Crest of the Stars 13: Of Arms and the Otter I Sing

Otter I

Crest of the Stars closes with a bumper edition, extra-long finale, and I think it’s my favourite episode. This is mostly because of the amusement park that Jinto and Lafiel blast their way into. The subsequent scenes of chaos, as soldiers and fugitives clash with robotic talking animals, are deliciously surreal. Furthermore, the first time I watched the show this odd choice of setting for a near-final showdown forced me to reconsider the previous story. I had been lured into taking Crest too seriously, but the sight of (for example) our heroes talking at cross-purposes with a chummy man-sized otter swiftly cured that: Crest of the Stars is a tale of gripping space warfare in a well-detailed universe (right down to Hiroyuki’s Baronh), but it also has space elves and a mining colony staffed entirely by maids.

The power of the ferris wheel has already been pointed out, but – looking more broadly – I realise now that amusement parks in anime are almost always A Good Thing. After all, there’s the joy of Code Geass‘s fifteenth episode, and Mao’s chainsaw-based solution to fitting a big girl into a small suitcase. Better still, consider Cowboy Bebop: ‘Pierrot le Fou’ is one of its best episodes, paring Bebop‘s already simple formula down to anime’s most violent clown, an incredibly menacing score and a flow of bright visual excess as Spike fights Mad Pierrot up, down and around various neon-lit rides. (Incidentally, the original broadcast dates of ‘Pierrot le Fou’ and Crest‘s end can only be a few months apart.)

Otter II

This episode really felt like the climax of an action movie to me, and rewatching it I see there’s a well-orchestrated oscillation between the possibility of triumphant escape and a series of disasters. Lafiel and Jinto flee the park just before it locks down – but! they’re pinned down by searchlights and a ring of police cars – but! it turns out that they’ve been caught by the calm, almost paternal detective – but! he’s swiftly replaced by the mad, (sexually) threatening figure of the Silejian, Kyte – and so on. I’m not impressed by the oscillation itself so much as by its rapidity and the resulting sense of momentum.

The momentum’s impressive, but it also points to Crest‘s main problem. ‘[The show] feels’, says Martin, ‘like a whistle-stop tour of a setting that is too large for the constraints of a thirteen episode television show, with a whole host of faces on both the Abh and human side who are crying for more screen time.’ I’d say the same of its sequels. Sneakily managing to be nearly as operatic as Macross, while pleasuring fans of more staid science fiction with its fascinating Plane Space battles and its examination of detail (like Abh humour), the * of the Stars series desperately needs more time; I group it with works like Char’s Counter Attack and Nanoha A’s, both of which seemed to me to be stories with wide scope, restricted by too short a telling.

Anachronism?

Also, look at these guns. I know next-to-nothing about (real) firearms, but the bullpup build of these weapons looks oddly modern in a far-future setting (a milder form of I Know That Gun?), drawing a link between the United Mankind and us. Contrast this to the Abh rayguns, which look like the rayguns of classic sci-fi cover art. The Lune Biga police, meanwhile, use older-looking weapons . . .

Lugers?

I’m really no gun expert, but even I can see what these were modelled on. (Too much Call of Duty?) The police uniform, with its flat-topped hats, looks French – or at least Continental – to me, and that jaded, stubbled, hat-wearing detective looks distinctly ’20s or ’30s. Are we meant to see Sufugnoff’s society as a little old-fashioned? It’s striking how the non-Abh worlds we see in Crest of the Stars are easily comprehended (so, for example, the police cars might hover and the fire engines might fly, but they’re still obviously police cars and fire engines), presumably to highlight how different the Abh themselves are. (We can has alterity now?) It would be interesting to find out how much of this visual detail was present in the original novels; DiGiKerot might know, as he’s reviewed them.

26 responses to “Crest of the Stars 13: Of Arms and the Otter I Sing

  1. The theme park finale was so unexpected, I really had no idea whether to be impressed/stunned/sad when the theme park animals ‘died’ when it happened. Also had no idea how they were going to resolve the whole thing since I didn’t realize it would be an extended episode. It’s like they knew it was the last episode (next seasons notwithstanding) and had to make use of as much of the momentum they could gain with it as they could. Hence this episode probably stands out for different reasons than the rest of the series (Abh banter is a joy to read/watch, though perhaps not to be subjected to).

    Anyways being a major fan of theme parks, I’d say anime needs more of them!

  2. That first screencap demands someone to write “LUL WUT” on the bottom of it in large, white-with-black-stroke Impact.

  3. I think most of the visual detail has just been thrown together by the anime staff – since the detective was written as a hard boiled detective, they’ve given him to look of such a character from an old movie. I’d have to re-read the volumes to be able to comment on anything else to any great degree, though.

    One thing, mind – I’m not sure if it’s made clear in the anime version, but unlike Martine, Clasbul has been under Abh rule as long as it’s been inhabited. It was terraformed by some Abh nobleman, and it’s inhabitants are there by his permission. The Clasbul language is described in the novels as a crude derivative of Baronh, too. I guess the fact that they don’t speak pure Baronh may be enough to classify them as a bit backward, but I don’t think there’s anything specific in there to suggest so. I think it’s more likely just a case of the Abh keeping all the neatest stuff for themselves, though.

  4. The Crest books carry themselves much like the series, which is well addressed by this post in terms of swinging back and forth. But knowingly and purposefully the storytelling in the first 3 books/Crest of the Stars anime encompasses a small part of the Crest universe, so to me that’s nothing to count against it. That’s what the rest of the unwritten series of books Morioka has left to make a living with.

  5. So what is this surge of excitement that is filling me? The last episode is probably my favourite for Crest of the Stars as well.

    There is a thin line to thread when it comes to the length of any series determining the appeal of the story. Nanoha A’s is brilliant but I am not sure whether it would be as captivating as it is if it had more episodes. I think this applies to Crest as well. But just like you, I cannot help but ponder over ‘what if’?

    As omo has stated, Crest is nothing but a tiny glimpse into the Stars universe. But it sure makes someone like me eager enough to follow up with Banner of the Stars I/II. I have just finished Crest and now I am moving onto Banners.

    So can I expect more blogging from you regarding Crest and Banner I/II?

  6. @ issa-sa: Well, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one thrown by the theme park! The robotic animals are pretty pitiful, really; of particular note is the robotic horse, who completely fails to understand why soldiers are shooting at him. If my memory serves me right, there’s some good Abh banter later on in this episode, and in this case it’s exactly what one wouldn’t want to be subjected to, as it’s Spoor victimising her subordinate.

    @ jpmeyer: That’s a pretty good summary of my reaction, really.

    @ DiGiKerot: So in the detective’s case the visual detail was invented, but invented to fit with the hardboiled aspect of his character in the original? Interesting, thank you.

    I didn’t know that about Clasbul’s colonisation, so either it isn’t brought up in the anime, or it’s not brought up especially clearly (or I fell asleep at some point, but I find that unlikely). The Abh reserving the neat stuff for themselves sounds likely, especially since I got the impression that they don’t really interact much with Landers.

    @ omo: It’s more a criticism I made as a viewer than one made as a reviewer, if you will. You’ve a good point, and I’m not sure I’d mark it down for being too compressed if I was called upon to give it a mark out of ten.

    @ The Sojourner: Personally I think that, given the available number of combatants, Nanoha A’s had the scope for several more episode’s worth of explosive combat, though I wouldn’t say it necessarly needed to be stretched to double length. Given that MSLN isn’t adapting anything, it’s hard to say what the writers might have been able to pull off. (Char’s Counter Attack, on the other hand, definitely feels to me like it’d fit a movie trilogy.)

    I’ve seen Banner I, II and III (and indeed I’ve seen Birth) as fansubs, but what would stimulate re-watching, and more blogging, would be some legal releases in the UK. That’s what inspired this post: Beez got round to releasing Crest as an affordable box set. I don’t know how likely it is that we’ll get the sequels; my instinct is that in the current financial climate it’s unlikely, but I don’t know much about how the UK’s anime industry works.

    I did have another post idea – regarding Jinto’s status as an absolved Suzaku, and the Abh’s role as justified imperialists – but two-thirds of what I was going to say came up in the comments of this post at Chizumatic (which was originally about Gundam, but thankfully drifted away).

  7. My opinion is that Banner I is the best of the series. It isn’t as bouncy as Crest. And if you thought the end of Crest was exciting, just wait.

  8. By the way, after the ED credits of the last episode, there’s five more minutes of material to watch. Did you see that?

  9. @ Steven Den Beste: Yes, I did – it’s tempting to consider that bit part of Banner, really. I suppose the staff were sure they’d get to do the sequel, or they were making a strong push for funding?

    From my fansub experience of the franchise, I’d say I actually enjoyed Crest more than Banner I, but that doesn’t mean that Crest is the best part of the series. It could be I failed to appreciate some of the conversations (between the Bebaus brothers, for example) though – I’ve watched some more conversational sci fi since, so if Beez do get round to giving us Banner on DVD, I’ll be eagerly waiting to give it another shot.

  10. “My opinion is that Banner I is the best of the series. ”

    How do you figure that ? Most of the series time is spent on showing lasers doing “zzzzip” and “peeewww” and some hard to identify ships going “BADOOM !!!”.
    Oh, and there is that annoying “snow” effect in the hyperspace.

    Basically most of the series is just FX and nothing else. Extremely boring and unimaginative.

    Now, Banner II is right back on the right track.

  11. Yeah it need not be extended by twice the length. And I better stop here before this ends up as a discussion on Nanoha instead of Crest.

    lol @ Jinto as an absolved Suzaku. More like forgotten in my view. XD

  12. Different strokes… I too liked Banner I the most only because it’s got your typical, hackneyed dialogs between people on the bridge that characterizes shows like Star Trek to a tee.

    And also it expands the world of the Ahbs much more so than Crest. Remember, these books are juvenile science fiction. At that stage, books are more fun as a tool for discovery, and colorful settings sell much better than “drama” or whatever crap anime fans dig.

    Not that older readers can’t enjoy the drama, but it’s not the meat the story.

  13. I’ve only read the manga, and Entruya is especially GAR and does not look like a Zenigata ripoff.

    The whole franchise is really good stuff.

    Also, *insert Lafiel is moé*

  14. I’m still holding out on a Banner of The Stars IV seeing as how there’s apparently one novel that has yet to be adapted, but apparently we have to go through another Mai-Hime (at least) to get there. At least I’ll have my MS Igloo and Votoms OVA’s.

  15. @ karry: Lander instincts? As omo says, some people like spaceship bridges and Plane Space warfare.

    @ The Sojourner: Forgotten within the show or outside of it? I guess it works either way – his planet of origin doesn’t (and can’t) pay him much mind, and Crest isn’t exactly a high-profile show.

    @ omo: Ah. While I was a big Wing Commander fan, I never had the opportunity to get into spaceship-bridge television. Which may be why I like Crest‘s excursions on land.

    @ DrmChsr0: I dunno. I’d be happy with a Zenigata ripoff – he’s such good material to rip off.

    Lafiel did indeed provoke much moe in these quarters. And I’ve noticed that she and Jinto are frequently proposed as /m/’s Best Couple.

    @ Kaioshin Sama: So long as there are Pailsen Files to be opened, it can’t all be bad. Though I must admit to a sneaking liking for Mai-Hime.

  16. I’m ashamed that I haven’t commented yet after two readings on this (plus a ‘rare’ occasion where we share the same anime in viewing).

    Anyway, I was falling into that certain trap in the first few episodes, trying to read into the relations between Jinto and Lafiel, Lafiel and the non-efly-ear-humans (whatever nationality they were named) – I think that those things sorta can warrant an analysis, but once the asteroid-maid-colony episode came up, you could forget about it.

    I’m with issa-sa in the whole craziness of the amusement park, surreality and all. It wasn’t really a bad thing, except I couldn’t get over Lafiel’s apparent invincibility, or massive AT-field (bullets/lasers didn’t seem to like her).

    In regards to the third picture, it reminds me of the clarion, back from my oh-so-long-ago days of Counter Strike.

  17. On second thought, insofar as the reference to French Guns is correct (sort of…probably not), I guess it could be parodying France’s post-Napoleonic military history (which I know nothing of) in relation to the clumsiness of the police force and/or army that was chasing after Jinto and Lafiel.

  18. French guns? I thought those were Luger P08′s.

  19. @ lelangir: I meant that the uniforms reminded me of French policemen, not the guns, which are – as DCJ points out – Lugers.

    There is probably meat for analysis in the Abh empire, and their relationship with their client states. I’m coming to the conclusion that I’d rather read the novels first, though, as I imagine they’re more detailed. For some reason I didn’t mind Lafiel’s invincibility – I accepted it with the same attitude that I accept the bad aim of Stormtroopers. I think the FN P90 is what comes to mind when I look at those rifles, but as I said, I’m not a gun expert. It’s probably just that that’s one of the commonest ‘futuristic-looking guns’ in movies and on TV.

    Maybe it is a dig at the incompetence of the French police force, but that’s more the sort of thing I expect from British writers.

    @ Dorian Cornelius Jasper: Indeed. I have a feeling that the Luger was a military gun never particularly used for law-enforcement, but then policemen don’t have guns at all round here, so I could be entirely wrong.

  20. I just noticed you linked to the Wikipedia article on the gun, and now feel a bit dumb.

    Though, I suppose there’s really two reasons why that gun was picked. One, it’s connected to World Wars-era Germany, and is an easily established “badguy” gun. Two, it looks funny, and not at all out of place next to a Naval Otter robot.

    I like how easily they establish the non-Abh human nations as a recognizable “Other,” using various visual cues (and general narrative disregard), while making the Abh feel familiar and “right,” in spite of their strangeness from an outsider’s perspective.

  21. Good idea. Given the bizarre mishmash of imagery in the theme park already, Lugers seem almost normal. And the Abh are definitely ‘the normal ones’, if only because they’re the providers of the series’ Attractive Girl.

    Speaking of which, I reckoned that Zero no Tsukaima could have been an awesome class-conflict/revolution anime, if Louise had been ugly. McKee’s dissection of storytelling talks about the audience identifying a Centre of Good in the story which they align themselves with . . . I’m tempted to suggest that for anime fans there’s a Centre of Hawtness which they align themselves with, too.

  22. Well, while I take your points seriously, I believe that you’re taking the anime a bit too seriously. Whereas, yes, there is the potential in Crest of the Stars (and the following parts of the saga) for a very interesting delving into the demographics, sociology, weaponry, and so on of their particular galaxy, I believe that the show isn’t meant to be taken that analytically. I took the 13 episodes of Crest as they were, a flurry of confusion.

    Yes! I believed the confusion to be very deliberate. We’ve just been taken headfirst into this strange world where two characters fight to try and do their part in a brooding epic battle of galactic proportions; one knows little about land and much about the stars, and the other is the opposite, their mixed knowledge helps them to help each other as they go through different obstacles, on land and in the stars, to try and report to their superiors the attack of a vessel by an enemy force. The pacing and “flurry” of scenes and settings in the show acted sort of like the “sound and sense” of these two character’s adventure, in a sense.

    But, those are my thoughts. I do agree, however, that the next parts of the saga did fail in terms of their focusing on details as they were more serious in terms of the sort of motifs and themes they were dealing with, but that’s another thing entirely.

    ~Alexius

  23. I believe that the show isn’t meant to be taken that analytically.

    There you’ve hit on a methodological disagreement: I don’t care how any given subject for analysis is meant to be taken.

    I like your idea of confusion as one of Crest‘s key features, though. When in space, we’re confused together with Jinto, making us pay more attention to the slightly odd, slightly utopian ideas behind the Abh. Once on land, we’re forced to re-examine some things we take for granted (twinkling stars, to take an obvious example) – an exercise in defamiliarisation, if you like.

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