Sol Bianca: The Legacy Anime Review
SOL BIANCA - 太陽の船 ソルビアンカ
Taiyou no Fune Sol Bianca
Ship of the Sun
US Release By
Space Pirate Action Adventure
6 30-minute episodes
1999-09-24 - 2000-05-25
Sol Bianca and Sol Bianca 2 introduced us to the mysterious pirate ship Sol Bianca and her crew of violent misfit women. The Legacy aims to fill us in on their past. Our story opens some time in the distant future after humanity has explored and colonized stars across the galaxy. In fact, old Earth has become little more than a legend, and no one even knows where it is--all that remains are a few artifacts from Earth's past.
When the crew of the Sol Bianca sets down on a backwater planet looking to steal back an ancient (and very valuable) pistol that was stolen from April, they set into motion a string of events that will have powerful forces yanking them all over the galaxy, and eventually back to Old Earth itself.
Quick ReviewSwitch to Full Review
Sol Bianca: The Legacy is a prime example of early 21st century "postmodern" anime--stylish, loaded with pop-culture references, and willfully avant-garde. Throughout its six episodes it covers a lot of ground, but despite a few very good dramatic parts and lots of creative storytelling it never feels comfortable in most of the genres it touches on. The too-silly first two episodes start it off on the wrong foot, and when it swings back toward drama it goes so far that the action is almost unnecessary. The Legacy feels most at home in its emotionally complex, character-driven scenes, which are subtle and realistic (if ill-explained), but you'll have to forget some pretty sour notes and put up with some rather weird plot to get to them. At least it's flat-out gorgeous, and has some very fine acting in both languages, as well as quality music.
You don't need to be a fan of the originals to appreciate Sol Bianca: The Legacy, and indeed you might enjoy it more if you're not due to the character changes and simultaneous shift toward more silly and more moody. Regardless, it's halfway between a very attractive action series and a moody, style-heavy drama, but is so uneven and takes so long to get its footing that I have trouble recommending it even with all its strengths.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Sol Bianca: The Legacy is a prime example of turn-of-the-century "postmodern" anime--stylish, loaded with pop-culture references, and willfully avant-garde. It's also a significant departure from the movies on which it's based, and so hugely inconsistent that I can't even decide whether I liked it or not.
You needn't be familiar with the original two movies to appreciate The Legacy, although existing fans will find somewhat different characters, notably more silliness, and at the same time a darker, moody plot.1 On its own, the series takes a very long time to find its footing. When it eventually does, the ongoing story is interesting enough, the characters are surprisingly three dimensional, and there's a respectable amount of very slick action.
The Legacy follows the basic Pioneer theme of starting out with a lot of unexplained stuff going on, then slowly filling in details, but it feels different from most of their previous series in everything from the all-English alternative rock intro to the outrageous superweapons. Filled with creative editing and bits of nonlinear storytelling, the whole production oozes style and mystery.
Everything about The Legacy is simultaneously conscious of past art while flaunting its modernity. The flashy, computer-assisted visuals draw on pop style from Macross to MTV, and look spectacular. Director Hiroyuki Ochi (best known for Armitage III) brings a distinctive live-action-inspired style influenced by US action movies, John Woo, and more. The story references everything from the Bible to classic science fiction, and the world and characters infuse classic anime prototypes with a stiff dose of Y2K attitude.
The spectacular visuals are almost unquestionably the high point of The Legacy. Beautifully drawn, darkly stylish art compliments the slick, realistic character animation. The character designs update the attractive realism of the originals with an angular finish, and the costuming is a running fashion show. The mechanical design is equally creative, from the sweeping curves of the Sol Bianca to the rest of the CG ships, all of which blend well with the cel-based art. Locations range from the rustic, Spain-like town the story begins in to a cyberpunk metropolis, and include neat spots and otherwise familiar locations with creatively weird touches. Finally, there is a hefty dose of pure artistic flair, mainly in the last couple of episodes--everything from giant holographic goddesses to artificial eclipses.
The series does suffer from a few uncomfortable-looking pans early on, but is otherwise free of the flaws of other early computer-composited anime.
Then there's the action: Fast, furious, and fluidly animated. Highlights include a brief but spectacular dogfight in episode two and a ship-to-ship battle in part one with an impressive sense of mass and scale. Shown from the perspective of the town it takes place over, the ships loom huge in the sky as shockwaves rattle buildings--vivid and very cool. This is tainted by some exaggerated weapons and a silly mess of a gunfight in the first episode, as well as part three, which puts style over believability or excitement.
The girls the series revolves around are anime stereotypes with a serious modern tweak. They may be pirates on a space ship hundreds of years in the future, but they're cell-phone-equipped, fashion-conscious, and outfitted with realistic, troubled personalities and plenty of attitude. From Mayo's shattered childhood to Janny's seething personality and chiseled physique, these are not the anime heroines of yesteryear, or even of the previous Sol Bianca incarnation.
Feb and April are both notably more mature than the average action babe, but most impressive is to-the-limit tomboy Janny: Physically beefy and un-feminine, her personality is similarly rough-hewn, with an air of being angry yet aloof and just barely under control.
The series features an all-new and very talented Japanese voice cast, though I was still a little disappointed since the originals were so good. The veteran Yoshiko Sakakibara is a solid replacement for Yohko Matsuoka as Feb's voice, though June's new voice, relative unknown Eri Miyajima, isn't as distinctive as Yuriko Fuchizaki (June being my favorite of her roles).
I can nit pick and point out that the rapport isn't as strong, and they're not as much fun, but the dramatic acting is forceful and nuanced. April (voiced by Rika Matsumoto) and Feb are backed by the most impressive performances, though the other three all get their turns. Tomo Saeki as Janny is dramatically believable on top of a singularly dry, angry performance.
The English dub is well cast, well scripted, and well acted, with consummate veteran Wendee Lee as April being the real standout--a fine performance.
The music, by Seikou Nagaoka, is another highlight. Background themes range from mellow countryside guitar riffs, to atmospheric vocalizing, to some very cool techno-choir pieces, with an occasional action theme reminiscent of the one from the first movie. The end theme is an appealing and unusual alternative guitar piece, and I'm quite fond of the intro, an upbeat but slightly wistful alternative rock song with a hint of techno. Both songs are in English, a trend with Pioneer/Geneon.
I've been raving up to this point, but that's only half of the picture. The problem with The Legacy is that it hits so many genres it can't seem to make up its mind about what it's supposed to be, and it's halfway over before it starts to pull anything coherent together.
It's so scattered that it makes the most sense to give an episode-by-episode breakdown:
Episode 1 is a lot like the two movies: The women plan something, then have their plan go awry or ignore it entirely and make up for any shortcomings with serious firepower and wild action. Dramatically, it includes some surprisingly affecting scenes with the traumatized Mayo. Sadly, the action is uncoordinated and over-the-top. The gunfight choreography is terrible--first nobody is shooting, and once they do bother to open fire nobody can hit anything (even though Janny looks to have enough firepower to level the entire building). Janny's immense guns look like they belong to an action figure, and the Sol Bianca's superweapon, a towering holographic goddess, reminded me of a summoned monster attack in a video game--out of scale and so flashy it's silly.
Episode 2 is a mess. It features June and Mayo wending their way through a literary-themed, trap-filled labyrinth that should have been cool. Except June has a silly holographic genie straight out of a Disney cartoon with a database of knowledge that takes the pressure off her to know anything. Instead of a harried brainiac being drug through danger, June ends up blindly walking along letting him do everything, including killing any sense of risk. It may work for Aladdin, but not here. Adding injury to insult, everything takes a sudden turn toward serious in the last two minutes, which has no impact thanks to the awkward comedy leading up to it.
Episode 3 is another tangent centered on Janny. This time it's dead-serious and laid out very much like a hard-boiled John Woo movie--lots of stylish action and subtle, harsh character development. The concept and emotional structure are interesting, but the execution is flawed; it tries to compress a lot of action, some allegorical political plot, and a grim love/family story into 25 minutes. The result is so choppy and underdeveloped that it's hard to empathize with the characters and it feels as if everything that would have made Janny's reactions make sense was dropped for time.
Episode 4 is where the series finally starts to get its footing, coming back to what was started in the first episode and exploring the relationship between April and Feb. Here we have a grim, emotionally complex drama seasoned with a bit of action, but that in and of itself is something of an issue: The serious drama is almost completely at odds with the blatantly violent methods of the Sol Bianca's crew. It also has nothing to do with the light mood of the first part of this series (or its predecessors).
Episodes 5 and 6 bring together all the dramatic threads started through the series: Mayo's past, Feb and April's relationship, and the slightly-too-mysterious political intrigue. It also adds a dose of tragedy and more mysterious tie-ins with the Sol Bianca, but even here things don't quite add up. The character-driven scenes that make up most of the final episodes are handled properly, but as in episode 3, much of the deep emotional turmoil isn't given enough time and setup to make sense. The subtle emotions work, but a firm "why" is conspicuously absent, and it all seems a little hurried, cutting down on the impact. It still makes for decent drama, but it's rushed and, combined with some very weird stuff going on between the bad guys and the Sol Bianca, rather confusing. The end, incidentally, leaves almost all of the mysteries in the series unexplained, though it does firmly wrap up the plot.
When you put all that together, the series covers a lot of ground, but despite a few very good parts and lots of creative storytelling it never feels comfortable in most of the genres it touches on. The too-silly first two episodes start it off on the wrong foot, and when it swings back toward drama it goes so far in that direction that the action is almost unnecessary. The Legacy feels most at home in its emotionally complex, character-driven scenes, which are subtle and realistic (if ill-explained), but you'll have to forget some pretty sour notes and put up with some rather weird plot to get to them. On the whole I'd say it's halfway between a very attractive action series and a moody, style-heavy drama, but is so uneven that I have trouble recommending it, even though I want to.
Have something to say about this anime? Join our newly-resurrected forums and speak your mind.
Aside from the original pair of Sol Bianca movies, other similarly style-heavy, action-oriented postmodern anime series include the sci-fi Cowboy Bebop and its alternate-past kin Samurai Champloo, both of which are much better on account of more solid worlds and consistency.
Notes and Trivia
Based on the two direct-to-video movies Sol Bianca and Sol Bianca 2, Sol Bianca: The Legacy has an almost completely different production crew (and cast), which is obvious from the style and story. It's generally called a remake, but based on the plot it's also possible that it's intended as a prequel to those other stories.
Notably, The Legacy is not a sequel to Sol Bianca 2, which was set up for a continuation that never materialized, apparently due to poor sales. While it does introduce the backstory of some of the characters, it also doesn't explain any of the mysteries hinted at in that OVA.
Footnote 1: I decided to go easy on the direct comparisons in the review, but I'd like to indulge in a few more that may be of interest to fans of the originals. Though Sol Bianca and its sequel were little more than babes-in-space action flicks, there was something in there that made them memorable. The prospect of a continuation--by Pioneer, no less--had me drooling, even if it was disappointingly a prequel/reboot instead of a follow-up to the frustratingly inconclusive end of the second movie.
In comparison, the admittedly spectacular action scenes of The Legacy lack the creativity and fun of "the good old days." Character-wise, the same basic personalities are here, and while it's reasonable to expect them to be a little different, the younger Janny is almost scary and June is less the nonchalant brainiac and more of a perky gadget girl. More importantly, the level of banter just isn't the same; the characters feel much deeper individually, but their relationship to each other doesn't feel quite as real or nearly as fun as before.
Feb is worth singling out as a bright point--although she seems much younger (more so than the other four), she has a larger part and we get to see more of her interesting and tumultuous relationship with April.
US DVD Review
Pioneer's DVDs are quite nice, but not perfect. The audio is beautiful--a crystal clear and well-separated Dolby Digital 5.1 track in both English and Japanese, and a stereo track to go with each of those for folks without home theater systems. The video isn't quite as impressive--clean and sharp, but showed more compression artifacts than I would have liked to see on an all-digital production like this (mostly in areas of subtle color change, which the dark visuals in the second disc are full of). Unlike a lot of DVDs of the period, they include both the English and Japanese voice credits on the disc (you go, Pioneer! ...er, Geneon).
There are plenty of extra features: Production sketches, test 3D models, and a long music video of clips set to angry techno music. The menus are fancy and animated, and those on the first and third disc are designed to match the control menu of the Sol Bianca itself (we get to see it during the show). It actually looks a little too much like the "real" thing--when the menu of the actual Sol Bianca showed up during the program, I at first thought I bumped the menu button on the remote. The second disc features a completely different menu, this one designed after the heads-up display of Janny's gun.
In all, a solid set of shiny discs.
Some violence and mature themes, but mild enough that Pioneer's 13-up rating is appropriate.
Violence: 2 - Violent, but not graphic.
Nudity: 2 - A small amount of skin.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Some mature themes.
Language: 2 - Not severe.
Formerly available in North America from Geneon on three hybrid DVDs, sold both individually and in a slightly less expensive box set. Was originally also available on subtitled or dubbed VHS.
Currently out of print, but at last check RightStuf had plenty of stock of the DVD set at very appealing clearance pricing.