Crest of the Stars
Predictability is truly a terrible thing. When you can predict the outcome of a show by simply reading the cover blurb, it's not worth spending money on--and sadly, this happens far too often, whether in Hollywood productions or in anime. Crest of the Stars, thankfully, is possibly the least predicable show I've seen in some time, with plot development, pacing, and characters that I just didn't expect. It's not that the plot itself is incredibly creative; although it's engaging, it isn't unusual (at least within the first four episodes, which comprise the first DVD that I watched for this review.) However, what it does is great. It breaks the conventions of standard sci-fi anime storytelling, and in doing so keeps the audience engaged by just being different. Though it will be too slow for some, it's got my attention.
As Crest of the Stars opens, Martine (a dead ringer for Earth) is surrounded by a massive fleet of starships from the alien race Abh. Within hours, Martine's government concedes surrender--and the head of the administration, Rock Lin, makes a fateful agreement with the Abh to keep his post under their authority. As such, his son, Jinto Lin, becomes nobility within the Abh class structure. Jinto, a young child when this happens, leaves Martine to learn the Abh language and basics of the culture. Shortly, we see him as a young man of 17, headed to become a part of the Abh military so he can retain his title and eventually take over his father's position as Martine's governor. On the first leg of his journey, he meets the sweetly mysterious Lafiel, the first Abh he's ever actually met--since the Abh prefer to let their conquered worlds rule themselves, it's rare to see one in the outskirts of their galactic holdings. In their short time together, they quickly become friends. On their trip, however, they find that there is a collective of worlds that have joined together to band against the Abh. Although the Abh have no real interest in war, as the DVD ends, it appears that conflict that might span the universe might be inevitable.
Crest of the Stars is the rare series that gives us a complete reversal of our expectations. Who expects a hostile takeover of a planet to find out the conquerors are essentially benevolent? Who expects a 20,000-world conglomerate to be run based on a complicated nobility line? These points and many others make Crest of the Stars a unique experience. What's even more unique is that this is a dialogue-driven program. So far, our glimpses of galactic combat have been short and scattered...though this may change, there is no reason to expect it. What we really have is a first episode that gives us the main character and themes, then three episodes of character development and relationship building. For some, this may be agonizing; I found it incredibly refreshing. The world is also very well developed; the Abh have their own written language, and almost all of the text in the show is written in the same. It's these little touches that make this show surprising. If there is a drawback to all of this, it is that the dialogue occasionally comes off a little stilted and contrived in the subtitled version. For the most part, however, it's very impressive...though they didn't win points for ending the DVD on a cliffhanger! But that will guarantee some sales, eh?
From a technical perspective, Crest of the Stars is superb. The animation quality for a television show is nothing short of stunning. The show also employs a classically tinged soundtrack, which works well for space opera and subtly reminded me of the score from Macross. Although a few musical passages might be questionable, it works on the whole. The character designs are not exactly my favorite--they sometimes come off just a little too cute for a series of this nature--but they are growing on me.
I can definitely say that the first set of episodes is worth your time. Whether it will continue in this vein of excellence is up for grabs, but I'll be watching to find out. It has been a long time since I've been drawn like this to a show...the time spent to develop these characters is much appreciated, and is far past the norm. I hope it keeps up.
DVD NOTE: The DVD of Crest of the Stars Vol. 1 has some issues on a variety of players. Although on my setup it looked gorgeous with no problems whatsoever, screenshots over at Chris Beveridge's Anime on DVD website prove that there are significant problems on some discs that may affect you. Although I am not certain if it is a problem with the disc printing or just certain copies of the disc, Bandai Entertainment has said they will replace the disc if you get a bad one.
Crest of the Stars Vol. 1 -- extremely brief distance nudity -- A