The late 1990s can be considered an anime boom. The arrival of the Internet helped anime fandom spread quickly across North America. At this time three different studios decided to tackle the same concept in very different ways. The concept was the space-western. When the three shows hit North America each of them became popular to varying degrees. Of the three, Outlaw Star didn’t quite have the impact of Cowboy Bebop or Trigun. Does that mean it isn’t worth revisiting? Let’s find out.
On the planet Sentinel 3 Gene Starwind (Robert Wicks) is a problem solver, especially if you need some muscle or shady business conducted. He and his young pal Jim Hawking (Brianne Siddall) are hired by a sexy lady to pick up some cargo and take it to a safe location. Before they know it, they find themselves under attack by pirates and spirited away by the sexy outlaw, “Hot Ice” Hilda (Melissa Williamson). She takes them to her latest prize, an experimental starship called the Outlaw Star. According to Hilda the starship has the ability to find a mysterious treasure called The Galactic Leyline.
Soon Gene and Jim find themselves in charge of the ship, and taking on an unusual crew. First they meet the navigator, a sweet girl named Melfina (Emily Brown), who turns out to be a manufactured human, specifically created to pilot the Outlaw Star. Then they run into a deadly assassin named Twilight Suzuka (Wendee Lee) whose skill with the blade comes in very handy. Then a wild and super strong cat girl named Aisha Clanclan (Leonore Zann) decides to tag along. The ships computer named Gilliiam (G. Gordon Baer) tries to keep the wild crew in line with helpful hints, not that anyone listens to him. Gene is determined to find the Galactic Leyline, but this puts him in direct conflict with every pirate, security space force and outlaw in the system. Will the crew of the Outlaw Star obtain fame and fortune, or will they go down in a blaze of glory?
- Some creative production design, for mecha, spaceship, alien and weapons
- A solid mix of thrilling adventures, silly shenanigans, intense action and a dash of drama
- Some wonderful end credit songs by Akino Arai
- The characters are standard genre tropes
- Loses some of its momentum in the middle of the series
- Some of the voice acting is a bit rough
If you want a series that delivers action and adventure in traditional space opera format, you can’t go wrong here. While the characters and their arcs are pretty familiar, the whole story is very entertaining. The first and last third of the series has amazing momentum, with top-notch storytelling and editing. But the middle portion does slow down a bit with some goofy side stories. The final result is a treasure hunt filled with action, adventure and fun characters.
Scores (out of 5)
In Depth Review
|The Outlaw Star in dock for repairs.|
While each series ended up being very different from the other, they all shared the basic premise of a space western. Trigun and Cowboy Bebop really embraced the concept. But Outlaw Star is more of a traditional space adventure story that ended up using the concept of a space frontier. Outlaws in this universe aren’t necessarily criminals, but they operate in the fringes of society. Gene doesn’t really kill anyone unless he has to, but he isn’t shy about gunning down a bounty. You get the feeling that the galaxy is a pretty rough place. That the primary way the western feel comes through in this series.
|Gene Starwind the only space hero who gets|
Another interesting element is a heavy influence of Chinese culture and visuals in the series. During one of the introductory segments (I’ll talk a bit more about those in a minute) we find out that the Chinese spearheaded the push into the wider galaxy. It isn’t surprising to see a heavily Chinese cultural influence in the design of the buildings, starships and human culture in general. For the majority of the series, whenever Gene is in a human controlled area, you can see Chinese lettering on signs, Chinese restaurants and some characters in traditional Chinese dress (like when Aisha works as a waitress during the space race). There is even a criminal underground obviously based on the Triads. This adds a different flavor to the typical Japanese overtones in most anime.
Outlaw Star also avoids the typical AIC look, and actually has a bit of a 1980s style to it. Gene’s long lanky frame is certainly atypical of anime heroes during the 90s. I especially like the creative character deign for the Kei Pirates. There are some seriously bizarre looking weirdoes in that group. But they stand out, so you pretty much recognize them on sight when they show up later in the series.
|One of the ornate pirate rocket ships.|
The sound work in Outlaw Star is equally creative. Everything, from the weapons to the starships, has a unique sound effect. The sound design is like nothing I’ve heard used in any other anime series at the time. Probably the most impressive works is for the Tao magic spells the pirates use against our heroes.
|Melfina becomes the navigation system for|
the Outlaw Star.
You get three songs for the series. The rockin’ opening theme Through the Night gets the adventure off to a rollicking start. Just like the series itself, it is a fun piece of J-rock. But most people who’ve seen Outlaw Star remember the lovely end credit pieces performed by Akino Arai. These ballads work wonderfully with her vocal style. Arai wrote and performed them both. For the second half of the season you get the upbeat Tsuki no Ie”. But the first half presents the lovely and sad Hiru no Tsuki which is also used in the series as a song Melfina sings.
|Gene talks tough, but "Hot Ice" Hilda just|
stares the goons down with her evil eye.
No, it’s the guys who just seem a little uncertain of the right tone or some of the dialogue. Not all the voice casting seems to fit with the character design. The exception is Brianne Siddall, who does a great job as Jim Hawking. She really nails the youthful exuberance for adventure, as well as Jim’s exasperation with Gene’s antics.
|The Macdougal brothers hatch a plan.|
|If you see "Twilight" Suzuka coming at you like this|
you're dead, you just don't know it yet.
|Jim may be a kid, but he's the most grounded|
member of this crazy crew.
But some seriously stellar episodes balance things out, such as the exciting space race two-parter, or the intense escape from the high gravity prison. There is even a bittersweet episode where Jim meets a very cute girl who turns out to be an assassin sent to kill Gene. Romantics better get their hankies ready for that one.
|The crew of the Outlaw Star is ready for adventure!|
If there is any weak point to the story it is the ending of Outlaw Star. The Macguffin that everyone is running around the galaxy for ends up being the Achilles heal of the series. The Galactic Leyline is so mysterious, so touted, that you begin to get this idea in your head of something impossibly grand and amazing. No matter what the animators and writers come up with, it won’t be nearly as cool as what you come up with. When the Leyline is revealed it is disappointing, no way around it. What I found humorous is that one pre-credit info dumps actually warns viewers that the legend of the Leyline may actually be bigger than the actual leyline itself. Yeah, I think even the writers knew they wrote themselves into a corner with this one.
|Grappler arms: useful tools, or just plain goofy?|
Even with those script problems Outlaw Star is just a fun and entertaining show. I really like the characters, even if they are a bit stock when they start out. As the show goes along the interaction between them keeps things interesting and we learn a bit more about each of them. I especially like how Gene starts out the series getting nauseated each time they go into space. He has to operate starship weapons and keep hoping he won't hurl all over the control panel. As the series goes along, he gets used to space travel, until the crew can't tease him about it any more. But for the most part, each character fits an anime or sci-fi trope. Gene is the rash hot head. Melfina is the naive and lost synthetic girl (inspired by Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion no doubt). Suzuka is the quiet and calm assassin. You get the picture. Of all the characters, only Gene and Melfina grow and change as the series progresses. They really aren’t the same people we started out with at the beginning of the series (something that the beloved Cowboy Bebop doesn’t manage with anyone except Faye Valentine – and that is only if you squint).
|Fans of Firefly may recognize this scene.|
For those of you who need your anime cat girl fix, here are several shots of everyone's favorite Ctarl Ctarl: Aisha Clanclan
|Aisha wants you to meet Mr. Fist!|
|Aisha takes on the strongest women in the universe in|
disguise as the mysterious Firecat.
|Aisha teases Suzuka by calling her Suze.|
|Aisha may be wacky, but when she gets angry|
all bets are off!
|Proud of her abilities and her species, Aisha often|
boasts about her feats the proud Ctarl Ctarl people.
|During a low point, Aisha is reduced to serving drinks|
in a cute Chinese style uniform.
|Aisha may be a cat, but even she can be clumsy.|
|Nyan Cat gets Nom Noms.|
|No matter what the dangers, Aisha is always ready|
and raring to go.