Star Ocean EX Episode 1: Transport [First Impression]

First of all, an introduction is in order.  Hello world, my handle is Balladbird.  You may  feel free to call me ballad, or bird, or any shortened version thereof.   Unlike my fellow  reviewers here at AAB, I don’t have the bandwidth for downloading or streaming new  series, and therefore cannot contribute reviews on the cutting edge series of the season.    However, thanks to an enlistment in the military providing me with essentially endless  disposable income, I have become the possessor of over 100 DVDs for around 40 series,  so I thought I could help everyone remember their roots by reviewing some of the older  shows that have already passed the stream of attention over the years.

The first theme for  my reviews is going to be Video Game adaptions.  While with Hollywood,  any attempt to  convert a video game to a movie ends in disaster, the world of anime is a bit more  flexible.  The two genres already share a lot in common, right?  So how hard could it be to  make a video game anime that doesn’t suck?

… Okay, so it’s way easier than I thought,  but most anime based on video games are better described as mediocre than bad.  They  may please the fans of the game they represent, but they aren’t likely to reach anyone who  wasn’t already a fan before watching them.  Then again, some truly are terrible… and a  very rare few stand among some of the best anime series I’ve ever seen.  For my first set of  reviews, I’m going to do one of each.  A terrible anime adaption, an average one, and an  excellent one.

Let’s start with the terrible!

ah, the fanboy scream this elicited from me the first time I saw it...

Now, I must admit this may not have been the best first choice for me to review… I was (and still am) an ENORMOUS fanboy of the game this series was based on.  The story for the first half was a pretty generic “group of friends saves the world” plot, but the Star Trek meets Final Fantasy mixture was something new and fresh, and the plot twist at the halfway point of the game made the buildup worthwhile.More than anything, this game made my inner shipper happy.  Thanks to a complex relationship system between the characters in your party, it was possible to get anyone in the group together with anyone else.  Forget canon.  You MADE canon, and it felt good.  As a result of my love for the original game, I may well rant about things that won’t make much sense to someone who never played it.  I apologize for that, and beg your indulgence.

Let’s get the statistical information for this series out of the way and start my review of the first episode, alright?

Star Ocean EX is a 26 episode series that aired in Japan from April 2001 to September of the same year.  It was localized for region one by Geneon studios starting in 2005, and dubbed by Canada’s Ocean Studios (one of my least favorite dub companies… and I am a man who loves dubs.)For my review I watched the episodes dubbed and subbed, with my comments typically general and applicable to both versions.  If something was made worse by the dub, I’ll be sure to note so duly.

With Geneon gone, the DVDs are out of print, but probably easy to find, for whatever reason you’d want to.

Got all that?  Good!   Onto the review.

The Review:

Episode one follows the game pretty much to the letter… which would be a good thing if the beginning  of the game weren’t two hours of unavoidable exposition that stood between me and killing things with my sword and phase gun.  The episode opens with a young girl named Rena running through a field toward a forest, talking about how “he” was coming, and “the day” has finally arrived.

The scene then shifts to a ship in space, with the main character, Claude, giving a monologue about space because… well… what sci-fi story is complete without one, right?  He then goes on to talk about his Dad for two minutes.  Turns out his father is a space federation commodore, and living in his shadow has caused him to develop daddy issues… as long as they don’t make him too whiny about it, I’ll let that one slide.

There’s a filler scene about an asteroid that I’m going to pretend didn’t happen, or would if it didn’t help to establish that Anime(!)Claude is a bit of a pansy.  The ship is in a bind, and he panics for a while, but his dad does some crazy thing and blows up the meteor that’s about to hit the ship,  and the story finally sets up where the game began.  Claude C. Kenny, our hero… who is so badass that he needs two first names, is an ensign aboard a ship captained by his father.  They’ve landed on a desert planet to investigate strange energy coming from a weird dome thingy.  Once they hit the ground, Claude’s dad points out that his son gave into his fear back there in the meteor field, and this proceeds to piss Claude off… because it was totally true.  Then he gives Claude a gun, and tells him not to hesitate if the time comes to use it.

There, you've got a gun, now man up already!

The investigation team enters the dome, and find a strange device inside.  Claude still has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about his Dad’s statements earlier, so he decides he may as well go investigate what the device is by himself.  The rest of the crew immediately tries to stop him, pointing out that it’s a dangerous unknown entity, and as such could explode, be radioactive, or any one of a million other things that would cause most grievous harm to the unprepared.  Claude has none of that, however, for he his daddy issues cloud his judgment.  He comes into contact with the object… and is immediately swallowed by green light.  Cut to a scene of Rena saying “he’s here…”  because… apparently in the anime Rena has psychic powers… and we get to the commercial break screen.

The reason you should listen when Dad tells you not to play with mysterious alien tech.

From here, the scene shifts to Rena speaking with an old man we’ll learn more about in the next episode.  They explain that a strange meteor has crashed onto their planet, leading to all kinds of natural cataclysms and the birth of armies of demons and monsters which have started to ravage the land, but that they needn’t fear, for their religion has a prophecy that when he is needed, a magical warrior will appear wielding a sword of light, and save the world from destruction.   This would all be really interesting, I’m sure… if it weren’t for the fact that we’re going to hear it all again, and then once more for good measure, before the end of the first four episodes.  Ah well, it killed five minutes, didn’t it?

"Alright Rena, let's fill time by expositing facts that will be repeated twice in the next episode... the audience will have forgotten by next week."

Rena departs to pick flowers for the warrior, while Claude wakes up to find himself in the middle of the same forest she just entered.  Rather than marvel at how he managed to survive his own stupidity, he instead, in a strangely calm manner, mentions how strange his new surroundings are, and tries to contact the crew of his ship via communicator.

Swallowed by light on a desert planet, transported to a mystical forest... Lack of caution wins again.

While he’s getting his bearings, Rena is busy being attacked by a giant gorilla-monster thing.  She runs, and seems to manage to hide from him before a sneeze gives her away, and she’s forced to run away.  She then tries to fend him off… or at least, I think she does.  The animation team doesn’t seem to really like… err… animating stuff, so most of the chase involves shaking still photos and screaming.

In the game, Rena is an expert martial artist. This is the one and only time that the anime will remember this fact.

But rest assured, dear Damsel in Distress!  Your cries for help are heard by our hero, Claude, who rushes onto the scene and attacks the gorilla… with a stick.

Clearly the bounds of Claude’s common sense are very broad indeed!  First he plays with a mysterious device for no rational reason, and now he attacks a 12 foot gorilla monster with a stick, despite having a phase gun in his pocket.  *shrug*  ah well.

Claude DOES eventually remember that he has said weapon, and draws it on the creature, preparing to fire.  Unfortunately, he remembers his Dad commenting on how he lost his cool during the first scene of the episode, and it makes him hesitate to pull the trigger, resulting in him almost getting crushed by a giant gorilla hand.Finally realizing that hitting the monster with sticks and pointing his gun at it menacingly were not achieving the desired results, he tries to fire again, this time vaporizing the monster with a single shot while an awe-struck Rena watches on.

Forced to use a weapon that could be mistaken for a sword of light? Sounds like a useful plot device for the next episode!

The danger passed, Claude approaches Rena and asks if she’s okay.  She stares at him in that blushy way anime girls like to do for a minute, but affirms to him that he’s okay, gives him the last survivor of the flowers she was earlier seen picking, and calls him the warrior of light, bringing the first episode to an end.

"Sweet! This planet has elf chicks!"

Impressions: For the hard time I give it, the first episode really wasn’t too bad a start for the series.  The anime’s incarnation of Claude is a bit more whiny and stupid than I would have liked, and the animation for almost all the fight scenes was lazy and half-assed, but the soundtrack was amazing, and on the whole it did a very good job of faithfully following the events of the game’s story up to that point.  I would not on my best day call episode 1 “good”, but watching it wouldn’t have killed my enthusiasm for the series as a fan of the game.

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