ANIME REVIEW: “Outlaw Star” – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “Outlaw Star”

The rollicking comedy-adventure Outlaw Star began as manga by Takehiko Ito and the artists at Morningstar Studios, who also made the animated series. In the distant future, interstellar space is divided between Pirates and the Space Forces. The self-proclaimed Outlaws scratch out a living in the odd spaces unoccupied by the two powers.

Like a Hollywood cowboy, Gene Starwind (Robert Wicks) is a crack shot, an eager brawler and a dashing ladies’ man. But his traumatic past left him with a neurotic fear of space travel. He lives on the flyspeck desert world of Sentinel III, where he runs a debt-ridden repair shop with his friend and partner Jim Hawking (Ian Hawk). Jim and Gene find themselves thrust into a complex web of intrigue when rebel pirate “Hot Ice” Hilda (Melissa Williamson) gives them the stolen super-ship, the Outlaw Star, and tells them about a fabulous treasure hidden at the mysterious world of the Galactic Leyline.

Gene must overcome his fear of space as the duo sets off to find where (and what) the Galactic Leyline is. They’re joined by the beautiful assassin Suzuka (Wendee lee), who wears an elaborate kimono and fights with a sword; Malfina (Ruby Marlowe), an android who bonds with the ship’s fussy computer and, later, the abrasive, elfin alien Aisha Clanclan (Zan) of the Ctarl-Ctarl Empire.

They also pick up some nasty enemies: the Kei Pirates, who use “Taoist magic” in battle; psychotic cyborg Harry MacDougall (Steve Cannon), his sadistic brother Ron (Jack Emmet) and their meeching scientist-ally Gwen Kahn (Richard Barnes); the power-mad Lord Hazanko (Abe Lesser) of the 108 Stars pirate gang.

After an elaborate series of battles and escapes, Gene and his crew race to the Leyline with Hazanko, the Kei Pirates, the MacDougal Brothers and a Ctarl-Ctarl battle cruiser hot on their tailfins. Once they reach their destination, Gene, Melfina and Suzuka must confront the troubled pasts that shaped who they became. Suzuka duels the pirate who murdered her family–and copied her face (a novel twist on identity theft). Gene remembers how his father sacrificed his life to save his son during a pirate attack. Melfina discovers her true origins. The more sensible Jim sits out the revelations.

At times, Katsuhiko Chiba’s screenplay staggers along aimless, like Gene after a heavy night’s drinking. Episode #23 is a long digression set in a hot spring with lots of slapstick and jiggle shots, but very little story. Director Mitsuru Hongo keeps the characters true to their natures: They don’t go soft or smarmy.

Many of the action scenes in Outlaw Star look dated—the hand-drawn space ships and circular explosions feel almost quaint, as if Gene and his crew were putting along in a Model T. But it’s a minor distraction. A bigger problem is the sloppy clean-up work: Gene’s features change noticeably from scene to scene.

Curiously, four anti-heroes who operated at the fringes of future society made their debuts in 1998: Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop, Vash the Stampede in Trigun, Gene Starwind, and Kain Blueriver in Lost Universe.

A popular and critical favorite, Cowboy Bebop became an instant classic. Many series have attempted to capture its gritty, jazz-inflected vision of a dystopic future, but none have succeeded. Bounty hunter and “space cowboy” Spike Spiegel (Steven Jay Blum) had the depth and complexity of the best American film noir anti-heroes: No wonder he’s become an anime icon.

Who (and what) is the Vash the Stampede (Johnny Yong Bosch), a.k.a. “The Humanoid Typhoon”? To bounty hunters, he’s an outlaw with 60,000,000,000 Double Dollars on his head. To Meryl Stryfe and Millie Thompson of the Bernardelli Insurance Society, he’s a walking disaster area who’s cost the company a bundle in claims. To otaku, he’s a beloved figure whose popularity has never waned.

Kain Blueriver (Steve Metz) is a Trouble Contractor: he handles cases too difficult and/or dangerous for the Universal Guardians. He always wears a blue cape and fights with a psi blade, a weapon similar to a light sabre, powered by psychic energy. Lost Universe begins as a lively comedy-adventure, but degenerates into a blatant Star Wars clone, which is probably why it’s proved the least durable of the quartet.

Outlaw Star is an engaging, if minor, space opera. The final episode seemed to promise a second season, but none was ever made. Cowboy Bebop and Trigun were followed by one feature each: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and Badlands Rumble, and fans all over the world would cheer at the prospect of new adventures for either one. Outlaw Star is often entertaining, but it just isn’t in the same class as its contemporaries.

Outlaw Star: The Complete Series
Funimation: $64.98 7 discs, Blu-ray and DVD

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon

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