She just getting a drink, calm down.
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July 23, 2004
by: Vincent Del Vecchio
ADVANCED REVIEW: We bring you our full review of Bandai's upcoming 07/27/04 release of Stratos 4.
Review Hardware Used: Panasonic CT-32HL43 Tau Series PureFlat HDTV Monitor, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan Region Free DVD Player w/ Monster Video 3 Component Cables, Yamaha RX-V596 DD/DTS 5.1 Surround Sound Receiver, Klipsch Quintet 5.1 Speaker System w/ matching KSW-12 (400 watt) subwoofer, Monster Audio cable all around.
Comets are on a collision course with Earth! Sounds like just another bad Hollywood movie right? WRONG! With impending comets threatening to destroy Earth, an elite interceptor force known as the ‘Meteor Sweepers’ are entrusted with the task of destroying these life threatening comets before they enter Earth’s atmosphere. Mikaze Honjo is a teen pilot and part of the ‘Meteor Sweepers’, she and her other 3 squadron members are based at Shimoji Island in Okinawa. While active duty slows down, the team spends their free time managing a local ramen shop. But just as Mikaze starts losing motivation in her work, she’ll suddenly discover a new goal in life…
Episode 1: Blast Off
Episode 2: Fox One
Episode 3: Decision Height
Episode 4: Tally Ho!
Japanese Language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio
English Language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio
English Language Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio
Voice Actor Vacation – Island Day 1
Voice Cast Filmography
Content: (This section may include spoilers)
Cute girls in spaceships blowing up comets threatening to destroy the earth! A high action thrill ride from Bandai Entertainment.
Mikaze Honjyo is a young girl, born from a family of elite pilots. Stationed off Shimoji Island, near Okinawa, she spends her days training as a Meteor Sweeper, the second and last line of defense against comets threatening to destroy the earth. Along side her are three girls; Shizuha Doi, Ayamo Nakamura, and Karin Kikuhara. Together they train at the military base on the island to perfect their skills. While the three girls do their best to maintain their grades and become the best at what they do, Mikaze is different. She lacks motivation, she’s lazy, and she’s always getting reprimanded by her instructors. In fact, she often questions why she’s even there to begin with. Even though the other three girls try to motivate her, she continually wants nothing to do with her training and spends her days sleeping instead of studying.
This all changes when the front-line of defense, the Comet Blasters, who attack the comets directly in space, fail to fully destroy an approaching asteroid. When Mikaze’s team is scrambled to duty, something happens and Mikaze undergoes a change for the better. Suddenly motivated, she performs the task in front of her flawlessly. Her newfound positive outlook on things reaches almost everyone on base. While most are happy for her new enthusiasm, some aren’t all to keen on it. Tsubasa, one of the male trainees in the Meteor Sweepers, doesn’t take to kindly to Mikaze’s newfound passion. In fact, a little rivalry and some heated words are thrown between the two. When Mikaze ranks first position on the standby team, dropping Tsubasa down to third, he challenges her to a duel.
When Mikaze’s team is called upon again, she lets the pressure of Tsubasa’s words get to her and she botches up a critical shot. Due to her actions, a meteorite strikes the earth, causing complete destruction on an inhabited island. We learn that the meteorite wasn’t hit correctly, allowing its core to continue on a descent to earth. Things really start to fall apart as the girls get into an argument over Mikaze’s choice to disobey orders and take the shot against better judgment. And when it seems nothing else could go wrong, one of the girls passes out on the descent home.
With the excellent character art and visuals, the show blends in just the right amount of CG usage to put forth a very interesting storyline, even if the underlying plot has already been used in big Hollywood production films. The girls all working at the same restaurant allow us to get to know them better and enable the story to put forth some really funny and genuine moments involving all the characters so far. While Mikaze’s change was rather sudden, it was nicely portrayed in the water and space scenes. The four girls are all different but all have the same goals. Their friendship and time together allow for good character development whilst enabling the audience to get to know them, thus growing with them. Of course, let’s not forget the “cute” cat mascot, Admiral; who is more of a big fat lazy cat that just sits around than anything else and the instructor who acts like a hard-ass but genuinely cares for the girls and you’ve got some familiar character templates. Throw in just a little bit of fanservice, revealing spaceship seating positions, and inhumanly tight spacesuits, and you’ve got just enough to please the male audience out there.
The transfer here excellent! Color bleeding and aliasing are virtually a no go here and everything just looks pretty and detailed. While the CG scenes are put together very nicely, they do suffer from that sort of grainy look to them but it isn’t something that affects the viewing of the episodes. Block noise isn’t something you have to worry about here either and pixilation never really rears its ugly head from what we’ve seen. The character designs are excellent, with nothing over the top when it comes to the way the girls look. Everyone seems proportioned correctly and nobody seems to suffer from “jiggle-syndrome”, which is a good thing. The only character design I can really complain about is the cat, who looks more like an overgrown furry jellybean than anything else.
First watching the disc in its native language of Japanese, no audio dropouts or noise could be heard with our equipment. The stereo mix was standard and sounded good. Voices were clear and background music and sound effects played out nicely. After the initial viewing, we went and watched the disc in English 5.1 and I have to say, it truly sounded excellent. Voices came from the center speaker and the front soundstage was very nicely manipulated with music and sound effects. The rear speakers got more of a workout than I originally expected, which enabled for a very nice sounding surround sound track. Great job to Bandai on this one, keep it up!
The main menu consists of a spaceship making its ascent above the clouds. It’s quite a simple animated image which is just how we like or menus. The music conveys a feel of urgency, which goes well with the theme to this series. Menu navigation is easy, with there only being a slight while the image fades out and the next menu is displayed. Its nothing too bad though and the fade out occurs rather quickly, so its nothing that diversely affects the overall menu navigation.
Wow… there’s a whole lot on this one disc it’s a little hard to believe. We get a voice actor vacation feature where the Japanese actors and actresses visit the island portrayed in the anime. We get to see things from the effects of a tropical storm to the area in general. It definitely looks like they’re having fun and it looks like this will be a continuing thing throughout all four volumes of the show. There is a voice cast filmography, which is nice little feature. We also get Bandai Entertainment trailers, clean opening and closing animations, and DVD credits. The extra I was surprised to see included in this disc was a technical interview with a military person on the aircraft piloted by the four girls; the TSR.2.MS. This piece was very educational and I enjoyed it immensely. To be able to know more about the craft piloted by the leads in the series enabled me to enjoy the show more with the knowledge of what the craft was built for and how it is possible to utilize it in such a scenario.
Subtitles are nicely sized and timed. We noticed no issues while viewing the disc with subtitles on the screen. Translation seemed very good and they did a good job of subtitle directionality while on screen, keeping them nicely in the center bottom of the screen. The English dub was nicely produced as well. The English character voices are all excellent, especially the voices of all the lead girls. The English cast did a good job in recreating all the tense action sequences and emotion portrayal was also top-notch. Everything was done nicely, which enabled a nice flow of enjoyment without having to stop and think that something sounded out of place. Excellent cast choices for this show. This is an English dub that I can truly enjoy as much as the original Japanese.
The Bottom Line:
With excellent character designs and a good storyline, I was able to jump into Stratos 4 with ease. Being a 13 episode series, I’m hoping that character development will still be prevalent in the upcoming volumes. The lead characters, being four teenage girls, have a lot ahead of them and it will be definitely interesting to see how things play out in later volumes. While Mikaze is a genuinely strong type of character, I can’t help but think that she’ll have many trials to overcome, some harder than others. I can’t say where the show is heading just yet but with only 9 episodes left before the show comes to an end, I’m hoping against an inconclusive ending. Regardless, Stratos 4 is something I can see coming back to in a short while and still have it be as entertaining as the first time I watched it. With likeable characters, a good storyline, and just the right amount of drama and action sequences, Stratos 4 is a show that’s fun to watch, easy to enjoy, and an overall excellent choice for a great viewing experience.
This is something I can recommend to almost anyone. Good stuff here.