Crest of the Stars Anime Review
Seikai no Monsho
Crest of the Star Worlds
US Release By
A Children's Historical Fiction Book in Space
13 25-minute episodes
1999-01-02 - 1999-03-27
The planet Martine was a small-time, backwater planet that existed in a future where humans have spread out from Earth and forgotten about it. But one day, a war fleet of the Humankind Empire Ahb appeared in the sky and demanded immediate surrender. The planet's leader, Rock Lynn, surrendered to the Ahb in return for regional rule of the solar system. The Ahb, who are humans genetically engineered to have pointy elf ears and blue hair (and live forever), have amassed a mammoth empire under a feudal/imperialist system. Seven years later, Rock Lynn's son Jinto is sent away to go through the Ahb military academy so he can rule Martine after his father. The Ahb who comes to meet him is Lafiel, the daughter of the Ahb emperor. She and Jinto strike up a friendship when Jinto simply asks her for her name like any other person, rather than recognizing her and bowing and kissing her feet. In the middle of Jinto's transit to the academy, a force of the United Mankind attacks the ship and the captain sends away Jinto and Lafiel so that they won't be killed. They travel through the war zone together, their ultimate goal being to reach the Imperial capital of Sufugnok (or something like that).
Crest of the Stars was broadcast on TechTV's Anime Unleashed (it's being rerun right now). Since this was the first anime TechTV ever broadcast, it's bogged down by the worst of every flaw involved with the block: song editing, broadcast mistakes (like flipping, and rewinding a scene), and most of all, hair-tearingly excessive commercial breaks. They do seem to have gotten better about at least broadcast mistakes (mostly eradicated) and commercials (but when Cartoon Network is only showing one commercial break per show, four still seems like a lot). There were also DVDs, which I don't think made very many sales when they came out, and that's a shame, because Crest of the Stars is a decent show.
Beginning with the storyline, this show reeks of sleeper, cult classic, and underrated. The world is only sort of original, but like The Lord of the Rings, Dune, and Xenosaga, it has its own history, its own customs, and even its own language. Most of these are related to the Ahb (it's also much more accessible than Dune; when you learn something about Ahb culture, you can basically forget about it in the next episode and still not miss anything. It's also all explained in relatively simple terms and not at too much length). The world is still the perfect grounds for making what could probably have been done in almost any setting (ancient Japan, medieval Europe, or even modern days) into something memorable.
But the characterization is the best part of the show, which ought to be obvious since that's what most of the show is about. Both Jinto and Lafiel have excellent personalities. It's that kind of expansive characterization that you usually only see in books (understandable, because Crest of the Stars is based off not one but an entire series of books in Japan). The only stereotype in the entire show is Lafiel's dislike of being royal, formal, revered, so on, and that's just part of her personality, not her entire personality. It's also great how Jinto and Lafiel grow closer, but never end up falling in love; they remain something like best friends throughout the entire show. This is something fringing on creative genius in the world of anime; it can get just a bit old seeing every boy and girl who are friends end up falling in love. Yet another aspect of this fringing on creative genius is that Lafiel isn't desperately in love with Jinto and hiding her feelings, nor is the reverse true; they don't like each other anything more than platonically. Almost every aspect of their personalities are explored, and neither is a traditional anime character.
But I'll move on to the technical aspects, because if I ruin too much of the characterization, I'll take all the goodness out of the show. The animation is average and not notable, and all the space battles are realistically slow-moving. The character designs are excellent; they look a lot like traditional designs, but it takes some creativity to find that many ways to make blue hair into realistic hairstyles (no gravity-defying spikes) and still not have everyone look the same. Jinto was a little forgettable, but I don't think I could ever forget Lafiel or the captain of the ship, if only because of the long ears combined with that striking shade of blue. All the weapon, costume, and ship designs are pretty standard sci-fi; you've got your glorified jets and space shuttles, shiny, wide-barreled laser guns, and tight-fitting military bodysuits. One unique thing about the ships is their weaponry, which actually obey currently discovered physical laws (see production notes if you care to know how). I'm not one to nitpick about bad science unless it's REALLY bad, but accurate science in an anime is still a plus in my book. The music is all appropriately spacey and chimey, and the opening music is inspirational in the same way as the theme in Star Trek (The Next Generation; I never really went in for the old one).
The worst part of both the technical aspects and the show period is the dub. The actors for both Jinto and Lafiel are completely inadequate. Jinto's sounded fitting, but his acting was terribly subpar (recalling the early days of the Ocean Group, which, like the early days of Anime Unleashed, are probably something you were happier forgetting about). Lafiel's voice was possibly even worse in the acting department than Jinto's, and it sounded at times like a valley girl or a teenage cheerleader. All the impact of the characterization was torn from the dub by the bad acting, which is really a shame. And look at all that talent the Ocean Group wasted on Gatekeepers Full Throttle!
On a final note, Crest of the Stars is about a war, but Jinto and Lafiel aren't the ones fighting the war. It's a very realistic war in that even though you are cast into the show on the Ahb's side, you can see where the United Mankind is coming from, and there aren't any good guys or bad guys. The United Mankind is not some group of Nazis, and the Ahb aren't the great Americans with their righteousness and nobility; they're just two groups with different political stances, like in (most) real wars. Unfortunately, this leads to violence. However, yet another reason this is such a realistic war is because the United Mankind can be treated with. From what I know of the sequel series, Banner of the Stars, the Ahb and United Mankind are trying to bring a peaceful end to the war through diplomacy. I thought this was excellent because it heightened the impact of a war breaking out, yet not in a way that made you despise both sides like in The Animatrix short The Second Renaissance, but rather in a way that made you sympathize with both sides like Gundam 0080 (that one especially, but also most of the other UC Gundam shows). The danger of Jinto and Lafiel's situation seems much more real, because even though they have guns they can't take on the entire army, or even the entire police force. They're also reluctant to kill anyone (Jinto especially), and avoid it if possible.
Basically, Crest of the Stars is for those of you who don't even bow to trends in anime. Actually, if you do bow to trends but you can handle watching something different, you'll probably like Crest of the Stars because it really is that good. Anyone who likes dark, mysterious philosophical jabber and won't take anything that diverges from that, or anyone who loves action and can't sit still for three seconds, will despise it. It's a lot like reading a book with pictures. If you liked the realism of the culture in The Lord of the Rings, but can go without the swords and magic (there are elves, though, and they even live forever!) you will probably like Crest of the Stars. If you like Dune, be warned that even though Crest of the Stars' space setting and feudal system are closer to that than to The Lord of the Rings, Crest of the Stars places little emphasis on complex politics and statesmanship. This is basically a one-of-a-kind show among anime, but if you read actual books not limited to Dune or The Lord of the Rings or Star Trek/Wars books, you'll probably like it (by the way, comic books don't count).
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Notes and Trivia
Based on a series of books, also called "Seikai no Monshou." For a while, I was confused whether it was "sekai" or "seikai." "Sekai" means the Universe or society, and "monshou" is a crest or coat of arms. However, the correct title is actually "seikai", which is something of a play on words; "seikai" is a real word meaning political world, but the characters used to write the title of this series are different--the characters for "star" and "world", roughly meaning "worlds of the stars". You can see why they added "the" and used "star" ("hoshi") instead.
If you see how unconcluded the ending is, you might realize that there's a second series (it's called Banner of the Stars in the US, and is currently coming out). If you're watching the dub and suddenly the episode prologue comes up subtitled, you'll quickly realize that it's not in Japanese. It's actually the Ahb language created by the writer of the books, Hiroyuki Morioka. It was made so that it could be "easily" translated into Japanese, from which it can then be translated into English. Also, about the ships: They have laser guns, of course, but the laser guns can actually miss and actually have a range limit. For hitting ships far away, they have mines equipped with hyper-space engines. The concept of hyperspace period is pretty metaphysical, but the fact that the mechanical designers actually obeyed other physical laws can be a refreshing change from the space weapons that work just like regular weapons (like in Cowboy Bebop, how machine guns worked in space. There's no air in space to make the explosion that drives the bullet out of the chamber!).
US DVD Review
Available on four discs or a boxed set, which includes interviews, textless opening/endings, and Crest of the Stars History lessons.
There's some violence, but it's not bad. May be hard for kids to understand.
Violence: 2 - There's some violence, but it's not bad.
Nudity: 1 - Just the tight-fitting military outfits.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - One very scientific explanation of Ahb birthing practices.
Language: 1 - I think there were some "damn"s, but I forget.