(Clicks off from watching “The Matrix” trilogy.)
Bah. All that the Wachowski Brothers did was rip off a bunch of ideas already done by anime and slapped it together to make this trilogy.
At least this “Jupiter Ascending” looks more original. I mean, an alien queen literally seeded the galaxy with her own DNA in hopes that one day her reincarnation/descendant would come back and bring a golden age to her race? That’s never been done by anime!
Wait a second…
“Odin: Starlight Mutiny”
This one is another film, and also hails back from the days of the Sci-Fi Channel. Very old and pretty dated nowadays, but…at the time, I actually kind of liked it. Of course I had such small exposure to anime at the time I failed to realize it was nothing more than every generic plot you could think of set in space slapped together with loads of padding, but I loved it at the time. Don’t ask me why…I just did. And don’t judge.
Back in the day, it went under its original title: “Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight” (yes, it’s misspelled…blame the Japanese). As you can tell a few minutes into this film, it reeks not only of the ’80s, but of every popular space opera genre of the time, such as “Robotech”. It seems in the future humanity has vastly increased in technology while vastly regressing in style (you know, kind of like “The Fifth Element”), with starships that look like giant clippers and uniforms that are derived from 19th century uniforms for sailors. BUT…it turns out there’s some actual sound science behind this. Humanity finally managed to master interplanetary space travel within its own solar system by relying on the concept of “solar winds”, or the force that the sun’s own rays generate in space. Too weak to use this normally, mankind has built starships that look like great clippers and used satellites to focus sunbeams such that travel to the nine…excuse me, eight planets is a snap.
However, mankind, not satisfied with that, is looking to reach into the deeper cosmos and has built a new ship that can go vast distances under its own generated power rather than relying on solar wind, the Starlight. An elite fresh-graduate crew is headed out with a venerable senior crew to take it for its first run into deeper space. What are their names? Who cares? They might as well be Anime Old Captain, Anime First Officer Who Loves Punching The Ensigns, Anime Cocky Guy, Anime Science Nerd, and, of course, our protagonist, Anime Overconfident And Adventurous Dropout Who Doesn’t Play By The Rules.
But things start going wrong rather quick. In true Star Trek fashion, our ship-of-the-line gets a distress signal from a passenger ship and is the only one who can respond. They do so and end up finding the remains of what looks like an alien attack and a single survivor: Anime Hot Teenage Girl With Odd-Colored Hair Indicating She’s Both Mystic And Important To The Plot. Before you know it, a few crew members are getting killed too before they discover mystery data crystals that only Teenage Girl can strangely read, and they end up finding out that they’re close to a location of a cosmic gate that could take them across the galaxy to a planet with a sentient race living on it that made contact with Earth years ago and founded the Norse civilization (hence why their own world is named Odin) and have the capability to activate it. Not only that, but apparently Teenage Girl, who naturally is pairing with Dropout, is the result of the queen of that race shooting out her ova into the great final frontier with the idea she’d be reborn on another world one day.
…Pretty stupid race. I mean, even Jor-El had enough sense to aim at one planet in particular.
Well, the captain is soon faced with the choice of either turning around and going home rather than pursuing what may be a hostile race, or the choice of having him and his crew make first contact with another sentient life form. He picks the safer route to avoid putting his crew in danger. So what is our energetic crew of young miscreants to do about it when they really, really want to see the guys who taught mankind the finer points of raiding and pillaging? Well, if our title is any clue…they take over the ship and damn the older generation.
Turns out the captain’s first idea might have been better, though. After crossing the gate they end up immediately being assaulted by a race of machines with warships out the wazoo, all run by a giant malevolent AI entity, and are soon faced with the possibility that the world they’re going to is made up of nothing but hostile machines. Yet through some adventuring and space-mysterying, they eventually find out that this race of machines came from AI produced on Planet Odin, and that when the people trashed their world they were forced to become cyborgs to survive, but eventually got fully assimilated by the AI and used as components…leaving only a handful of their original race living off the remains of their old world…
…Wait a second. This sounds like ANOTHER Wachowski Brothers movie!
Anyway, without spoiling much, a lot more soon rides on them getting to Odin and beating the machines, as Teenage Girl needs to go back to be the Zelda or something of her world and revive it, and the machines will conquer and enslave Earth if their one little ship-of-the-line doesn’t stop them first.
How does it measure up?
Again, this is a fairly long movie by anime standards. They don’t seem to make many that are two hours anymore. Of course, the animation quality is a step backwards from a lot. It’s hard to believe this movie came out only three years before “Akira”, which holds up pretty well even by modern standards. Nevertheless, in spite of the characters looking like Robotech or Captain Tyler rejects, the ships and technical artwork is beautiful. And if you’re for the kind of ’80s space style that used to be popular, this is certainly good for that. It has a lot of action and some of the tech in it is fairly impressive, but…it has a lot of meandering too. A lot of shots of the ship doing things and recycled clips. Parts of it can really drag.
The plot I outlined eventually degenerates into more of the same, but I give it a lot of credit for having a lot of original elements to it. An odd attempt, to me, to do a plot that would fit in more with “Star Trek” and a plot that’s more akin to “Star Wars”. And…I think it does fairly well. The science-fiction elements aren’t quite realistic enough to be overwhelming as they are for something that, say, Card or Asimov might put out, but there’s still a sense of being grounded at least somewhat in reality. The fantasy elements, eh…not so much. Especially if you’re a biologist like me and realize that seeding the galaxy with your haploids is a rather impossible way to get reincarnated in a few thousand years.
Probably the biggest weakness of the plot is the resolution. Again, without spoiling too much, it’s a deus ex machina, more or less. But damn…is it not even clever. They pretty much have one of the characters invent something to destroy the big bad…and it’s a project he’s been working on in his spare time as a hobby. W.T.F. What the heck is that? How lazy is your writing if your plot is resolved by some guy who randomly is revealed to have been working on a deus ex machina in his spare time for apparently no reason than boredom that happens to be the perfect thing to kill the big bad? That’s like Lex Luthor having spent his whole life doing projects with Kryptonite and saying “these projects have no use whatsoever, but on the off chance an alien who was incredibly strong ever came to Earth to be a superhero, this would most certainly kill him”, and then after 10 years of that Superman shows up.
The characters…eh… Well, they’re the ’80s anime playbook, so there’s not much to say about them. They probably could have done the whole movie without Teenage Girl’s character. Even if the story behind her is kind of interesting, ultimately she’s a character MacGuffin, and not even a necessary one. The crew, as you might expect from people who really were adventurous for the “final frontier”, are motivated by wanting to explore the cosmos and see what all is out there. And really…that’s what humanity does as far as interest in deep space right now. It didn’t really need a reincarnated space queen for that. Plus it’s a little odd. I mean…she was born and raised on Earth, then she suddenly starts talking as if she’s Frigga reincarnated toward the end of the film as if she only had amnesia until that point rather than her persona being consumed by one residing in her genes. Kind of weird, overlooked, and even creepy when you think about it. I think the movie could have been a lot more interesting if it had gotten more into the character’s heads. The problem is, like a lot of science fiction, it relies on the idea and tech to tell the story. But it doesn’t really go in-depth enough for that to command the whole plot. It eventually draws back into the “human” element, but when it gets there the characters aren’t quite “human” enough to command your attention. This is some pretty monumental stuff happening in this movie. It would be nice if we saw some accurate reactions to it.
My favorite character was actually the captain. He had the most depth to him even if he kind of got shoved on the sidelines. He conveys the idea of a “war horse” or “old salt” who knows this is his last hurrah. That this is being done as a service to him for a long record and he’s going to be put to pasture once it’s done. Suddenly, he finds himself thrown into a situation where he may be past his prime but finds himself able to not only do the most important thing in his life but maybe in the history of mankind, and he’s conflicted because he wonders if this will end up being for his own glory and memory and if he’ll end up sacrificing a whole crew who have their whole lives ahead of him for it. A guy who knows he likely won’t be coming back from this but is determined to go out in a “blaze-of-glory”, to prefer to die going for the ultimate “shot to the stars” rather than retire and pass the last of his life doing nothing in a safe, comfortable, known environment. That’s…actually rather deep for an anime like this. And it’s a little sad at the end too.
The only other thing left to say can’t be said, and that’s where the film chooses to end. It seems kind of abrupt. Almost like the last chapter of the story got “left out”. But then again…maybe that’s what the whole film was supposed to be about at the end. That it’s up to the viewer to decide what was at the end of the road. Or maybe that the point was never so much in the destination as it was in the journey there. Maybe this whole movie was supposed to be about the captain, and that when he reached the end of his own “journey”, there was no longer any reason for the story to continue.
I actually liked this movie a whole lot growing up for all of its faults. Enough to seize it when it got released on DVD and…to be honest, while I found a lot more wrong with it, I still like it. Perhaps it will never be as epic or meaningful as “Akira”, “Spirited Away”, or “Millennium Actress”…but I liked it none the less. It leaves you feeling a bit bittersweet for all of its glamor, glitz, and ’80s…but the fact that it leaves you feeling something is definitely a point in its favor. While I won’t recommend anyone go out and search high and low for this one or even necessarily buy it, if you don’t mind a whiff of ’80s cheese (the soundtrack is indeed goofily horrendous)…give it a look if you have the chance. You may find something you like.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Even if it doesn’t go all the way to the final frontier, it has points where it goes where few animes have gone before.
What You Should Do With This DVD:
Subject it to a thorough analysis on first discovery, then put it on your shelf until any unexpected guests pick up on it and react strongly.