Sol Bianca: The Legacy
Sol Bianca has been known in anime circles for quite some time as one of the standout "girls with guns" shows from the mid-90s. Through two OVAs, many fans were introduced to a unique group of individuals who pirated through the spacelanes in search of rare artifacts. Disappointingly, the second OVA hinted at an ongoing storyline that never materialized. Sol Bianca: The Legacy is not that continuation. Instead, it's a dramatic retooling of the original program. Although the continuity is such that the events of the first two OVAs might not fit in comfortably here, it's really no matter--the Japanese take continuity issues surprisingly well, and Sol Bianca has always been about style and flair over meaty substance anyway. Thankfully, this 6 OVA show delivers a bit of both...though it takes getting through two surprisingly lackluster starter episodes to finally reach the heart of the show, which is satisfying despite a lack of character background.
In this iteration of the saga, the crew of the Sol Bianca (a ship with an unusual heritage and a living AI known as G) set out to steal back a priceless antique flintgun from Earth, stolen from the acting ship's captain April somewhere in the past. Their plan goes awry as a militaristic group from Earth gets involved in taking the gun for their own purposes. The show wanders a bit through a treasure hunt and a no-missiles-barred rescue. However, it eventually concludes in a three-episode story arc as our pirates travel to Earth to save a misguided comrade, only to find the Sol Bianca itself the target of a nefarious dictator's plan that may destroy them all. In the meantime, cities and starships of great magnitude blow up and beautiful women yell at each other a lot.
If this seems simplistic, it is--Sol Bianca: The Legacy is wonderful eye candy, but it isn't heavy on plot. This is to its detriment in the first two episodes, which despite having plenty of action feel old and stiff. I started the first episode one night only to turn it off dozing halfway through, and though it was better the second time, it wasn't fresh. By the time the second episode was through, I had started calculating how much I could get for the three DVDs on Ebay. However, I was surprised by the third episode, which focuses on Jani the tomboy and her flamboyantly violent attempt to rescue her partners from a psychic weirdo bent on controlling the Sol Bianca. Although still disappointed by the start of the series, I started finally getting interested.
The key to The Legacy, though, is the three-part story arc that brings the series to a close. Not only does it tie in background information thrown at us at the start of the first episode, it presents a real challenge to the crew and gives the characters a chance to actually develop. Part of what has always been a point of contention for Sol Bianca is that its characters are so dramatically individualistic that they don't seem much like a team--but by the end of The Legacy, that team has developed. If you can hold on through the first couple of episodes, which I found unconscionably dull, you will find yourself a show really worth watching. It's not that typical to see a show dedicate itself to a storyline throughout its episodes, and though it stays for a time, this one eventually does so very well.
This doesn't mean that everything is perfect here. Most of the characters have much less of an introduction than they did in the first two OVAs--not that they had much there, either--and so those with no pre-knowledge of these characters may be frustrated. Second, only a couple of characters get anything close to a backstory. June, Jani, and May all have no background whatsoever, and April's past is cursory at best. Mainly, these characters are archetypes--the brash young leader, the smart sexy hottie, the weapon-crazed butch, the quiet fearful follower. Because these characters have so little unique personality to them, the best episodes are those that have a strong plot to guide the action. There's also a lot of ambiguity to the Sol Bianca's origins itself and many unrealized plot threads. Whether this disturbs you or not may affect what you get out of the show.
Those who enjoy the latest and greatest in animation will have to decide if Sol Bianca: The Legacy is beauty or trauma. On the one hand, the character designs are beautiful, though strikingly unique. The show looks clean and perfect in every shot; there are no points where the budget fails the design. Even the CGI, which is all over this show, blends together with the traditional animation quite well. All that being said, The Legacy uses a technique that's best described as digital panning in many shots. I'm not sure if this is an intentional way to skimp on budget--it's clear they spent money on getting everything else right--but this type of panning is very noticeable and distracting to me; it's normally far too fast and makes the artwork seem distant and cold. Part of my frustration with those first two episodes may very well lie in their overuse of panning; as the show developed, although this technique is still noticeable, it is controlled. Otherwise, the show is simply gorgeous.
I cannot recommend you start Sol Bianca: The Legacy unless you plan to finish it; the opening was just too weak for me to give it any significant praise on its own. However, diving in and watching the whole thing is a rewarding experience, as the second and third DVDs really catch on fire; it's a shame the first DVD pulls down the review score. It's not unlike comparing the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation with the third or fourth--it starts off tedious but works up to something worthwhile.
Sol Bianca: The Legacy -- violence, profanity, very brief sexuality (but nothing showing) -- B (a C for the first two episodes, an A- for the remaining four)