Sol Bianca Anime Review
/ Movie / Action / 13-up
A creative and enjoyable action flick with a touch of humanity.
...A reduced-sleaze Plastic Little with the visuals from a well-lit AD Police Files.
US Release By
Space Pirate Action
What's In It
- Space Pirates
- Cute Kids in Heavily Armed Mecha
- Wicked-Cool Space Ships
- Airborne Chases
- Sweet Vengeance
- Violence: 3 (significant)
- Nudity: 1 (mild)
- Sex: 0 (none)
- Language: 3 (significant)
Somewhere in the distant future, the mysterious Sol Bianca and its crew of five (female, of course) space pirates ply their trade on the space lanes. There's Janny, the violent one, Feb, their drunken leader, April, idealistic and vengeful, May, who even though she's still a child tools around in a missile-packin' mech, and June, the ship's resident technical genius.
Things get interesting when, along with some loot, they pick up a young stowaway, Rim Delapaz. As it turns out, the boy is trying to get to Uno, his homeworld, now occupied by the forces of Batros, the despotic dictator of the nearby planet Tres. These war-torn, backwater planets wouldn't be of much interest to the crew of the Sol Bianca, except for the fact that Rim also happens to know of a treasure held somewhere on Tres, the Gnosis, aka the Golden Box--rumored to hold all the knowledge in the universe and God-like power. This is too much temptation for these pirates to overlook.
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Sol Bianca is far from a masterwork, but it still manages to take a simple genre and pull something enjoyable and reasonably creative out of it. Its weakness is probably it's thin plot, but its strengths are a variety of fun and creative action, bits of detail and realism that take the world a notch above bland sci-fi fare, and a very likable cast of characters with an air of casual realism.
Put that together with nice art, half-decent animation, and a top-notch voice cast, and you've got an enjoyable little classic anime action flick. Add to that hints at more plot than is presented and something in the characters that made them feel unusually realistic to me (not necessarily you, though), and you've got a very enjoyable movie if it lines up with your taste.
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Sol Bianca doesn't have much new in the way of plot (this review is probably longer than the movie) and the characters are a familiar set, but something about it I can't quite pin down grabbed it a spot on my favorites list. If nothing else, it's good old-fashioned anime fun.
The storyline is almost non-existent: You've got some space pirates, they help out a kid, they blow up the bad guys. That much is definite. Amusingly, the good guys really aren't all that bright, and even the bad guy is just a two-bit dictator on a backwater planet. Instead of using clever plans to outsmart a superior enemy, the five women's general strategy is to just strut into a situation and assume either their physical prowess or really impressive hardware will get them out of it (which seems effective enough). It'll probably annoy fans of more intelligent action movies, and even I was a tad put off by some of the extreme moments of good-guy-supremacy, but I enjoyed the under-preparedness of the Sol Bianca's crew and the fact that nobody is very clever.
Still, a functional if dim-witted plot isn't enough to win Sol Bianca any awards (which it has), or what makes it memorable. What does stand out (and most likely the reason it was so popular in its time) is the action. It's not the fastest or most gripping action I've ever seen, but it's creative and a lot of fun. There's a great airborne chase, plenty of gunfights (with archaic-looking pistols that pack enough wallop for a bazooka), a couple of slick space battles, and my personal all-time-second-favorite anime weapon1: a laser sniper rifle with enough range to pick people off from orbit (which is exactly what Feb does with it). When Sol Bianca gets rolling, the action is so much fun, you'll probably wish there was more of it--my only real complaint is that the whole thing is over too quickly.
Another thing that stands out is the technology. There are cool guns and some neat laser whips, but the star is the Sol Bianca itself. It boasts an onboard park, dimension-diving capability (one of the visually cooler means of faster-than-light travel I can think of, and used creatively to boot), a variety of interesting weapons, and a unique design of elegant arcs.
I loved the action and technology, but there's something more that makes Sol Bianca stand out in my personal anime collection. Part of it is the sense that there's more to the story than what we're being told. The backstory, particularly the origin of the Sol Bianca, is left conspicuously open. It's not an accident, either; there's a lot more in the way of mysterious hints in the sequel.
Mostly, though, it's the characters--the five women individually and their dynamic as a group. They more or less fit into standard molds, and while they're not going to be accused of being masterworks of subtlety, they feel more three-dimensional and less stereotypical than you'd expect. They may be space pirates, but there's a whiff of appealing normalcy that makes them feel real. Past that, I can't really put my finger on what it is that I like about the group, but, again, the sequel (which, if you like the characters, I recommend) confirmed that whatever it is wasn't an accident.
The Japanese acting is a significant component of this--it boasts one of my all-time favorite ensemble casts. Each of the quintet sounds distinctive: You have Yohko Matsuoka lending her sultry voice to Feb, Rei Sakuma giving a pleasantly mature performance as April, the always-impressive Minami Takayama as the harsh, angry Janny, and Yuriko Fuchizaki using her slightly nasal voice to give braniac June a casual, disinterested tone. Even the cute little one, May, is voiced (rather against-type) by veteran Miki Itoh.
There may not be much in the way of drama, but there's a sense of casual reality to the performances that contributes to their believability, something I found quite appealing. The only other actor worth mentioning is Aono Takeshi, who voices the villain Batros with a proper amount of flair. ADV's "creative" translation, by the way, deserves some of the blame for the overly sentimental or awkward dialogue (not to mention a lot of profanity, though that's not really out of character).
The final piece of the appeal of Sol Bianca is the visuals. The character designs are attractive, memorable, and unusual; in keeping with their more realistic personalities, they're less exaggerated than anime standard, with near-realistically proportioned eyes. The rest of the world has a distinctive look to it, with a few nice locations and some neat mechanical design--the gracefully-arcing design of the Sol Bianca in particular is very cool. There are also a few nice little touches, like the people of Tres being very tall. Unfortunately, the frame rate of the animation isn't terribly smooth, but the character animation is still well done, and the action sequences are very good. One exception on the frame rate is the Sol Bianca itself--it is animated with unusual fluidity, at times rivaling films with a full theatrical budget.
The music isn't particularly notable, but there is a decent action theme and I thought the vocal end theme was quite pretty.
In all, it may not be exquisite cinema, and it's not even a best-in-class action flick, but Sol Bianca has its charms: plenty of action, cool technology, unusual character designs, and characters that feel a little more nuanced than the archetypes they're based on. And, if nothing else, it's lots of fun.
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Somewhat similar to Plastic Little, though Plastic Little is much cheesier. There's also a sequel (Sol Bianca 2), which has less action and more character interaction, and a prequel OAV series, Sol Bianca: The Legacy, which is high budget but very inconsistent.
Notes and Trivia
Sol Bianca is an original OVA concept from AIC, directed by Katsuhito Akiyama and scripted by Mayori Sekijima. There is a sequel OAV, Sol Bianca 2, which was set up for at least one additional OVA that was never produced, apparently due to poor sales. There was, however, a longer OVA series released in 1999, Sol Bianca: The Legacy; it features a different voice cast, although it's not entirely clear from the story whether it's a prequel or a complete reboot.
While there was no Japanese manga adaptation, ADV did attempt an American-format comic adaptation, although only one issue was ever finished. In late 1994, then-young ADV attempted to start a comic division, which resulted in them hiring Lorraine Reyes (this interview has details) to, among other things, draw a Sol Bianca adaptation. The division was shut down before the second issue was finished.
There was also an RPG-style game for the TurboGrafx-CD, which was never released outside Japan.
Director Akiyama has a solid and colorful resume, including ThunderCats, Bubblegum Crisis, almost all of the Gall Force series, Bastard!!, Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor, and Pumpkin Scissors. While he did not direct the sequel to this, he was assistant director on the Legacy remake.
It's not a big deal, but ADV did something nice with the credits on their old VHS release, having the English credits matched to the Japanese ones underneath--I wouldn't mind seeing that still.
Footnote 1: For my personal favorite, see Project A-ko.
US DVD Review
ADV never released a DVD, nor has anyone else for the North American market as of this writing.
Violent and has some bad language, but not over the top in either case, making ADV's 12-up more or less appropriate.
Violence: 3 - A bloody execution, plenty of gunfights, and some mass destruction.
Nudity: 1 - One very brief shot.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing at all.
Language: 3 - A fair amount of expletives, though at least nothing out of character.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Feb: Yohko Matsuoka
April: Rei Sakuma
Janny: Minami Takayama
May: Miki Itoh
June: Yuriko Fuchizaki
Rim: Daisuke Namikawa
Melanion: Tesshou Genda
Batros: Takeshi Aono
Lind: Tomomichi Nishimura
Story: Mayori Sekijima
Director: Katsuhito Akiyama
Art Director: Shigemi Ikeda
Music: Tohru Hirano.
Formerly available in North America from AD Vision on subtitled or dubbed VHS, or a subtitled CAV LaserDisc. All are long out of print.
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