans take note: Canal could take Melfina DOWN.
The challenge is sitting through the complex, sometimes meticulous stage-setting the producers of this TV series put us through. I find that the main flaw of Lost Universe (a similar flaw found in Slayers NEXT and arguably in TRY) is the lack of direction from the original creators, and the television producers taking too many liberties with the television series' plot.
This flaw probably could be overlooked if the animation quality were better. Unfortunately, this is one of the first anime series to incorporate CGI into traditional 2-D animation, and sadly the sometimes-stock animation detracts from the viewing experience, and the series would have been better off without it. In addition, why would a mere twenty-six-episode series need so many different art directors? There is a clear contrast of key animators within a few episodes, and it's frankly upsetting.
So while these flaws are just big enough not to make it what I would consider one of the great classics that should find its way into any anime-viewer's "canon" of viewing, there are some points I wish to make that deem it worthy of being further up on an anime-viewer's priority list.
As mentioned above, the characters of this series are reason enough to watch. Kane marks one of the first roles of the now-popular Hoshi Souichirou, known better as Son Goku in Saiyuki. His performance as Kane is downright hilarious, and while he is able to portray that "tough-guy" persona, he's definitely identifiable as a vulnerable grandson bent on avenging his beloved grandmother, Alicia.
Hiiragi Mifuyu (Slayers fans will recognize her as Martina) isn't nearly as obnoxious in this series, and while her performance is unfortunately upstaged by both Hayashibara and Hoshi, it's still very well done. Milly is a fantastic "straight man", although sometimes it's her and Canal causing the trouble, and Kane is the one found in the middle of the mess.
Slayers fans will be pleased to spot both Suzuki Masami (Amelia in Slayers) and Midorikawa Hikaru (Zelgadis) as supporting characters Neena Marcury and Rail Claymore, Universal Guardians who are sucked into the drama of Alicia's legacy (unknowingly? ... you'll just have to see).
Unfortunately, the core of the plot of Lost Universe is so complex (it is based on novels, after all), a mere twenty-six television episodes (of which really only twelve focus on the meat of it all) doesn't do its intricate story justice. Still, Lost Universe is a well-spent twenty-six episodes, and the idealist in my only hopes that the novels will someday be translated and brought to the States.
In the meantime, maybe we can hope for the three-tankoubon manga?
Four stars because the studios simply took on too ambitious a project for a one-season series. Add or subtract a star if you're a Slayers fan, depending. Add a star if you love sci-fi and the thought of living spaceships ... this series is living spaceships at its best. — Melissa Sternenberg
Recommended Audience: Great for sci-fi fans who are willing to take the genre less seriously. At the same time, anyone who's willing to sit through a few episodes of hijinks only to be lunged into a darker plot towards the end will find themselves at least mildly enjoying this series. (I personally LOVED it, but I don't expect everyone to agree with me on this one.)
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Lost Universe © 1998 TV Tokyo / Softx
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