Written by Richard Brown
The anime industry is a lot like Hollywood, in that you often get loads of variations on the same idea in a short space of time. In the 1990’s Hollywood did disaster movies, but Japan did space westerns. Outlaw Star is a product of that period, coming to the west at roughly the same time as the massively popular Cowboy Bebop and Trigun, but it certainly isn’t as famous. That isn’t fair.
The Basic Plot
Gene Starwind is a bounty hunter and wannabe adventurer on the Planet of Sentinel 3. Working with his young partner Jim Hawking, Gene is hired by “Hot Ice” Hilda, a self-proclaimed outlaw, as a bodyguard as she races to claim a treasure. It turns out to be the bio-android Melfina, a perfect replica of a human girl, but has no memory of her origins. Once the dust settles, Gene is now the owner of the Outlaw Star, a unique ship, and has promised Melfina to find her answers. The trouble is, the pirates who built the ship want it back, for something called the “Galactic Leyline”, and Gene doesn’t know where to begin. Fortunately, he’s about as good at making allies as he is at making enemies, often at the same time. He soon acquires Twilight Suzuka, an assassin, and Aisha Clan Clan, an immortal Ctarl-Ctarl, as allies. If only he could turn a profit, life would be easy.
This Review is Brought to You By The Mighty Ctarl-Catrl Empire!
First off, describing this series as a space western is inaccurate. Outlaw Star could be considered to be a Japanese take on Star Wars at times, or at least drawing on the same traditions, with a bit of Chinese mysticism. Gene Starwind is like a young Han Solo, and the Tao magicians could easily be viewed as Jedi. The anime certainly has an interesting and varied universe of aliens, and, thankfully there’s none of the flaws Star wars had (such as prequels). The initial episodes are pleasingly fast, white knuckle rides. The sense of adventure is strong, and the regular patches of comedy and fan service only enhance this. Outlaw Star’s main strength is its varied action sequences. The “grappler ship”, is a very unique take on space combat, basically seeing ships punch each other, which is just the right kind of daft for a series like this. However, the series does not rely on this gimmick, and most of the episodes take place on solid ground, giving some good gunfights. Sadly, Outlaw Star runs out of steam at the end of its second story arc. Having blasted through eight episodes without pause for breath, when things slow down the overall quality of the series starts to drop. The series becomes largely episodic, and while we get some quality comedy, its not until the final story arc does the series regains the energy that it lost.
An irritation for me was that the characters do not grow beyond their initial appearances, and while that is not necessarily a problem for an action series, I did feel that something should have done done. Suzuka in particular is a closed book for most of the series, and that’s really noticeable in a anime which only has 5 regular characters and only so much for them to do. Jim also suffers from an increasing lack of purpose and screen time. That said, things aren’t all bad on the character front. You could complain that Aisha was two-dimensional, but that’s really part of her charm, like Armstrong from Full Metal Alchemist. The combination of Amazon, Werewolf and Catgirl really does make for a memorable character. While on the subject of over-the-top minor characters, the arms dealer Fred Lou often steals the show, for reasons I won’t spoil by revealing here. A good subplot is where Melfina attracts a stalker, one of the MacDougal brothers, whom Gene has very a personal beef with. This helps gives some depth to the weak middle of the series, although Mel is very much a damsel in distress, presumably to balance out the level of badassery that Aisha and Suzuka represent. So while, you couldn’t call the series deep, it always entertains.
Writing this review has made me realise how my own tastes and the wider anime industry have changed since this series first appeared. Outlaw Star is a good example of the sort of anime that was popular in the 90’s, a mix of action, comedy, fantasy, science fiction and some unusual girls in the cast. It’s got a lot of charm for that very reason, but it’s often unremarkable and forgettable. These flaws aside, there is something fundamentally enjoyable about series which features a scarred letch with a magic pistol, a weapons grade catgirl, an assassin with a wooden sword, a child genius acting as the voice of reason, and a navigator who has to get naked in order to guide the ship. In fact, how could anyone fail to enjoy that?