Star Ocean EX episode 3: "The Magic Stone" (let the implicit fight scenes roll on!)
There’s a lot to be said for animation that tries to avoid being animated, and if ever there was a poster child for this bizarre condition it would be Star Ocean EX (well, followed closely by the first season of Saiyuki.) Up ’til now it was just a passing annoyance, but now, as the third episode brings us to the first big boss fight of the series, will the animation team’s fear of spending money prove too great a liability for me to enjoy myself? Yes… yes it will… Let’s watch.
When we last left our stranded space hero, Claude was learning an important lesson about the people of this new world he was trapped on: evil guys will not stop their carriage no matter how loudly you shout your desire for them to do so! This new information firmly in his mind, Claude heads back to the town of Salva, as Allan takes Rena to his… underground lair. She wakes to discover that she’s been shackled to an elaborately ornate chair with a back that looks like a bloomed rose… a piece of furniture far too chic to be in a series this bad. Oh, right, the shackles! turns out Allan’s diabolical plan is to force Rena to marry him. My hopes for railroad tracks will have to wait a little later, I guess.
The scene shifts to Claude, who did a pretty admirable job of catching up to a stage coach. He stands before the mayor’s mansion and attempts to open the doors. Naturally, they’re locked… thus… he tries to open the door again, and now we’ve confirmed that it’s locked. He tries to shoulder-bash the door in… the result is hilarious… but again, the door is locked. Now truly frustrated, Claude shouts “Open!” angrily at the door, as if it were an enchanted treasure room in an arabian folktale.
Y’know, for all his daddy issues, Claude must have been a very spoiled child. It takes a certain kind of person to believe that shouting what you want as loud as you can will make what you’re shouting at comply… even when it’s inanimate. Well, fortunately for our brilliant protagonist here, Yuuki, the girl he saved from being accosted by thugs in the previous episode, appears and reveals that the back door of the mayor’s house has a broken lock. If this fact were so commonly known that even the local jam seller in my town was privy to it… I would personally have the door fixed, for fear of robbery. Alas, however, I am not the mayor of Salva.
Allan summons his army of spooky ghosts and advances toward Rena, who says he’s not the person she used to know. He says that she’s right, and the stone we saw ominously floating on a pedestal the episode before appears over his shoulder. He says the person he once was is no more, and then starts talking about how they’re destined to be together, and how he can’t wait to become one with her. These words are laced with innuendo, but lucky for her all he tries to do is force a kiss… which is interrupted with great fanfare by our hero and his jam-selling sidekick, who arrive on the scene… damn that was fast! Did Allan build his underground layer RIGHT next to the back door of the mansion?
Unfortunately for Claude, it turns out he has a crippling fear of ghosts… or not. Either way, Allan is able to effectively make their attempt at rescue worthless by having his ghostly henchmen swirl around the pair of would-be heroes really fast. I’m sure the reason this measure was successful was because looping a ghost army spinning around Claude is significantly cheaper on the animation budget than actually having Claude… y’know… FIGHT the ghosts. Still, when presented with facts like that, I prefer to think of actual story reasons for these kinds of things, and sadly fear of ghosts is the best my uncreative mind can muster.
Anyway, with the heroes thus paralyzed, Allan continues his perverse marriage ceremony with Rena. He looks into her eyes, and is shocked to see them full of sadness. Clearly he thought she liked being shackled to a chair while he forced himself on her.. the price an incautious man pays for assuming a girl is as kinky as he is. He tells her to stop looking at him like that, since they’re supposed to be madly in love and all, and she just begs him to stop all this again, which causes him to go through a fit of convulsions. Suddenly the ghosts that were paralyzing our heroes are sucked into his body, and the stone hovering over him begins to glow brighter as he transforms into a monster…
Claude frees Rena, and turns to fight the now monstrous Allan. He pulls out his gun, but by this point we know better than to think he’ll do anything with it, and true to form, Rena shouts out to Claude, begging him not to kill Allan. This causes him to hesitate, and the monster proceeds to impale him. Well, we’re meant to believe that he impaled him, but this series was edited to be viewed by all audiences, which means no blood… This leads to a very awkward scene where Rena starts freaking out over how her causing Claude to hesitate put his life in jeopardy and in the background Yuuki makes a comment that the wound “looks fatal.”
Okay Star Ocean EX, it’s time for a little chat. I’ve already made my peace with the fact that I have to imagine every battle scene for myself, because you’re too cheap to animate anything more complicated than characters moving… do I really have to imagine severe injuries on my own now, too? Don’t get me wrong… I’m not one of those fanbois who demands liters of blood to enjoy a good series, but if you’re gonna have one of the characters say a wound looks fatal, couldn’t you at least… you know… make the wound look fatal?
This is supposed to be the scene where Rena reveals her super-secret healing powers, but of course, since Claude has no visible injury, save looking a little dirty, we only know it’s a healing power because we’re told as much.
With his wounds healed, Claude leaps back into action, again pulling his gun. He even manages to pull the trigger this time. Too bad the weapon was irreparably damaged by the monster’s first attack against him. So it is that Claude’s phase gun finally leaves the series. For you sports fans keeping track at home, Claude batted an amazing 1 for 6 in times he actually fired the gun versus times he just pointed it at something.
The time comes for him to fight with that sword! however, since he’s a kid from the future who’s probably never even held a sword before, this goes as well as you’d expect. Rena eventually deduces that the stone is the source of the transformation, and asks Claude to try to destroy it. It takes a few tries, but he eventually succeeds, shattering the stone and freeing Allan from its evil influence.
The scene immediately changes to a carriage escorting Rena back to her home in Arlia as Allan, no longer possessed by Pazuzu, apologizes for his earlier behavior, and is a little too easily forgiven. Claude uses his nifty communicator thing to examine the remnants of the magic stone, and discovers that it’s made of the same material as the dome that transported him to this world in episode 1.
Peace and order now restored, the damsel in distress rescued, it’s time to repeat more of what we’ve already told our viewers! Everyone gathers at the mayor’s house, where Yuuki comments that the magic stone seemed to have the same properties as the sorcery globe. Claude, having apparently forgotten what that was since last episode, asks about it, prompting the same explanation about cataclysms and monsters we’ve heard once an episode since the series began.
In a rare moment of intelligence, Claude deduces that if the entire sorcery globe is comprised of the same material as the dome that transported him, by going to examine it, he may be able to transport back. Thus, he decides to agree to what the mayor asked of him in episode two: to go investigate the sorcery globe. Not because he’s any sort of hero mind! but just ‘cuz he’s hoping for that next leap home.
The gang splits up for the night, and the mayor asks to speak with Claude, having another favor to ask of him. He reveals that Rena is also a stranger to this world, having appeared mysteriously in the forest, the same way Claude did, as a small child. She was found by the people who raised her as her parents, but deep down knows that she doesn’t belong in this place. Thus, the mayor asks Claude to take her with him on his big adventure, a proposition Claude is most apprehensive about.
The scene shifts to a small bridge in Arlia, where Claude is resting against the rails, thinking about whether or not it would be a good idea to bring Rena along on his journey. As if on cue, Rena appears, and after the two share a few moments of small talk, she makes the same request as the mayor, going on a small monologue about how she hopes to find her own answers at the sorcery globe. At the end of this monologue, as if waiting for their cue, a swath of fireflies surrounds them, illuminating the scene beautifully and… WAIT…
Okay Star Ocean EX, it’s time for another private chat. It was already night when this scene opened, and nothing about the lighting changed at all during the entire conversation… so why did the fireflies just suddenly appear? Why wouldn’t they have been there the entire time? Surely you’re not so cheap as to be unwilling to animate a few extra minutes of small dots of light traveling in circles? You are? Damn, now I have to think of a plot related excuse for why this happened… hmm… I got it! Fireflies on this planet are empathetic, and thus are drawn out only when emotions of people in the area reach their peak! *whew*
My non-sequitor aside, Claude decides it’s too dangerous for a girl with no combat ability (despite the fact that she should have it) to come along, and thus declines her request.
The scene changes to the next day, with Claude standing on the outskirts of town. The mayor appears to see him off, noting that he decided not to take Rena along. Claude confirms this, stating that it was safer to keep her here. Again on cue (I’d forgotten that Anime(!)Rena apparently has limited psychic powers) Rena and her mother appear, with a coach behind them. Rena seems to shy to say anything, but her mother gives her an encouraging push forward and Claude, out of nowhere, suddenly says that while it’ll be a dangerous trip, if she’s sure she wants to come, she can.
Wow. Rena didn’t even have to say whatever it is she needed encouragement to say! Claude must have the most easily changed mind in the world. The anime literally had events play out like this:
Rena: Can I come with you?
Claude: No. Too dangerous.
Rena: *does nothing*
Claude: it’ll be dangerous, but you can come if you don’t mind that!
God, I love the way these people have adapted one of my favorite games in the history of the medium. Anyway, it’s revealed that the coach is being driven by Allan, who will take the group as far as the capital city of Krosse as a way of apology for the whole attempted kidnapping thing. Rena and Claude board the coach, and the adventure begins… I guess.
Episode 3 in review: it was around this point in the series when I began to realize that excitedly buying the entire 80 dollar box set because I was so excited to see an anime adaption of Star Ocean 2 may have been a bad idea. Between the censorship and the lazy animation the combat is impossible to take seriously, the characters are stupid, hollow shells of their video game counterparts, and on the whole it was a collection of little problems like this that made the series very hard to take seriously. This episode still had its fair share of good moments, but by this point they were completely drowned out by the bad… The series does start to arc up a little from this point, but it’s an unstable ride from start to finish.