March 14th, 2014
In this episode, Sage kicks off Toonami Month by taking a look at the show that block co-creator Jason DeMarco has called his favorite. Sage takes a critical look at Outlaw Star, comparing it to its contemporary, Cowboy Bebop, and the differences therein. He also takes a look as to what makes Outlaw Star a classic in his book.
(We open on a Toonami card, modeled after the block’s 2012 revival.)
Card: Anime Abandon may contain opinions some viewers will in all likelihood bitch about in the comments.
(Fade in on Sage)
Sage: It was inevitable, really. From inception until now, I would have to talk about what may be—no, no, what is—the most influential block on American television. Toonami.
(Cut to the legendary “Dreams” promo. Track is “Broken Promise.”)
Sage (VO): Sure, the anime scene was slowly picking up steam in the mid-‘90s, but it took Toonami to push it over the edge of fringe pastime into a genuine fandom. It was this anime block that introduced American audiences—at their most impressionable age—the anime that they would never forget. The Gundam series. The Dragonball series. The Tenchi series—oh god, the Tenchi series!
(Cut back to Sage, who produces the Funimation reprints of the three Tenchi series that ran on Toonami: Tenchi Muyo, Tenchi Universe, and Tenchi in Tokyo)
Sage: Seriously, three different interpretations of the exact same story? I’ve seen Marvel books with less confusing continuities.
(Cut back to the promo)
Sage (VO): It was a sad day indeed when the block came to an end in 2008. For eleven years, Toonami was the cool older brother that a lot of us never had, getting us into awesome shows we would otherwise never hear about. And there it laid dormant…for four years.
(Cut to the TOM 5.0 packaging, with an intro bump to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.)
Sage (VO): Before rising like the Phoenix to deliver for a new generation of children a bevy of soon-to-be classics…on Saturdays at midnight.
Sage: OK, so they shifted focus and are basically now [adult swim]. At least the name and TOM are back.
(Cut back to the TOM 5.0 packaging, this time a promo for Space Dandy. Music changes to “Walking Stick.”)
Sage (VO): I’ll admit that I’m a little disappointed that Toonami didn’t return as an action block for pre-teens. I mean yeah, the only reason why it came back was to please us manchildren, but what about the manchildren-to-be? Ain’t nobody can’t pay me for the return of Miguzi!
(Cut to a brief bump for Miguzi, then to Sage)
Sage: But return it did, and the world is better for it. In honor of its return, I am dedicating all of March to Toonami!
(Cut to the “Pardon Our Dust” promo.)
Sage (VO): Much like my [adult swim month], there are WAY too many shows spread out over this prolific block for me to completely cover. Certain shows will have to wait their turn (Coughs) Dragonball-Gundam (Coughs).
Sage: So let’s kick the month off with one of my favorite anime: Outlaw Star.
(Jump cut to the TOM 3.5 packaging, with the Absolution II coasting through space. We see TOM 3.5 walk in and sit down, voiced by Mark The Engineer, who does a great Steve Blum impersonation. TOM presses some buttons and the screen pans into the Absolution’s monitors, playing Anime Abandon 2.0 opening.)
TOM 3.5: Well, strap yourselves in, Faithful*. (Sighs) It’s gonna be a long month…
- The Toonami Faithful is the official nickname for the Toonami fandom, adopted during the #BringBackToonami campaign in 2012.
(Fade back in on Sage)
Sage: Of all the genres that anime touches upon, the one that seems to get the most attention and praise is…easily science fiction.
(Cut to anime footage)
Sage (VO): Sure, there are plenty of slice-of-life, comedy, fantasy and romance anime, but for my money, no genre has a stranglehold on the medium quite like science fiction. Some of the most beloved titles in the anime canon are sci-fi shows. Hell, over half of my favorite anime of all time can be considered sci-fi! I suppose this all makes sense considering the limitless nature of animation, and the need for creative world building in sci-fi. Can you imagine someone trying to make a live-action Cowboy Bebop? Heh why, that would be absurd!
(Cut to a picture of Keanu Reeves, who was rumored to play Spike in the proposed live-action Bebop movie. Cut to him as Spike.)
Sage (VO): I SAID IT WOULD BE ABSURD!!
Sage: Though anime has had it’s lion’s share of sci-fi stories, they’re strangely bereft of optimism.
(Cut to Cowboy Bebop footage)
Sage (VO): The Cadillac franchises of science-fiction anime all revolve around a sense that the future of mankind is either compromised or in jeopardy. I touched upon this a bit in my Cowboy Bebop review: the differences in sci-fi storytelling and world building.
Sage: Strap in, lollipops, because we’re gonna take this conversation to the next level: GRADIENT GRAPHS!
(Cut to the promised gradient graph, one side red and the other blue, with a gradient shade between the two.)
Sage (VO): If we look at the spectrum of popular sci-fi, we see two opposites, representing each side of the gradient. On one side, Alien. The other Star Trek. The gradient represents a story’s vision of the future of mankind and how rosy it views it. Star Trek is the ever optimist: war is abolished, sentient races work together, and the only conflict arises from unknown forces that are encountered through exploration.
Alien the pessimist. Mankind barely made it into space, and only by the virtue of corrupt businesses and unethical private military contractors. Honestly, a killer alien attack would be a welcome reprieve from the daily drudgery of being under Weyland-Yutani’s thumb.
(The gradient is filled in with other famous sci-fi movies. On the Alien side, we see Blade Runner and RoboCop, and on the Star Trek side, we see Ghost in the Shell and The Fifth Element.)
Between these two films lies every kind of sci-fi story ever told…including Outlaw Star, smack-dab right in the middle.
Sage: Outlaw Star presents a future too fantastical for the pessimist, but too fraught with danger for the optimist. It drives straight hard down the middle. And that’s where it likes it.
(Cut to Outlaw Star footage.)
Sage (VO): Outlaw Star is the Star Wars of anime: a futuristic thrill ride with fantasy overtones. It’s like if somebody turned Luke Skywalker into Han Solo and then animated it. And it’s just as awesome as that sounds.
Woman: What do you think you’re going to be doing up there? Treasure hunting? Bounty hunting? Or are you just going to be a romantic and look for adventure?
Gene: No, pirate hunting.
Woman (giggling): That’s not possible!
Gene: Yeah, I guess…I’ve never been up there. And I don’t have a ship to call my own.
Woman: Hey, don’t get all serious on me.
(As Gene kisses his woman, and takes off her modesty towel, most assuredly to bed her, we cut to more footage from the first episode.)
Sage (VO): Outlaw Star is the story of Gene Starwind: a freelancer who takes any job thrown his way if the money is right…or if bills need paying. Along with his wonder kid partner Jim Hawking, the two encounter Hilda, a one-eyed space pirate that holds the key to unlocking the greatest treasure in all the galaxy. And this key…walks.
(Cut to the scene where the suitcase holding Melfina opens)
Jim: OK, that did it!
(The suitcase cracks open and slowly reveals its contents)
Jim: Gene! Look at that!
Gene: Huh? Wh-what the hell? What is it?
(The suitcase opens fully, revealing a nude Melfina, and the “TO BE CONTINUED” cue flashes on screen. Cut to Sage, who doesn’t look too impressed.)
Sage (taking a deep breath): OK…this was inevitable.
(Cut to an almost identical scene from Firefly, then back to Sage.)
Sage: Listen, I know that Joss Whedon has said many times on the record that the similarities between Outlaw Star and Firefly are just coincidences. But COME ON!
(Cut to comparison shots of the two shows.)
Sage (VO): A fantastical future where a brash knave leads a ragtag team on an eponymously titled spaceship, and who come across a woman hidden in a suitcase who is the subject of experimentation for the nefarious purposes of a secret cabal—CONFESS!!!
(The picture shown of Joss Whedon then starts to shake and is tinged red as Sage’s voice is altered into Rage Mode, still yelling “CONFESS!!!” We get static and then a Test Card. We then static back to a wide-eyed, but still seething Sage.)
Sage: There are…SOME…similarities…but…coincidences happen!
(Sage is still trying to contain his rage and gives us a small tic as we fade to commercial. We get a Toonami-styled bumper, with the music “Starwind” in the background. As Gene fires his gun, we get a Toonami card that has #OutlawStar on it.)
TOM 3.5: Anime Abandon…will continue in a moment.
(We return from commercial with another Toonami-styled bump. Once again, we get a small clip from a fight scene, and the same title card.)
TOM 3.5: Anime Abandon…now continues.
(We cut back into Anime Abandon as Sage continues his analysis of Outlaw Star.)
Sage (VO): This “key” happens to go by the name of Melfina, and she, along with a special prototype spaceship called the Outlaw Star, was designed to do one thing: find the Galactic Leyline: the veritable crucible by which the universe was created, and where riches, power and knowledge are said to lie.
Sage: So, the story of Outlaw Star is really just a treasure hunt. And…that’s about it.
(Cut back to the footage.)
Sage (VO): The show never really goes into pondering territory, and never attempts anything more than a fun space adventure. Even the big questions that are brought up in the show are more about character building than anything.
(Cut to a scene of Melfina and Gene conversing.)
Melfina: Heading toward Star Space Calendar Year 156, the Key Line Project has been found successfully.
Melfina: Huh? (She tears up and starts crying.) Why? Why did I have to be born?
Sage: First and foremost, the show is about fun. And I think that the critics of the time weren’t fully in on this.
(Cut to more footage)
Sage (VO): Not to say that they thrashed it or anything, but every detraction that I read always seemed to revolve around the fact that it was not Cowboy Bebop.
(Cut to Bebop footage)
I can definitely see why some people drew a parallel between Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop, as both being animated by the same studio, Sunrise, and both previously being Bandai property, and both being released around the same time. But other than all that and the fact that they’re sci-fi shows, the two series really aren’t comparable.
Sage: They both had completely different tones, different characters, different settings…damn near different everything.
(Cut back to Bebop footage)
Sage (VO): I think we were all a little spoiled by Bebop in that regard, as it became the sort of measuring stick of all anime that came out around the time. While it definitely deserves every bit of praise that it gets, it’s not fair to all the other shows to be directly compared to it.
(Cut to Outlaw Star footage)
Hearing backhanded criticisms like “No competition for Cowboy Bebop” in terms of style, content or execution for Outlaw Star is disingenuous at best and wrong-headed at worst.
Sage: You can argue that Bebop executed its intentions better than Outlaw Star did, but style and content? They’re two completely different anime in those regards!
(Cut to Bebop footage)
Sage (VO): Bebop was a jazz-fueled space romp that explored the complicated history of its main protagonist.
(Cut to Outlaw Star footage)
Outlaw Star was a rocket-fused space adventure where the main protagonist’s history is brought up, but the emphasis is on what he is doing in the present. Just because the two shows are set in space doesn’t mean you can fairly compare the two. Outlaw Star was first—and always—a Space Western, and it never deviated.
(Cut back to Bebop footage)
Bebop was a series of homages that were daisy-chained together into one show. They are not. The same.
Sage: So we know what Outlaw Star is. But…why is it so good?
(Cut to Outlaw Star footage)
Sage (VO): To be perfectly frank, it’s because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Serious enough to have genuine character moments…
Hilda: Gene, take the gunner’s chair.
Gene: You mean me? I can fire that, but I won’t hit anything…
(Hilda sprints from her chair and grabs Gene by the scruff of his neck)
Hilda: Just how long are you gonna keep whining?
Gene: If I can’t hit anything, I can’t hit anything!
Hilda: You gonna just keep running away?!
Gene: Just keep running away?!
(A small staredown occurs between Hilda and Gene)
Gene: …I’m not running…
Sage (VO): But not so serious that it forgets that it’s an adventure show at the end of the day. Some of my favorite episodes have little or anything to do with the main plot at all. Like when Gene and company are caught in the middle of a bomb scare and have to dismantle it, AND thwart a heist.
(We see a scene from said episode where Gene punches a guy out, and then delivers a killer one-liner.)
Gene: The countdown…is over.
Sage: Part of the charm of Outlaw Star is that you can watch any one of its episodes—regardless if you know anything about the series or not—and still be thoroughly entertained.
(Cut to more Outlaw Star footage)
Sage (VO): The main antagonistic force of the show doesn’t appear until halfway through the run, and once the first few episodes establish the main characters, it’s off to the races for episodic fun. One doesn’t really need to know too much about the characters to enjoy the episode.
Sage: Does one really need to know what Suzuka’s deal is to fully grasp the fact that she kicks 12 kinds of ass?
(Cut to scene of Suzuka doing just that)
Sage: Does one have to know every little detail about Aisha to figure out that she’s a hyperactive idiot that’s also hyper-strong?
(Cut to scene with Aisha doing just that...?)
Aisha: This form here that can crush an entire human is usually kept in check for a reason! Its power is severely amplified by the phases of the planet’s moon!
Gene & Jim: Huh?
Gene: Uh…Blue Heaven doesn’t have a moon.
Aisha: Huh? Hoo…(Looks skyward) Come to think of it, it doesn’t…
Gene: Idiot. Now run!
Aisha: Hey! Come back here! Oh! (Fumbles around for her coat) Hold it!
Sage: No…because they’re both entertaining characters in entertaining stories, and it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
(Cut back to the show footage)
Sage (VO): And that’s what this series is, summed up in one word: uncomplicated. Not simple. Uncomplicated. Gene, at the start of the series has his personal demons, but he gets over them pretty quickly, and the show resumes as normal. Likewise, the other supporting characters have little character development or arc to speak of, but the show doesn’t need it. It focuses on the happenings of the plot first and foremost, and lets these already-developed characters and personalities play off each other.
Sage: And that’s a fairly bold step to take, all things considered. When your plot’s endgame is the literal creation of the universe, it can be very easy to overwrite the characters.
(Cut to footage of The End of Evangelion)
Sage (VO): In my review of Evangelion, I talked about how the story kept focusing squarely on Shinji’s character and past, when there are so many other more pressing matters in the plot. Which only serve to undermine the urgency of THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD!! (These words fill up the screen in all caps and Sage has a bit of echo in his voice. We then cut back to Outlaw Star.)
On the other hand, Outlaw Star lets the plot speak for its story. Gene is certainly not a non-entity. He has agency, his actions have consequences, and his personality is stark and well defined. It’s just that the show cemented his place and character in the story before the cosmic bending plot took shape. We grow attached to Gene and his devil-may-care antics and heroics. And we want to see him get to the Leyline and stop Lord Hazanko: a tyrant seeking the Leyline to gain absolute power.
Hazanko: Enough of this. Remember what I tell you, Melfina: you are the key sent to open the gate that lies here before you. As the Maiden of the Leyline, you will pass along my prayers.
Sage: Even though the show has its eyes set squarely on endgame, it never allows itself to get too serious. Like I said before, the show knows when to poke fun at itself.
Sage (VO): A clear example of this is one of the later episodes. An episode, by the way, that was banned from airing on Toonami.
(Jim is surrounded by sexy, swimsuit-clad women)
Girl: Hey, sweetie, why don’t you come play with us?
(Girls giggle as we shift to Aishi, Suzuka and Melfina)
Aisha: This isn’t hot. (Grumbles)
Suzuka: There is nothing that I find appealing about this.
Jim (nervously, with women falling all over him): By the way, wh-where’s Gene?
Suzuka: We haven’t seen him.
Jim: Huh? You can bet it’s gotta be awfully serious then if that pervert isn’t here…
Sage: (Short pause, then asking flatly) Do you need to ask why?
Sage (VO): The gang stops at a resort planet, hearing rumors that, tucked away from the gaudy hotels and hot springs lies some Tao priest that can forge rare and powerful bullets for Gene’s relic of a weapon: the Caster Gun.
Priest: Something caused the mana, the mystical power of this planet, to vanish over time. We developed a technique of placing spells into cartridges. It was our attempt to extend what little power of the mana was left. That was how Caster Shells came into being.
Sage: That gun, by the way, may be the single coolest fucking thing about this entire show.
Sage (VO): Gene hardly uses it since the ammo for it is so rare. So when he does, it’s a special, explosive occasion.
Gene: Eat this! Bastard!
(Gene fires his Caster Gun, and the baddie in question is vaporized in a giant explosion.)
Tao Priestess: (gasps) They’ve been killed.
Sage: Coolest fucking weapon in all of anime, I’m calling it!
Sage (VO): Zangetsu? Dragon Slayer? Sakabato? Excalibur? Wolfwood’s Punisher? KNEEL BEFORE THE ALMIGHTY CASTER GUN! THE THING! SHOOTS! MAGIC!
Voice: The Gravity Bomb: one of 51 weapons and gadgets not fit for this world.
(We cut back to a defiant-looking Sage, who give his “come at me” chest slap.)
Sage: What now?
(Cut back to the show. Sorry, no more Caster Gun shots.)
Sage (VO): While this episode is blatant fanservice, the show is smart enough to know that it can’t coast on skin alone, and has some great gags peppered throughout. Most of them revolve around Gene’s dangerous assignment to get his Caster Shells, but the real treat is that, for the entire episode, Gene is unaware that he’s being targeted by the world’s most hapless assassin.
Melfina: What exactly is a hot spring?
Jim: Haven’t you been to a hot spring before, Melfina?
Melfina: No, Jim.
Gene: Well…a hot spring is a place where—
PA System: Attention, all passengers! As part of our customer service, we will now fill the train with hot natural spring water.
Assassin: Huh? WAAAHHH!! (The assassin is swept away by the water before he can make his move on Gene.)
Jim: Well, this is sort of what a hot spring’s like!
Sage: I just…can’t watch Outlaw Star without cracking a smile. It’s like…anime Prozac.
(Cut back to the show footage)
Sage (VO): I tried my best to write this review without citing any specific moments in the series because I want everyone who sees this review, and hasn’t seen Outlaw Star, to watch it. It’s 26 episodes of action-packed, balls to the wall, sci-fi adventure.
(Cut to Sage holding up the Outlaw Star Complete Collection from Bandai)
Sage: It ain’t complicated, it ain’t thought-provoking…but goddamn is it fun. Well…(Sage puts down the set) continuing our loving look back at Toonami’s past, let’s take a look to the little shonen that could.
(Sage holds up next episode’s subject: Yu Yu Hakusho: The Movie, and gives a glance at it.)
Sage: ‘Til next time…
(After the credits, we fade in once again on Sage. His hat is off. He looks around silently, and then produces a Wario hat. But instead of the familiar “W,” it says “JW” on it. It is a memorial for the recently deceased JewWario. Sage looks at it, then leans over and puts it on the vacant spot on his anime shelf. Sage silently looks back into the camera with a somber look on his face. We then fade out to end the episode proper.)
Footage and Sound Provided ByEdit
- Outlaw Star
- The End of Evangelion
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- Macross Plus
- Cowboy Bebop