Outlaw Star Anime Review
Seihou Bukyou Outlaw Star
Gallant Way of the Stars - Outlaw Star
US Release By
Space Opera Fantasy Action
26 25-minute episodes
1998-01-08 - 1998-06-25
In the distant future, humans have traveled to the stars and colonized the planets around them. But the spacelanes have become a throwback to the days of the swashbucklers, with a twist. There is the spacefleet, representing law, the pirates, representing chaos, and the Outlaws, who fit somewhere in between--some are altruistic spacefarers, others are opportunistic fortune-seekers.
Enter our heroes, a mechanically inclined kid and an older kid who's a crack-shot and even smoother with the ladies... but his real dream is to go to space. Their business is Starwind and Hawkins, and they'll do anything for a buck, be it bodyguard or farm equipment repair. Or both, as the case may be--when a beautiful client shows up asking for some hard to find hardware and physical protection, they jump at the chance. But they're about to get more than they bargained for, even if it is their chance to get off the rock and into the wilds of space--and a whole slew of adventures.
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Outlaw Star is your basic sci-fi action series with some added magical/samurai/wild west flair. It's not wildly original, or of spectacularly high quality, but it's a solid, fun series with enough colorful characters and creative settings to put it a pace or two ahead of the generic space opera crowd. Its most noteworthy features is the offhanded way the setting combines magic and technology, and the very likable protagonist Gene--simultaneously competent and appealingly goofy (for example, he spends the first several episodes incapacitated with space sickness). There's also plenty of decent-looking action, and a quality dub cast.
Outlaw Star is solidly put together, generally fun to watch, and worth a shot for light space opera fans.
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When I first saw Outlaw Star, I had a good feeling about it. It didn't turn out to be as impressive as I was hoping, but it's a fun series with enough quality to stand out couple of paces from the light space opera pack.
I haven't watched it through to the end, but while the plot is no spectacular work of storytelling it is basically well put together, has a few hints of interesting mystery and character development, and manages to be fast paced without seeming rushed. The setting isn't very inventive and the whole grappler-arm thing is contrived, but there are a few technological tidbits that I enjoyed (such as guns being outlawed on an asteroid city for fear of someone breaching a hull), and there's a sense the world can stand on its own.
One unusual feature of Outlaw Star is the setting's mixture of magic and sci-fi; it's not the first time that's been done, but I liked the execution. Magic isn't made a big deal of, but the characters don't seem to think that being chased by evil sorcerers is all that weird. Also nice is that the magical abilities are powerful, yet still on approximately the same level as technological hardware--there are magical shields, but blowing them away with big guns isn't out of the question.
The characters are a stronger point than the setting. Some are shallow, but the Outlaw anti-heroine is solidly ornery, and our hero definitely seems to have more to him than is visible on the surface. His total lack of spacefaring aptitude is refreshing (how often do you see the hero incapacitated with space-sickness for the first several episodes of a series?), and I particularly enjoyed the fact that as competent as he is, he's also kind of goofy, making him more fun to watch and easier to empathize with.
The rest of the characters aren't particularly noteworthy, but there's enough substance to develop something worthwhile, and the group has a good rapport. My only complaint is that I had trouble empathizing with most of them; the hero is interesting, but none of the others drew me in much. The anti-heroine is interesting and has some depth to her, but the fact that she was ready to just knock off a couple of innocent guys and then promptly gets accepted as a "good guy" (without any real change of heart) is kind of annoying; tough and ornery is fine, but it helps you to connect with a character if she isn't a flat-out murderer. The first round of bad guys aren't around all that much, but they do have a bit of depth, they look kinda creepy, and are generally pretty cool.
Visually, Outlaw Star was nicely done. The opening sequence is very slick, and while the rest doesn't quite live up to that level, it's still good. The animation is smooth and the character animation is mostly well done. The series opens with a heck of a space battle, and although the action isn't always that slick, it's still smooth and well done throughout the series (not to mention plentiful). The art is nice, if not distinctive. There are a few backgrounds with a fair amount of detail, and some of the ship designs are good if not terribly original. The character designs are not the most original, either, but they are generally attractive.
As for the acting, I've only seen the dub, but I was quite impressed--up to par for a Bandai production. There isn't a lot of dramatic material, but the level of acting in general is good, and the banter in particular is almost always sharply written and acted. It helps that the casting is quite good, and I really liked both of the heroes: the younger of the two is fun and believable as a kid, and the elder is likable.
The music isn't bad in general, and I love the opening theme--very catchy. The first end theme, on the other hand, while pretty, seems out of place--gentle, nostalgic, and even the background visuals are soft and dreamy. It looks and sounds more like the end theme of a piece of shoujo anime than a space action show. Go figure.
Summing up, Outlaw Star is your basic sci-fi action series with some added magical/samurai/wild west flair. It may not be terribly noteworthy, but it's solidly put together, generally fun to watch, and worth a shot for space opera fans.
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Has quite a bit in common with MAPS. Also bears a passing similarity to Sol Bianca.
Notes and Trivia
Outlaw Star is based on a 1997 manga series of the same name by Takehiko Ito. That series is, in turn, a spin-off of an earlier parody manga series, also by Ito, called Space Hero Tales ("Uchuu Eiyuu Monogatari," also known in English as "Future-Retro Hero Story"). The Outlaw Star anime series has its own spin-off TV series, Angel Links.
Outlaw Star was among the first of Bandai's series to make it to the Cartoon Network (originally airing in 2001), and as a result it's quite popular with the light anime watching public. It's worth mentioning that the TV version is slightly edited to make it more suitable for a young audience, and is also missing one episode (the obligatory hot springs episode, which wasn't significant enough to the plot to make it worth the heavy editing work).
US DVD Review
The series is available on a number of DVD collections, all of which are characteristically quality Bandai productions, and none of which list much in the way of extras. It was originally released on three 2-disc sets, which were later also released as a reduced-price "Perfect Collection" box set. More recently still, a budget-priced "Anime Legends" complete collection in a different (and somewhat less snazzy-looking) box has shown up, and at least on the marketing material boasts of textless openings and endings, and some image galleries that the earlier releases did not. All the versions are in bilingual stereo, and to my knowledge none are of the edited TV version.
It's not all that bad, but some mature themes and violence push it into the 13-up range. The TV version is somewhat cleaner; these ratings are for the unedited version.
Violence: 3 - Not graphic, but definitely violent.
Nudity: 2 - A fair amount of exposed skin, but through clever camera work and proper positioning, you never technically "see anything."
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - A bit of raunch early on, and some running innuendo.
Language: 1 - The dub is surprisingly frugal with the profanity.
Available in North America from Bandai on hybrid DVD in several formats: An "Anime Legends" complete box set, three individual 2-disc sets, and a "Perfect Collection Box Set" that combines those three sets in one attractive box. Was originally available on subtitled or dubbed VHS, two episodes to a volume.