Monday, September 10, 2012

Stratos 4 Anime Review

Stratos 4
Bandai Entertainment
Complete Collection - 4 discs
325 mins. - 13 episodes
$39.98 (2006)
ISBN 669198254116
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Takeshi Mori
Studio - Studio Fantasia/Bandai Visual

Synopsis: 50 years ago scientists determined a huge meteor cloud would intercept with Earth and the world government organization CEMA (Comet Emergency Management Agency) was formed.  Two stages of interception/deterrence are developed - the first line of defense are orbital space planes launched from space stations, the Comet Blasters, and the second are high-altitude planes, the Meteor Sweepers.  These planes would carry payloads to destroy/break up the largest comets with any large remaining pieces intercepted within the atmosphere. 
Meteor successfully destroyed and lives saved
The Comet Blasters garner much higher status than their ground-based counterparts in the Meteor Sweepers.  One MS base is located on Shimoji Island near Japan and the story focuses on an all-female squad - Mikaze, Shizuha, Ayamo, and Karin are the pilots and co-pilots of two BAC TSR-2MS high-altitude interceptors.
Mikaze and crew (she's got the pigtails) in a typically compromising pose
Mikaze is having a hard time committing herself to being a part of the Meteor Sweepers and is incredibly jealous of the Comet Blasters.  She feels like a second-stringer cleaning up their sloppy seconds.  Her teammates are the opposite and are enjoy being part of the ground team.  For Mikaze the journey cannot end until she reaches space.  Can she focus herself enough to become the best pilot and take that next step into outer space?  Will she let her teammates get close enough to help her?
The Meteor Sweepers have to pilot lying down for some reason
There was a rift in the CEMA organization many years ago which caused the creation of the separate CB and MS teams.  They have a heated rivalry and the CB teams openly snub the MS.  What could have caused the rift and is there a secret behind the meteors?
Something is not quite right on Orbital Station 7
Pros: Lots of fan-service (if you like that sort of thing) and the ubiquitous hot springs trip, orbital and high-altitude planes were pretty cool, overall message of trying your best to follow your dreams and sticking together with your friends was positive, a bunch of cool extras including voice actresses/director/staff visit to the real Shimoji Island plus official aerospace consultant commentary (this guy's comments were hilarious, but his teeth were awful!), Admiral the cat is pretty funny (loved the episode where we follow it around)
Mikaze and the girls show off their work on the prototype Stratos 0
Cons: Not much action, heavy on the soap-opera drama, CG elements were just okay, overall simple animation style (especially the character designs), highly superficial plot for most of the show (goofy), the plot shift to space at the end was a bit silly
The Comet Blasters scramble for an intercept mission
Mike Tells It Straight: Stratos 4 is a lighthearted anime title with a very positive message - try your best to live your dreams and stick together with your friends.  The writers needed to use a lot of fan-service to get their message across and it appears they were very successful because there is a lot of fan-service.  The show is entertaining with a lot of comedy and some drama centered around the girls doing their best to stop meteors from hitting Earth.  
One of the male instructors 'accidentally' wanders into the hot
springs while all of the girls are bathing
The message would be great for kids, but the abundance of fan-service disqualifies its suitability.  As an adult show the plot progresses too slowly and its too silly at times.  Things get a bit more serious at the end as the secret behind the meteors is revealed, but the conspiracy theory felt like a digression.  I guess this show could be considered charming if you buy into the characters and like some fan-service with your comedy.
The Meteor Sweeper cast from Shimoji Island
It just didn't resonate with me and my recommendation is pretty low.  Some parts of the plot didn't make sense - like why did the girls work at a restaurant when they were full-time pilots?  I think Divergence EVE and Misaki Chronicles were better in comparison (plotwise only, their CG was heinous).  Amusing, but definitely not a keeper. Oddly enough, this show spawned three sequel OVAs (only one has been released in North America - Stratos 4: Return to Base).  Guess it resonated with some fans and they kept it going to see where the final plot thread would lead. I guess you can never underestimate the power of fan-service on otaku.

TO BUY and Recommendations: