It seems nowadays that MVM are the only company releasing new anime, and it's interesting to note that a lot of their recent series have been really good as well. Starship Operators is no exception, despite not being as well known as some of their other recent licenses.
Starship Operators follows the crew of the planet
Kibi's top-of-the-range starship Amaterasu, as they return from their maiden
test voyage. The crew is largely made up of cadets straight out of the
academy, but shortly before the end of their journey they learn that Kibi has
been attacked by an aggressive intergalactic alliance known as the Kingdom and
has surrendered. Idealistic and patriotic, they cadets decide that they
will not surrender their ship and instead decide to fight back. To adhere
to intergalactic law they plan to buy the ship as soon as it is decommissioned,
and invite the former prime minister on board, effectively making them a
legitimate government in exile. In order
to fund their audacious purchase the cadets strike a deal with the Galaxy
Network, a media corporation who will bankroll their David and Goliath struggle in return for
filming and broadcasting it as a reality show. The cadets include many
talented rookies, but they may have bitten off more than they can chew.
Not only are they facing overwhelming odds, but their own world has declared
them outlaws and if that wasn't enough they also have to cope with the demands
of their sponsors. It may be just about ratings for the Galaxy Network,
but for the crew of the Amaterasu it's their lives that are on the line...
I must admit that when I read the synopsis for this series I was a little uncertain of what I would make of it. Apart from the reality TV angle the basic premise is very similar to Martian Successor Nadesico, where a single prototype spaceship crewed by rookies launches a rebellion against a far superior foe. This similarity is apparent throughout, even some of the characters - such as the cool and collected Sinon - are quite similar to those in Nadesico. However, Starship Operators is a straight sci-fi drama, and lacks the comedy
elements Nadesico sometimes contains. The focus is on the characters and the pressures they all face after they decide to go it alone, and the actual invasion of Kibi and the cadets' decision to fight back is made before the end of the first episode. After this it spends time to establish the central cast and their relationships, and provides a perfect base for the series to grow from.
Whilst there is a sense of familiarity with some of the
characters and the set up itself, the reality TV angle adds an interesting twist
to proceedings. The crew has to get budget approval for such actions as
firing missiles from the network producer, and he approves it only if it will
look good or improve ratings. The producer sees them as a product and is
only interested in viewing figures, he only allows them to retreat from space
battles if it looks like they have no chance of winning whatsoever. The
crew also have to combat such issues as knowing their actions are being
broadcast on intergalactic television, and therefore are open to scrutiny and
analysis by their enemies. It's only after their first battle for example
that the producer reluctantly agrees to delay broadcast by 30 minutes to prevent
their opponents learning what they are going to do before they do it.
Being in a reality TV show has its pluses and minuses for the Amaterasu, on the
one hand their struggle is getting wide coverage and therefore support, but on
the other hand their lives are in the hands of network executives. It's
going to be interesting to see how the cadets cope when the network becomes more
demanding, and what would happen to them if the show gets cancelled?
This uncertainty and loss of control over their own actions gives the series an edge, and it's interesting to see that the tactically adept executive officer Sinon is far more composed under pressure than the captain. It may lead to some power struggles later on, especially if the Network decides to change things at the top. However, despite the strong story and premise there are a couple of issues. There are some cheesy moments, such as the ship's crew being united by a gunner's public declaration of love to her superior, and in
places some things are a bit predictable. The people on the outside of the ship that say they only need a few minutes longer to fix the missile tubes, despite an enemy ship drawing in to attack, may as well have a big neon sign above their heads saying 'we're going to die!'. You just know that Sinon's stargazing friend is going to put her observational skills to better use in battle, and you know that the cadets will be prodigiously skilled and will beat far more experienced crews despite having no battle experience themselves.
This predictability does make it a little less brilliant than it could have been, and story-wise the network has yet to fully flex their muscles when it comes to the Amaterasu's actions. However, there is plenty of intrigue and excitement in the four episodes on this disc, including a number of refreshingly tactical space battles. There's drama and some clever ideas (I especially liked the idea of a 'space submarine'), and I liked the way the series cleverly uses the TV network to explain things like sound effects in space (added by the network to make things exciting for viewers) and a predominantly female crew (better for ratings). It's also good to see that the female characters are at least as strong-willed as their male counterparts, and don't really fall into the usual 'stand around and look pretty' bracket that women in sci-fi often do. There are some interesting subplots being set up, and plenty of hidden agendas, so I am personally really looking forward to the next volume. Even though Starship Operators can be predictable and shares some elements with Nadesico, it must be said that there hasn't been a straight space drama like this since Beez's Crest of the Stars. This alone makes it quite a refreshing change from the usual sci-fi actioners which care as much about the lead character's breast size as they do about plot. Those who like sci-fi with a bit of brains to back up the brawn should definitely give Starship Operators a go.
Looks quite good on first glance, with the usual trailers and clean opening and ending sequences joined by trailers for the series and a music video. However, the music video for the series' ending theme Chi ni Kaeru by KOTOKO is very short and to be honest trailers are trailers. Average.